Understanding how to perform CPR on pets is a vital skill that all pet owners can benefit from. Just like CPR can save a human's life, CPR on pets could save a life in an imminent medical emergency. Despite the importance of this vital technique, many pet owners are not confident in performing CPR on a pet.

Below, learn the basics of performing CPR for pets. With these general guidelines in mind, you'll feel better prepared to act quickly during a cardiac episode. 

What Is CPR for Pets?

CPR for pets, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation, is a medical procedure to try to restore blood circulation and breathing when a dog or cat has suffered cardiac arrest.. Although the success rate for CPR in pets is lower than in humans, some animals do respond to CPR. As a result, knowing this critical skill in a medical emergency involving your cat or dog is essential. 

Before Beginning CPR on Pets

Before beginning pet CPR, confirm that a pet is unconscious and has arrested. Attempt to shake them or call their name to see if they respond. Check to see if your pet is breathing and check for a heartbeat. You can locate the heart by placing your hand on the left side of the chest below the elbow. Alternatively, you can try finding your pet's pulse on its inner thigh, where the leg and body meet.

If your pet does not respond, begin CPR and seek emergency medical care promptly. 

How Do You Perform CPR on a Pet?

CPR consists of rescue breathing and chest compressions. After ensuring an open airway by extending the head and neck,  begin chest compressions if no pulse is detectable. Position cats and small-breed dogs on their side and squeeze the chest circumferentially using one or both hands. For medium and large dogs, locate the pet's heart and place the heel of one hand on top of it. Place your free hand on top of your other hand. Depending on your dog's breed, the hand placement may vary slightly. 

Your hands should be placed on the widest part of the chest for deep-chested dogs such as a Great Danes or Greyhounds. For dogs with a barrel chest, such as a Pug or a Boxer, your hand should be placed on the widest part of the breastbone and positioning them on their back is often best. Your Bettervet Veterinary doctor can provide more information about CPR specifics for your animal's breed.

Performing Chest Compressions

Performing chest compressions can quickly become tiring, so it is ideal to switch off with another person, if possible. Before beginning compressions, your pet should be positioned to lay on its side or back. Then, begin by locating the rib cage.

You'll want to press firmly into the rib cage, pushing fast at 100 to 120 compressions per minute. Keep your elbows straight while performing chest compressions. Before the next compression, watch to ensure the chest returns to the starting position. For larger animals, you may need to press with more force than with smaller animals. 

Although you may feel nervous pressing firmly, a firm press is needed for successful chest compression. Do not stop chest compressions until you reach a veterinary clinic or emergency hospital.

Check for Breathing

Extend the head and neck and pull the tongue forward to ensure an open airway. This may cause spontaneous breathing, so listen for breathing sounds and watch for the rise and fall of the chest. If breathing does not occur after 10 seconds, begin rescue breathing. Giving rescue breaths is done by gently closing your pet's mouth, covering the nose with your mouth, and forcefully blowing into their nose. Ensure that the pet's chest rises with every breath. 

Give 3-5 full breaths and stop to check for breathing and a heartbeat. If possible, try to coordinate  breaths with  chest compressions. This allows you to see if your CPR attempt is working. If coordination is not possible, for every 30 chest compressions you perform, try giving your pet 2 rescue breaths. Rescue breaths provide oxygen directly into your pet's lungs, helping them to breathe during a cardiac event. If breathing has not started, give breaths 10 times per minute.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the "ABCs" of pet CPR?

It's normal to feel overwhelmed and forget what you know about pet CPR during a crisis. The "ABCs" of pet CPR can help you remember what to do. This acronym stands for "airway, breathing, and circulation." These three vital components of CPR include checking the airway, performing CPR breathing, and beginning chest compressions/circulation attempts.

Where should I bring my pet after performing CPR?

CPR is intended to help restore blood flow and oxygen if your pet is not breathing or their heart has stopped. If another person is present while you perform CPR, they should begin taking measures to transport the pet to the nearest animal hospital or emergency veterinary clinic.

If you're alone while performing CPR, you may need to seek help from an emergency pet ambulance or call an animal hospital to determine the best course of action. BetterVet is available for follow-up sick pet visits to help you manage its ongoing care after getting treatment from an emergency veterinarian.

What position should my pet be in before I start CPR?

Chest compressions should be done with your pet lying on its side or back. For breeds of barrel-chested dogs, CPR is performed while they lay on their backs.

This positioning makes it easier to perform chest compressions as part of pet CPR. How many people are needed to perform CPR on a pet?

It's best to have two people present to perform CPR on a pet, although this is not always possible. This allows one person to perform rescue breaths while the other performs chest compressions. Performing chest compressions can quickly become tiring, so having two people provides relief when needed.

Ask Your BetterVet Veterinary Doctor for More Information 

Want to learn more about becoming skilled at CPR on pets? During your pet's next visit, ask your BetterVet veterinary doctor for more resources on pet CPR. The American Red Cross also offers helpful courses for pet owners to learn pet first aid skills. It never hurts to be prepared to protect your furry friends!

Is your pet up to date with their vaccinations? Like CPR, pet vaccinations are essential in protecting your pet's health. Book an appointment with BetterVet for your pet's annual wellness exam to discuss recommended vaccinations to support your pet's health.