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How to Perform CPR on Dogs and Cats

Dog and cat with owner

When someone you love gets hurt, you want to do anything possible to help them, which is why learning first aid and skills like CPR is so important.  According to the American Heart Association, Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) could double or triple a cardiac arrest victim's chance of survival. Administering first aid quickly and efficiently is also vital when caring for the sick or injured, including your pets.

Can You Perform CPR on Pets?

The American Red Cross knows a lot about saving lives, and they recognize that pets can benefit from proper first aid and CPR. For this reason, they developed a training course, including pet CPR instruction, to teach individuals how to administer potentially life-saving skills to their pets.

How to Perform CPR on Dogs and Cats

Taking an in-person class is well worth it. However, in the meantime, familiarizing yourself with the proper way to perform CPR on dogs and cats could make all the difference if your furry friend needs help.

First, if you are with someone else when you find your pet in distress, have them bring you to the nearest vet or animal hospital while you begin CPR. The faster you get your pet medical attention, the better. 

If you are alone, begin CPR, but if possible, call for help, such as a neighbor or anyone else nearby. Remember the goal is to get your pet medical help as soon as possible.

1. Check for Signs of Life

If something happens to your pet and they appear unresponsive, try calling their name or shaking them. If they remain unresponsive, check for a heartbeat and to see if they are breathing. 

If your pet is breathing, bring them to the closest veterinary office or emergency animal hospital. However, if they are not breathing, open their mouth, pull their tongue toward you, and check in the back of their throat. It’s important to see if the windpipe is clear or if there is an obstruction.

If you see something, gently remove it. Be very careful when removing the object so you do not push it further into the throat. After clearing the windpipe, if your pet responds, bring them to a vet for a thorough assessment.

If there is still no response and you can’t find a heartbeat begin chest compressions immediately.

2. Perform Chest Compressions

Kneel next to your pet so you can position yourself directly above their chest area. How you give compressions will depend on your pet’s size.

Hand Position for Chest Compressions on Cats and Small Dogs

Place the heel of one hand over your pet’s heart. Place your other hand over your first hand. Alternatively, you can wrap your hand around the chest, with your thumb on one side and the rest of your fingers on the other.

Hand Position for Chest Compressions on Large Dog Breeds

Large dog breeds, like Mastiffs and Labradors, place the heel of one hand over your dog’s chest at the widest part. Place your other hand on top.

Hand Position for Chest Compressions on Deep-Chested or Narrow-Chested Dogs 

Deep-chested dogs typically have narrower chests and include breeds like Greyhounds, Dobermans, and Weimaraners. For most of these breeds, the best hand placement is placing the heel of one hand on your dog’s chest, approximately where the chest meets the elbow. Then, place your other hand on top of that hand.

Hand Position for Chest Compressions on Barrel-Chested Dogs

Barrel-chested breeds include Bulldogs, Pugs, and Boxers. Place your hand on the widest part of your dog’s sternum. Put your other hand directly on top of your first one.

Once you have the appropriate position, lock your elbows, and ensure your arms are directly above the compression point. Push fast and hard to deliver 30 compressions at a rate of 100 to 120 compressions per minute. 

Each compression should be up to ⅓ the depth of your pet’s chest. When giving compressions to large breeds, the compression depth may be closer to ¼ the depth. Make sure the chest fully comes up before delivering the next compression. After performing 30 chest compressions, it’s time to perform rescue breathing.

3. Administer Rescue Breaths

Gently close your dog or cat’s mouth and extend their neck in order to open the airway. Take a breath, then cover your pet’s nose with your mouth, tilting your head slightly so you’re able to see their chest. Breath into your pet's nose until you see your pet’s chest rise.

Then, take another breath, and administer a second rescue breath. Watch for your pet’s chest to rise.

4. Repeat the CPR Cycle

After giving two rescue breaths repeat the entire compression and breath cycle. Keep giving 30 compressions and two rescue breaths until your pet begins breathing on their own or you reach medical professionals.

5. Continue Checking for Signs of Life

During CPR, check for signs of life every two minutes (heartbeat and breathing). If your pet is still unresponsive, continue administering CPR.

If your pet begins breathing but is still unconscious, turn them onto their side, being mindful of their head if they sustained any head injuries. Continue to monitor them until they receive medical attention. At this time you can address any other injuries. Stay vigilant in case you need to begin CPR again.

6. Get to the Vet ASAP

It’s essential to get your vet to emergency services as soon as possible. Ideally, you have someone helping you who can bring you to the vet or animal hospital while you administer CPR. Even if CPR is successful and your pet starts breathing and regains consciousness, bring them to the vet. It’s imperative that they get checked out by a professional.

Tips When Giving Your Pet CPR and First Aid

When your dog or cat gets hurt, it’s frightening, and a natural response is to panic and become scared. It can be especially stressful if you’re on a road trip with your pet and unfamiliar with the nearest animal hospital or vet services.

However, maintaining a calm head will help you stay focused and do what needs to be done quickly.

  • Take a few deep breaths to help yourself remain calm and stay present in the moment.
  • Look around for bystanders or anyone nearby who can offer help. As you begin CPR they could look up the nearest emergency clinic, give you a ride, etc.
  • If your pet ingested poison, have someone call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center.
  • If someone is bringing you to an animal clinic, ask them to call to let the clinic know you are on the way and that it is an emergency.
  • Start CPR as soon as you realize your pet is not breathing, not responding, or doesn’t have a pulse.

Learning Pet CPR Could Save Your Best Friend's Life

You hope you’ll never have to use CPR on anyone, including your dog or cat. Making safety a priority decreases the chances that you’ll ever worry about rescue breaths and compressions. Pet-proof your home, stay aware of your surroundings, and keep your pet on a leash when out in public. Be safe during activities with your dog and cat, like hiking and swimming, and pick up after your pet.

However, even when you put every precaution in place and stay aware, nothing is guaranteed. Therefore, it’s a wise investment in your pet’s future to learn pet CPR. For more helpful tips on how you can take the very best care of your furry friend, check out the rest of the Neater Pets blog.


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