One of the most terrifying scenes you could ever encounter with your dog or cat is to find your pet unconscious, not breathing and their heart stopped. Your first thought would be, how can I save my pet? Although cats and dogs don’t have heart attacks like people, their hearts sometimes do stop if they’ve been in a traumatic situation, suffered a seizure, or as part of a prolonged illness.
Up until recently, there were no good guidelines for how to resuscitate a cat or dog who had suffered a cardiac arrest and stopped breathing. Fortunately, recent veterinary research done by the RESCUE initiative, has provided us with new, evidence-based, pet CPR guidelines. Performing emergency pet CPR can dramatically increase the chances of saving your dog or cat’s life if you find them unconscious. Every pet owner should take the time to learn the steps for performing CPR so you can be prepared in case you find your furry friend in trouble. Here is a step-by-step approach you can take if you are ever in this frightening situation.
Step by Step Guide to Pet CPR
1. Check For Signs of Responsiveness
- Before attempting any CPR, first must first make sure your pet truly is unresponsive.
- Place your hand up to your pet’s nose and mouth and check for breathing. Do not cover them up. This will block the airway.
- Put your ear on the area where the left elbow of your pet touches his or her chest. Listen for a heart beat.
2. Clear the Airway
- If your pet does not appear to be breathing, immediately ensure his or her airway is clear.
- Pull your pet’s tongue carefully out from his or her mouth. Use plenty of caution, as even animals that are unresponsive may still bite out of instinct.
- Check your pet’s throat for any foreign objects. Carefully remove any object you find.
- Move your pet’s head gently until his or her neck is straight. If you suspect there is a neck injury, do not move it.
3. Initiate Rescue Breathing on Your Pet
- Make sure your pet’s mouth is closed. Then directly breathe into his or her nose, until the chest starts to expand.
- If your pet’s chest doesn’t expand, re-check his or her mouth and throat again for any foreign objects. Reposition the airway, making sure it is completely straight.
- Perform two rescue breathes and continue with the next step.
4. Begin with Chest Compressions
- Lay your pet gently onto his or her side.
- For medium and large sized dogs (over 22 pounds), put your hands, one on top of the other, over the widest part of the chest. Keep your arms straight with your elbows locked and perform the compressions by using your body weight. For small dogs and cats (under 22 pounds), perform the chest compressions by using a one handed technique by placing the thumb and forefingers around the chest from the underside of the animal behind the front legs. Squeeze the thumb to the forefingers towards each other.
- Perform the chest compressions at a rate of 100-120 per minute.
- After 30 chest compressions, perform 2 rescue breaths. Repeat.
Continue with rescue breathing and heart massage compressions until you start to feel regular breathing and a heart beat. Immediately call your veterinarian once your pet’s heart is beating and he or she is breathing. You should take your pet in to be examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Further Learning Opportunities
An online certification program for Pet CPR is being developed but until then the best option for being prepared for an emergency with your pet is with an American Red Cross Pet First Aid course.
We also highly recommend that all dog and cat owners read the critically acclaimed book The First Aid Companion for Dogs and Cats which will ensure that you know exactly what to do as soon as you see that your pet is injured or requires medical care.
Pets used to have little chance of surviving a cardiac arrest, even in the hands of a skilled veterinarian. Fortunately, these new CPR techniques and first aid skills give veterinarians, along with pet owners, much better odds for survival in an emergency situation.