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As much as we try to protect our pets, accidents do happen, so it is important to be as prepared as reasonably possible. One way to be prepared is to know how to give cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
CPR is an emergency technique used to help someone whose heart and/or breathing has stopped. Although somewhat modified, the same techniques used for people – rescue breathing and chest compressions – can be used to help treat an animal in distress.
The first lesson to know about CPR is that it doesn’t restart a stopped heart. The purpose of CPR, in both humans and animals, is to keep them alive until the heart begins beating on its own or a cardiac defibrillator can be used. In people, about 15 percent of those getting CPR actually survive. In animals, CPR is frequently unsuccessful, even if performed by a trained veterinarian. Even so, attempting CPR will give your pet a fighting chance.
The ABCs of CPR
In both humans and animals, you must follow the ABCs: airway, breathing and circulation, in that order. If you suspect your pet is in distress, immediately look at his posture, any presence of blood, vomit or feces; his breathing pattern and other bodily sounds; and any materials, such as possible poisons, around him.
It is vital to know for sure that your pet isn’t breathing or doesn’t have a pulse before beginning CPR; it is dangerous to apply CPR to an animal (and a person, for that matter) if they are breathing normally and have a pulse.
Look for the chest rising and falling or place a mirror in front of his nose and watch for condensation. When checking for a pulse, remember that animals do not have a distinct carotid (neck) pulse. To determine if the heart is still beating, place your hand on the left side of the chest.
If your pet has stopped breathing, check to see if the throat and mouth are clear of foreign objects. Be careful about placing your fingers inside the mouth! An unresponsive cat may bite on instinct. If the airway is blocked, do the following:
- Lay your pet down on his side.
- Gently tilt the head slightly back to extend the neck and head, but be very careful: Do not overextend the neck in cases of neck trauma!
- Pull the tongue out of your pet’s mouth.
- Carefully use your fingers to sweep for any foreign material or vomit from the mouth.
- If necessary, perform the Heimlich maneuver. For detailed information on the procedure, please see the article Heimlich for Your Cat
If your cat is breathing, allow him to assume the position most comfortable for him. If not, make sure the airway is open and begin rescue breathing. Again, remember that even an unresponsive cat may bite on instinct.
- Make sure the neck is straight without overextending.
- Close the mouth and lips by placing your hand around the lips and holding the muzzle closed.
- Place your mouth over the cat’s mouth and nose. Your mouth will form a seal.
- Exhale forcefully. Give four or five breaths quickly.
- Check to see if breathing has resumed normally. If breathing hasn’t begun or is shallow, begin rescue breathing again.
Give 20 to 30 breaths per minute.
Now check for a heartbeat. If no heartbeat is detected, begin cardiac compressions with rescue breathing.
For most animals, chest compressions are best done with the animal lying on his side on a hard surface.
Make sure your pet is on a hard surface. The sidewalk or ground should work. If the animal is on a soft area, chest compressions will not be as effective.
- Place your palm or fingertips over the ribs at the point where the raised elbow meets the chest.
- Kneel down next to the animal with the chest near you.
- Compress the chest about 1 inch at a rate of twice per second. (Small animals have higher heart rates than people so compressions need to be more rapid.)
- Begin 5 compressions for each breath. After 1 minute, stop and check for a heartbeat. Continue if the beat has not resumed.Perform CPR until you have reached a veterinary hospital. After 20 minutes, however, the chances of reviving an animal are extremely unlikely.
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