CPR Basics for Pet Parents

Estimated Reading Time 5 minutes
CPR Basics for Pet Parents

Just as it’s considered essential to learn basic cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) for humans in case an emergency happens at home, knowing basic CPR for pets is now being considered equally important. Continue reading to learn about CPR for dogs and cats, including when and how to respond to an emergency.

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What is Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation?

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation, more popularly known as CPR, is an emergency procedure to provide manual, temporary respiration and circulation in individuals that have undergone cardiopulmonary arrest. It’s not meant to help address or treat the arrest but is aimed more at preserving brain function by promoting temporary oxygenation and blood supply at least until more appropriate measures can be taken.

The procedure involves manual compression of the chest to simulate the beating of the heart and breathing into the respiratory passages of the patient to supply air and oxygen. Guidelines on how to properly perform CPR on humans have been widely accessible and available to many people and are regularly taught in offices and some schools.

CPR in pets, however, is not regularly discussed. Veterinary professionals have to undergo training on how to properly perform CPR on a dog or cat suffering from cardiopulmonary arrest. The wide range of sizes of pets, especially across dog breeds, is one of the reasons why a standard guideline for CPR for pets is difficult to access.

But regardless of the size of the animal, the concept and science behind CPR procedures are the same, and knowing what to do in case of a pet emergency can be the difference between life and death for these animals.

Remember Your ABC’s

In cases of emergencies in pets, there are 3 important things that pet owners need to assess and check to determine if emergency procedures such as CPR are needed. The acronym “ABC” is one of the basic concepts in emergencies and is a very helpful guideline in assessing emergencies in pets.

“A” stands for airway, which means establishing a patent (open) airway is the first thing the pet parent needs to check in cases of emergencies. If there is some sort of blockage anywhere along the respiratory tract, any attempts to provide temporary and artificial breathing will become useless unless the obstruction is removed. It is important to check for the patency of airways before doing CPR procedures in all dogs and cats.

“B” stands for breathing. Checking if the animal is breathing will help determine if CPR is necessary. If you fail to check if the pet is breathing and CPR is done on a breathing animal, the procedure might cause more harm than good.

“C” stands for circulation. Make sure to check if the animal has appropriate blood circulation. This is determined by checking for the presence of a heartbeat and pulse. Pressing your ears close to the left side of the chest of a dog or cat can help you assess for the presence of a heartbeat. Chest compressions are contraindicated in patients with a detectable heartbeat as it may result in heart damage if done on a beating heart.

How to Perform CPR on a Dog or Cat

Now that you’ve checked the ABC’s of the animal and have determined that a CPR procedure is necessary, how do you go about it?

CPR in dogs and cats follows the same concept as human CPR - manual chest compressions to stimulate the circulation of blood and rescue breathing to provide temporary oxygenation to the suffering animal.

1. Performing Chest Compressions

The technique for performing chest compressions will vary depending on the size of the animal. For cats, small dogs, and deep-chested dog breeds, the animal should be lying on their right side and the heel of the hand should be placed on top of the heart with the other hand directly on top of it. Barrel-chested breeds should be placed on their backs and the hand should be placed on the widest part of the sternum, again with the other hand directly on top of it.

Compressions should be done at a rate of 100-120 per minute, and around ⅓ to ½ of the chest should be compressed each time. Make sure that the chest expands back to its original size and shape before the next chest compression.

2. Giving Rescue Breaths

Giving rescue breaths in dogs during CPR is done by gently closing the animal’s mouth and extending the pet’s neck to allow for an open respiratory airway. The nostrils must be fully covered by your mouth to make sure each rescue breath will enter the airways properly.

Exhale into the animal’s nose at a rate of 10-12 breaths per minute, making sure that the chest rises with every breath.

A CPR cycle usually involves around 2 breaths every 30 chest compressions and must be done continuously until the dog or cat is brought to or seen by a veterinarian. Checking for a heartbeat and breathing every 2 minutes is recommended. This gives the pet owner an estimate if the CPR procedure is working and prevents any damage by avoiding overdoing the CPR procedure, especially when the animal regains its heart and respiratory functions.

CPR procedures in pets are best done by at least 2 people, one responsible for providing rescue breathing and the other doing chest compressions. It is recommended that these people switch tasks regularly, as continuous chest compression can be tiring and the quality of chest compressions can decline if the person giving the compressions starts to become exhausted.

Knowing how and when to properly perform CPR is an important skill that pet parents should at least be aware of. It is a valuable skill that may prove to be useful eventually. The ability to perform CPR if needed may save a pet’s life.

Read more:

What to Do if Your Pet is Choking

First Aid & Emergency Care for Breathing Problems in Pets

6 Tips to Avoid Common Pet Emergencies in the Summer

Need to speak with a veterinarian regarding pet CPR or another condition?

Click here to schedule a video consult to speak to one of our vets. You can also download the FirstVet app from the Apple App Store and Google Play Stores.

Published: 4/8/2022
Dr. Sheena Haney, Veterinarian

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