Do you know what to do if your pet stops breathing? Knowing a few emergency procedures if your dog or cat is choking, or having difficulty breathing, could save your pet’s life because you may not have time to get to a vet. Here are the steps for doing CPR on a dog and cat.
CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) preserves brain function until proper blood circulation and breathing can be restored.
The signs that indicate the need for CPR include unconsciousness, lack of arousal, lack of physical movement, or eye blinking. These symptoms can occur from drowning, choking, electrical shock, or a number of other situations.
If your pet has a foreign object stuck in his throat, it is important to try and dislodge it before performing CPR. Read our article: How To Perform the Heimlich Maneuver on Dogs.
Performing mouth-to-snout resuscitation
The following information has been updated with latest recommended guidelines outlined by the first evidence-based research on how best to resuscitate dogs and cats in cardiac arrest. It was published in June 2012 by the Reassessment Campaign on Veterinary Resuscitation (RECOVER). The study recommends a few updates to past manual CPR practices on dogs.
The primary new recommendations are:
- Perform a compression to mouth-to-snout ventilation ratio of 30 compressions followed by 2 breaths
- Perform cardiac massage / chest compressions according to the different chest types and sizes of dogs (see diagrams below).
The key to CPR is remembering the ABCs:
To perform the three techniques, follow these steps.
- Lay the dog on a flat surface and extend the head back to create an airway. (Current practices recommend laying the dog on his/her right side (heart facing up), however the latest recommended guidelines state that either the left or right lateral recumbency are acceptable.)
- Open the jaws to check for obstructions, and if any exist and are not easily removed, try to dislodge the object. See our article How To Perform the Heimlich Maneuver on Dogs for details on how to dislodge a dog’s blocked airway safely.
- Cup your hands around the muzzle of the dog’s mouth so that only the nostrils are clear. Blow air into the nostrils with five or six quick breaths, again, depending on the size of the dog. Small dogs and puppies and require short and shallow breaths. Larger dogs need longer and deeper breaths. Continue the quick breaths at a rate of one breath every three seconds or 20 breaths per minute.
- Check for a heartbeat by using your finger on the inside of the thigh, just above the knee. If you don’t feel a pulse, put your hand over the dog’s chest cavity where the elbow touches the middle of the chest. If you still don’t find a pulse, have one person continue breathing into the nostrils (mouth to snout), while another gives chest compressions / cardiac massage. If you are alone, do the compression and mouth-to-snout ventilation yourself.
- Give the dog chest compressions (cardiac massage) by placing both hands palms down on the chest cavity of the dog. For most dogs, chest compressions can be performed on the widest part of the chest while the dog is lying on his side.
- For dogs with keel-shaped chests (i.e. deep, narrow chests) in breeds such as greyhounds push down closer to the dog’s armpit, directly over the heart.
- For dogs with barrel-chested dogs like English bulldogs lay the dog on its back and compress on the sternum (directly over the heart), like people.
- For smaller dogs and cats chest-compressions scan be done with one hand wrapped around the sternum, encircling the heart or two-handed on the ribs.
- For large dogs, place your hands on top of each other.
- For tiny dogs or puppies, place one hand or thumb on the chest.
- Use the heel of your hand(s) to push down for 30 quick compressions followed by 2 breaths of air (ventilation) and then check to see if consciousness has been restored. If consciousness has not been restored, continue the compressions in cycles of 100 to 120 chest compressions per minute (the same rhythm administered for people).
- Perform CPR in 2-minute cycles checking to see if breathing and consciousness has been restored.
Ideally, CPR is performed while on route to emergency veterinarian care. If this is not possible, contact a veterinarian once the dog has started breathing.
The following diagrams illustrates how to perform chest compressions on dogs with different chest types.
- Figure (A) illustrates the technique for most dogs. You can apply chest compressions to the widest part of the chest while the dog lies on its side.
- Figure (B) illustrates the technique for dogs with keel-shaped chests.
- Figure (C) illustrates the technique for barrel-chested dogs.
For small dogs and cats chest compressions can be administered two ways.
- Figure (A) illustrates wrapping one hand around the sternum while supporting the back.
- Figure (B) illustrates two-handed compression.
Below is a helpful video on administering CPR on dogs. Note: The instructional video below recommends a compression to ventilation ratio of 15 compressions followed by 1 breath. The June 2012 study recommends a compression to ventilation ratio of 30 compressions followed by 2 breaths.
Please share this useful information with your pet-loving family and friends. You never know when you might save a life!
Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care 22. Reassessment Campaign on Veterinary Resuscitation: Evidence and Knowledge Gap Analysis on Veterinary CPR published June 2012.