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Though you may be a loving animal guardian and you take care of your fur babies as if they were your own children, you may not be aware that there is such thing as artificial respiration (AR) and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) for pets and animals. Pet CPR is appropriate when a dog, cat or other animal is experiencing cardiopulmonary arrest, more commonly known as cardiac asset, which is the sudden or abrupt loss of heart function. Keep in mind that CPR guidelines do change and are updated periodically, for both animals and humans, so be aware of this and stay consistent in staying up to date on pet CPR.

Does performing CPR on animals work? According to the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society (VECCS), “Less than 6% of dogs and cats that experience cardiopulmonary arrest (CPA) survive to hospital discharge, while the survival rate in people is over 20%.” Regardless of the chances, you must do all you can to save your dog or cat. To get your pet CPR knowledge bank started, here are the basic steps you need to know, and as an animal guardian or pet parent, seriously consider signing up for a local pet CPR class.

First, defining artificial respiration (AR) and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) when it comes to animals. AR is doing mouth-to-nose, to breathe air into the lungs of an unconscious animal through the nose. CPR is doing chest compressions after putting the animal on his or her right side. AR is a part of performing CPR.

Step 1: Check for and Remove any Airway Obstructions

Open the animal’s mouth to make sure the airway is clear. If they are chocking an object, reach in there and use your fingers to carefully remove it. Be very cautious, yet quick, when doing this if the animal is not unconscious as they could be panicky and bite you. If they are unconscious and not breathing, you need to start CPR.

Step 2: Assisted Breathing

Lay your unconscious pet on their right side, extend the head to align with the neck, open the mouth, then pull the tongue forward. Look, listen or feel for breathing. If there are no signs of breathing, artificial respiration (AR) needs to be performed. Give four to five rescue breaths by firmly holding the mouth area, snoot, and blow just enough air though the nose for the chest to raise up and back down again. For smaller dogs and cats, your mouth will go around both the mouth and nose. Make sure to give smaller breaths for smaller animals.

Step 3: Check for a Heartbeat Before Starting Chest Compressions

You do not want to give further CPR to your pet if they are now breathing. Check if they are breathing as well as feel for a heartbeat in the femoral artery. If there is no heartbeat or pulse, call out for help so someone can hopefully drive you to the vet while you start chest compressions.

Step 4: Chest Compressions

For a dog, find the heart by bringing the left elbow back to their chest and place the heel of your palm over the heart (where the elbow points), intertwine your fingers, and lock your arms. For small dogs and cats, place one hand on either side of the chest behind the elbows and give a quick squeeze to compress the chest. Give 30 chest compressions followed by two rescue breaths compressing the chest two to three inches for larger dogs and one-half to one inch for small dogs and cats, alternating breaths with compressions. Continue to check for a pulse every few minutes and do CPR for up to 20 minutes.

The following how-to video from YouTube user MelanieLMonteiro is a good visual on how to do pet CPR with updated guidelines in red.


Please note: these written steps must be taken as pet CPR basics; CPR is not a guarantee for survival and you must get to the vet as soon as possible for emergency pet care and aid. To be best prepared in the event you need to use CPR on a pet, it is recommended you take annual CPR training courses.

Image source: Marc Dalmulder/Flickr