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Person performs CPR on-Shetland sheepdog

The essentials

  • Make an emergency plan — Unfortunately, you can’t call 911 for pets, so you’ll have to handle the crisis as best you can until you can transport them to an emergency vet.
  • The chest compression rate is 100 to 120 compressions per minute — If your pet isn’t breathing, give them two artificial respirations between every set of 30 chest compressions.
  • Take your pet to the vet ASAP — Even if they appear to be OK, you’ll need to treat the underlying cause of their cardiac arrest.

If your pet’s heart stops beating or they struggle to breathe, the following minutes are critical for their survival. Cardiopulmonary arrest (CPA) is when your pet’s heart stops beating and they stop breathing. Many triggers can cause this, but it’s important to take a breath and try not to focus on worrying about the cause or outcome. With clear, quick thinking, your actions could save your pet’s life.

Here’s everything you need to know about performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) while you get them to the vet.

Before starting CPR

Determining if your pet is experiencing CPA before beginning CPR is critical. To determine this, pause and assess:

  • Is your pet breathing? Check if their chest is moving up and down or if there’s air coming out of their nose or mouth.
  • Is something blocking their airway? Check whether a toy, food, or other item is lodged in their mouth or throat. If there is, be sure not to push it in further.
  • Is your pet responsive? Call their name, make a noise, or shake them to see if they respond.

If your pet appears to be choking, don’t do CPR. Instead, try to remove the lodged object from your pet’s throat. This video shows you how to dislodge objects from pets who are light enough to pick up and hold upside down. For a pet that can’t be picked up, follow the steps taken in this video.

If your pet is responsive or breathing, they don’t need CPR, but you should still take them to the emergency vet to be checked out.

How to do CPR on a dog

If choking isn’t causing your pet’s distress, their heart has stopped beating, and they are unconscious, you’ll need to perform CPR immediately. Without breath or pulse, dogs can die in as little as 4 minutes or sustain serious internal injuries after 2 minutes.

1. Get them in position

Most cats and dogs may lie on either side for CPR. However, barrel-chested dogs, such as French bulldogs, must be placed on their backs. Once you’ve placed your dog on their side or back, determine where to press your hands.

  • Small dogs and cats. Place your hands where their elbows meet their heart.
  • Dogs with round chests. Lay your dog on their side and focus your compressions over the widest part of their chest.
  • Dogs with narrow, deep chests. Push directly over their heart where their front leg meets their torso.
  • Dogs with flat/squishy faces. Lay these dogs on their back and put pressure directly over their breastbone.

With your palms facing your dog, place one hand on the other. Tuck your fingers over your bottom hand.

2. Start chest compressions

Keep your hands on each other, begin chest compressions at a rate of 100 to 120 compressions per minute. It might be helpful to keep “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls or “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees in mind while you compress since they have the same tempo.

If you have a small cat or dog, only use one hand and squeeze the chest between your thumb and other fingers. Keep your elbows mostly straight with a slight bend to maximize the force. Don’t lean on your pet, however. You should fully release after each chest compression.

3. Give artificial respiration

Holding the sides of your dog’s muzzle tightly so that no air escapes, exhale deeply into their nose after 30 chest compressions. Wait for their lungs to fill and fall again before giving a second rescue breath.

4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 for at least 2 minutes

You may perform CPR on your pet for up to 20 minutes or until they can breathe naturally. Head to the veterinary hospital immediately while performing CPR and, even if it is successful. Some causes of cardiac arrest are episodic. Your pet could relapse soon after unless the underlying condition has been diagnosed and treated.

Having the knowledge and tools to deal with a pet emergency is important, especially as time is critical in these situations. Do your best to remain clear-headed and perform the necessary steps to get your pet to the vet immediately.

Frequently asked questions

Does my cat or dog need CPR?

If your cat or dog falls unconscious and is not breathing, always check for a pulse.  If they’re still conscious with a pulse but can’t breathe, they are probably choking. In this case, try to dislodge the object in their airway first. If their heart has stopped beating, that is when you should begin CPR immediately.

Should I wait until I can get to a vet before trying CPR?

While you should call your vet as soon as your pet experiences an emergency situation, it’s unlikely that you’ll make it to the hospital fast enough to perform CPR there. Dogs can die in as little as 4 minutes without oxygen. Even at the 2-minute mark, critical damage has been done to their internal organs. You should begin CPR as soon as you notice your dog is unconscious, with your vet on the phone to guide you if possible.

CPR isn’t working. What else can I do?

While continuing CPR, have someone take you and your pet to the hospital or call a pet ambulance when the crisis starts. This allows medical professionals to take over as soon as possible. If there’s nothing else you can do, you can continue performing CPR for 20 minutes. Get to the vet as soon as possible.

What is the success rate of CPR on pets?

The unfortunate truth is that CPR on pets, whether performed at home or by a professional, has a low success rate as most animals that need CPR are already seriously injured or sick. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t still try.