Pet First Aid: How to Perform Pet CPR

pet cpr

One day, you’re eating dinner and you hear your puppy chewing on a toy. Suddenly, you hear him in distress, and it’s clear he is choking. By the time you run to his aid, he is unconscious from lack of oxygen.

Or, perhaps your cat stops breathing due to an electrical shock, an allergic reaction or near-drowning. Cats are smart, but they sometimes get into things that they shouldn’t, and accidents do happen.

Maybe the emergency isn’t even with a pet if your own. Imagine that you are driving down the road and a dog darts out in front of you. You swerve to miss her, but there is an impact anyway. When you get out to check, the dog isn’t breathing.

All of these situations call for pet CPR. It is possible that each of these animals could be saved by it.

According to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), one in four pets that stops breathing could be saved by pet CPR. The procedure isn’t foolproof, and it does not work every time. But, if your pet is in distress, wouldn’t you much rather know it and at least give it a try?

What is CPR?

Chances are, you have taken a human CPR training in your lifetime. However, if you are completely unfamiliar with this life-saving procedure, CPR stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation. It is used on individuals – both people and animals – that are not breathing and whose heart has stopped beating.

CPR was invented in 1740. Today, the American Heart Association sets the guidelines for how CPR is performed and taught. Each year, over sixteen million people worldwide are trained in performing CPR properly.

Although everyone who learns CPR hopes that he or she will never have to use it, many lives have been saved by regular citizens trained in CPR. 

CPR should never be performed on someone who is breathing normally. It can do damage to the individual’s lungs and heart and the compressions can break bones. When people are trained in CPR, they practice on dummies to learn the proper technique. 

Pet CPR Saves Lives

It should be of no surprise that CPR can be effective when performed on cats and dogs. These pets are mammals just like us, and their respiratory and circulatory systems are very similar to ours. 

It makes sense, then, that the technique will work on pets as well as on human beings.

When it comes to learning about how to do CPR, the procedure is very similar whether the rescuer is learning for a human or a pet. If you have ever taken a CPR training or if you have become certified in CPR in the past, then you are already ahead of the curve. 

However, keep in mind that CPR guidelines and procedures are changed and updated from time to time, so it is vital that you stay up to date all the time. Still, doing something is better than doing nothing, so even if you don’t feel that your training is still valid, step in to help if there is an emergency in progress.

Emergency! What to Do First

Before performing CPR, you need to find out if your pet really needs it. Again, performing CPR on a human or animal that does not need it can be dangerous.

First, don’t panic. You will need to be calm and collected in order to be effective. 

Check for Breathing

Next, find out if your dog or cat is breathing. To do so, watch his or her body for a rise and fall. Put your hand by your pet’s nose to see if you can feel the breath. In smaller dogs and cats, you may not feel anything anyway, but you should be able to feel a larger dog breathing.

Then, if they are not breathing, check their airway to see if there is anything stuck. Use your finger to remove any blockage that you can reach. If the airway is blocked, you will not be able to get air inside during artificial respiration. 

Check the Pulse

Next, check your dog or cat to see if it has a pulse. A pulse can be difficult to locate on an animal, but the easiest one to find is the femoral artery. You can find this pulse by running your fingers along the inside of the hind leg until you reach the point where it attaches to the animal’s body. 

If you cannot find the pulse there, squeeze firmly on the pads of one of the front feet, or feel for a heartbeat directly on the chest.

It may be wise to practice finding your pet’s pulse before an emergency arises.

Doing CPR on a Pet

If your pet has a pulse but is not breathing, you need to perform artificial respiration (see below). If the heart is not beating and your pet is not breathing, you need to perform CPR.

Put Your Pet in the Proper Position

First, put your pet on a stable surface like the ground, the floor or a table on their right side. Straighten their body to the best of your ability, and pull the tongue forward. Stand behind your pet’s back.

Find the Heart

Position your hands, one on top of the other, on the widest part of the ribcage.

If your pet is a small dog (under 30 pounds) or a cat, put your hands around the ribcage, with your fingers on one side and your thumb on the other.

Begin Compressions

Using your hands to press down, or your grip in the case of smaller animals, begin compressions at a rate of fifteen to twenty compressions per minute. Many CPR teachers suggest using the beat of the BeeGees’ song, “Staying Alive” to perform compressions at the proper speed and frequency.

When doing compressions, they should only be about one-fourth to one-third of the chest width deep.

Perform Artificial Respiration

Next, begin artificial respiration. Put your mouth over the dog or cats mouth and nose and blow. The chest should visibly rise as a result.

Give one breath for every fifteen compressions. 

Abdominal Squeeze

An abdominal squeeze can also help. Put your hand on your pet’s abdomen and one on his or her back. Squeeze the belly lightly to help encourage blood flow to the heart. Give one squeeze per fifteen compressions, after you perform the artificial respiration breath.


Keep going until your pet has begun to breathe on its own. If it works, let him or her recover and breathe independently, and then visit your vet.

If your pet does not respond after twenty minutes of CPR, unfortunately, its time to give up.

Good Luck

Seeing an animal that is suffering or in distress can be very emotional, but if we are prepared and keep our wits, it is possible for us to use our human intelligence to save it. Pet CPR is an effective technique to help get a pet’s blood flowing and to help him or her to begin breathing again.

A recent poll found that most pet owners would try pet CPR on their pet if their pet was in need, and now you can too. 

If you would like to learn more about Pet CPR, you can take an in-person course in performing this procedure through the American Red Cross or through other organizations. Ask your vet for recommendations.

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