How to Perform CPR on Dogs & Cats

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Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (commonly known as CPR) is a life-saving form of first aid. Dog CPR and cat CPR can be used to save a pet's life if a dog or cat stops breathing or their heart stops beating. When this frightening occurrence happens, it is known as cardiopulmonary arrest. If this ever happens to your dog or cat, it's critical that you know how to perform CPR. In order to be prepared for this kind of emergency, taking a cat and dog first aid online training class through the Red Cross can help.

A Step-by-Step Guide on Performing Cat and Dog CPR

While pet CPR should be performed by your veterinarian, if you find that you do need to give your cat or dog CPR, follow these steps:

1. Check for Your Pet's Heartbeat

You can check for your pet's heartbeat by placing your hand on the left side of the chest just behind the point of the elbow. You can check to see if a pet is breathing by watching their chest move up and down with each breath. If you do not feel a heartbeat or if you don't see your pet's chest moving up and down, start chest compressions immediately. Keep in mind that chest compressions vary by the size of the pet:

English Mastiff dog lying in green summer grass

  • For cats and small dogs: Place the palm of your dominant hand over the heart and place your other hand over your dominant hand. You will want to do compressions with the heel of your dominant hand covered by your other hand.
  • For puppies and kittens: Place your thumb on the top side of the chest, and the other fingers on the bottom side. Then, use your fingers to compress the chest.
  • For big dogs or deep-chested dogs: Place your dominant palm over the widest part of the rib cage and place your other hand over your dominant hand.
  • For dogs with barrel chests: For bulldogs, rottweilers, mastiffs and Staffordshire terriers, roll the dog onto their back. Place your dominant palm over the widest part of the bottom of the chest (the sternum), and place your other hand over your dominant hand. Make sure your shoulders are right above your hands, and lock your elbows.

2. Start Chest Compressions

Do 30 chest compressions in a row. If you feel yourself becoming fatigued before you reach a count of 30, it is better to have someone else take over performing chest compressions (if possible) to ensure quality chest compressions are being provided. You will need to push hard on larger dogs in order to pump the heart, and you will need to pump fast at a recommended rate of 100 to 120 compressions per minute to circulate enough blood to support life. If you pump to the rhythm of the song "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees, you're doing it right. Compress the chest to at least half of the regular width, and let the chest fully recoil before compressing again.

3. Give a Rescue Breath

Fully extend your pet's neck to open the airway. Then, cover your pet's nose with your mouth, close your pet's mouth with your hand and exhale into your pet's nose until you see the chest rise. Give two rescue breaths.

Orange tabby cat lies on its back in a woman's lap while she pets their chest.

4. Repeat

Repeat steps one and two, and then check for a heartbeat and breathing. If your pet still isn't breathing or doesn't have a heartbeat, repeat the steps until you get to the veterinary hospital. If your pet starts breathing and you detect a heartbeat, then you've been successful in resuscitating your pet. In the event that this happens, it's important to note that your pet still isn't out of the woods. It's imperative that you have your pet evaluated as soon as possible by a vet because your pet is at risk of going into cardiopulmonary arrest again.

What If CPR Doesn't Work?

Even if you're unable to resuscitate your pet, continue to conduct cat and dog CPR and take your pet to the vet. A vet is equipped with life-saving emergency equipment like defibrillators, oxygen, injectable medications and other advanced life support systems that may still be able to save your pet. Even if your pet isn't breathing or has no detectable heartbeat when you get to the vet, you will have kept your pet's heart beating and lungs breathing with your CPR. Furthermore, any dog or cat that has suffered cardiopulmonary arrest and undergone CPR needs post-resuscitation care that can only be given by a vet. Usually, these pets will need additional testing to determine what caused cardiopulmonary arrest in the first place, and hospitalization and extensive monitoring to help them recover.

Being prepared to deliver first aid, including CPR, is an important part of preventing disaster in the life of your dog or cat. While it isn't ideal for a pet parent to perform cat or dog CPR, being prepared for this situation could mean the difference between life and death for your pet.

Contributor Bio

Dr. Sarah Wooten

Dr. Sarah Wooten

A 2002 graduate of UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Sarah Wooten is an international speaker in the veterinary and animal health care spaces. She has 10 years experience in public speaking and media work, and writes for a large number of online and print animal health publications.. Dr. Wooten has spoken in the veterinary education space for 5 years, and speaks on leadership, client communication, and personal development. Dr. Wooten is also a certified veterinary journalist, a member of the AVMA, and has 16 years experience in small animal veterinary practice. In addition to being a speaker, author, veterinarian, and co-creator of the wildly popular card game 'Vets Against Insanity', she co-owns Elevated Eateries Restaurant group in Greeley with her husband of 22 years, and together they are raising 3 slightly feral mini-humans. When it is time to play, she can be found skiing in Colorado or diving with sharks in the Caribbean.

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