How to … Save your Pets Life – performing CPR for Dogs and Cats

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This information is not meant to be a substitute for care by a licensed veterinary professional. If you have any questions about your pet’s health, seek professional Veterinary care immediately!

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation – CPR for Dogs and Cats

It is a beautiful day at the park when all of a sudden your beloved dog collapses to the ground… would you know what to do?

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You may know how to perform life-saving skills on a human but those who have animals in their care must have pet-specific training as canine and feline anatomy does differ from that of a human. For instance, when performing rescue breathing on a human, you pinch the nose shut and breathe into the mouth. For our cats and dogs, we do the opposite by closing the mouth and breathing directly into the nostrils to obtain the best flow into their airway.

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Know where to take your pet in case of an Emergency

The most important thing for an animal owner to know is the location of the closest Animal Hospital.  It is so important to know before an emergency occurs since some are open 24 hours; others open at 6pm and close at 8am the next morning to fill that gap of time when your Veterinarian is closed.  Make sure you know where all the afterhours and weekend clinics are located.  It is a good practice to not only know the one nearest your home but also places you frequent with your pet such as your favorite park or hiking location or wherever the pet spends time. Make sure you know exactly where the office is located, where to park and what entrance you will bring your pet in which is particularly important if you have a 100lb dog that can’t walk.

Know what services they offer such as xrays, MRIs, transfusions, anti-venin and how they accept payment. Research all this ahead of time because when an emergency happens, you won’t want to waste time wondering which side of the street the Animal ER is on or if they have the ability to treat your animal or if you’ll be able to pay to get him the help he so desperately needs.

Know how to assess your Pets Vital Signs

Learning to check your pet’s vitals can help assess his degree of pain, injury or illness and is the first step to determine if CPR is indicated.  Learn how to do these prior to an accident or illness will help you have a base-line for your pets normal state of health.

pet dog check pulse

  1. Pulse – The rhythmic movement of blood through an artery.
  • Place the ball of two fingers (not your thumb) on the depression found in the animal’s upper inner thigh over the Femoral Artery.
  • Count the beats for 60 seconds (or for 30 seconds and then multiply by 2 to determine his pulse rate.)
  • If you have difficulty feeling the Femoral Artery, place the palm of your hand over the left side of his chest, just behind his elbow, to feel his heart beat which will be the same rate.
  1. Respiration – The process of inhaling and exhaling; breathing.
  • Observe or place your hand over the animal’s chest to count the number of times his chest rises (inhales) or falls (exhales). The “rise and fall cycle” should be counted as one breath.
  • Count the breaths (rise and fall cycles) for 60 seconds (or for 30 seconds and then multiply by 2) to determine respirations per minute.
  • Do not attempt to count the respirations of a panting dog or cat.

Average Respiration Rate for Dogs and Cats

Cats and small dogs 20 – 40 breaths per minute

Medium to large dogs 10 – 30 breaths per minute

Please note: Very large dogs and/or geriatric animals may have slower respirations

Triage – Assessing an Emergency Situation

Triage is the process of evaluating the needs of an animal during an emergency situation. No matter if it’s a dog, cat, ferret, horse or human, there are three questions you should ask yourself while evaluating a possible emergency situation:

  1. Is the animal breathing? The absence of breathing should be considered a life-threatening emergency. Always check for breathing first. The rule is that if the animal is breathing, the heart is beating.

If the answer is “No”, you need to perform Rescue Breathing

  1. Has the heart stopped beating? No pulse can be detected and the animal has stopped breathing. Within a matter of minutes, irreparable cell damage will occur. This is always considered a life-threatening emergency.

If the there is no pulse, you must begin: CPR — Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation

Rescue Breathing and CPR

Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation, commonly known as CPR, is the most frequently known method of artificial life support. Recent research has led to the advancement of a faster more efficient method of artificial life support called Cardio Pulmonary Cerebral Resuscitation or CPCR.

Both of these techniques use a combination of chest compressions and artificial respirations, however, CPCR focuses more on chest compressions and less on artificial respirations. CPCR utilizes the theory that the action of compressing the chest facilitates the movement of oxygen through the lungs, lessening the need for the administration of breaths via the nasal passage. Classic CPR uses a combination of two to ten compressions and the administration of one breath, whereas the CPCR procedure calls for 30 to 100 or more vigorous chest compressions between the administration Rescue Breathing.

CPCR is used in cases when an animal has lost consciousness and both heartbeat and breathing are absent. Emergency situations where CPCR is indicated include:

  • Smoke Inhalation
  • Heat Stroke
  • Electrocution
  • Hit by Car
  • Drowning
  • Poisoning
  • Choking
  • Gunshot
  • Hypoglycemia

Know that even under the best circumstances the outcome may not always be successful; but you never know unless you try and an animal could be depending on you. According to the American Heart Association, human survival rates range from 6.4% – 20%. In a veterinary hospital setting, 4% of dogs and 9.6%of cats are successfully resuscitated via CPCR.

Although you may have taken a human CPCR course, dogs and cats don’t share our anatomy. The concept is the same, but the technique is different. The latest guidelines established by the North American Veterinary Conference (NAVC) in 2011 (published in Handbook of Veterinary Procedures Emergency Treatment, Kirk & Bistner’s 8th edition) are listed below.

You may be familiar with the “ABC’s of CPR” (airway, breathing, circulation); however, recent studies by the American Heart Association have shown that keeping the blood flowing to the brain (circulation) is more valuable as a life-saving tool than the administration of artificial respiration. In light of this research, the newest recommended protocol is “CAB” (circulation, airway, and breathing). Following this recommendation from the American Heart Association, the veterinary community has also adopted this new protocol.


Tips for Performing CPR for Dogs or Cats

  • Place animal on a flat surface on their side and slightly extend head by pulling back on chin to stretch out throat area.
  • Take front leg, gently bending it at the elbow and bring it towards the chest. Where the elbow touches the chest is the proper spot to place your hands for compressions.
  • Compress approximately 1/3 the width of the chest diameter.
  • When giving breaths, use 1-2 hands to seal off mouth and breathe directly into the dog or cats nostrils.
  • For neonates, use a small puff breath only.
  • Extend the animal’s head to open the airway.

Important Note:  Never perform CPCR or rescue breathing on a conscious animal.

CPR for Dogs and Cats Technique

For all medium to large sized dogs more than three months old:

CPR for dogs


  1. Place pet on a solid surface with their right side down.
  2. Begin chest compressions immediately, with 30 compressions where elbow touches chest.
  3. Follow the compressions with 2 breaths into nostrils
  4. Repeat compressions.
  5. The prevailing theory is “fast and hard” to do the job.
  6. Do not check the animal’s status any sooner than 2 minutes unless there is visible sign of recovery.

For small dogs, cats, and animals less than three months old

Follow above CPRC technique but place their chest in the palm of your hand (use two hands if the animal’s chest is too wide). Four fingers should be on one side, your thumb on the other side of the chest. Squeeze your fingers together to compress the chest.

cat cpr

The number of compressions should increase to 50 compressions per minute, followed by the administration of two breaths. Cats, small dogs and young animals do not require as much pressure during chest compressions.

For newborn puppies and kittens

Follow the same CPCR technique for as for small dogs, but administer 1 compression and 1 puff breath at a time. If your hand covers the entire torso when trying to attempt chest compressions as mentioned above then place your thumb on one-side of the chest and use only two fingers, the index finger and middle finger, on the other side. Squeeze the chest with the flat tips of your fingers.


NOTE: Rapid initiation of CPCR is critical and must be started within 4 minutes after the heart stops beating to avoid brain damage. If the brain does not receive oxygenated blood and 10 minutes have elapsed, brain damage is irreversible.

Tips for Performing Rescue Breathing

  • Rescue breathing in animals is done via the nasal passage (not the mouth as in humans).
  • Always make sure the mouth is adequately closed and sealed.
  • Evaluate the size of the animal to judge the volume of artificial breaths to be administered. It is important that the lungs are not over-inflated.

Rescue Breathing Technique

With pet on his side, gently close his mouth with one or two of your hands until his “smile line” – the portion of his lips that wrap around his face – are sealed.

rescue breathing for dog cpr

  • For a cat or small dog, you may just be using your thumb and index finger to make this seal.
  • Close your hands around the animal’s nose and create a tube-like space between the animal’s nose and your mouth. If it is not your own animal, try not to make direct contact between the animal’s snout and your mouth.
  • Deliver two slow full breaths into the nostrils, making sure you ventilate (actually see the lungs rise) the animal and allow time for exhalation (lungs fall) between the breaths.

Quickly transport pet to the nearest animal emergency center or veterinary hospital.

Realize that when performing CPR for dogs you may not get the animal to breathe or resume a heart beat on his own and may need to continue CPCR while someone else drives. Do not stop administering CPCR until the animal shows signs of recovery or until a veterinary professional can take over the administration of the CPCR.

If all this seems too complicated for you to remember in an emergency then  read this article for an important and easy acupressure point for emergency resuscitation.



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