CPR and Artificial Respiration for Senior Cats

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Artificial respiration (AR) and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) are emergency procedures that hopefully you will never need to use. It is better to take your cat to your veterinarian before problems become severe enough to require CPR. But, when necessary and if performed correctly, CPR may give you time to get your cat to your veterinarian.




These signs are all reasons to get your cat to your veterinarian immediately:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Weakness or lethargy
  • Unconsciousness
  • Any sudden onset of illness
  • Any sudden unexplained changes in behavior
  • Severe injury or trauma


Before you begin AR or CPR, make sure the cat is truly in need. Talk to the cat. Touch and gently shake him. You risk serious injury by trying to perform either AR or CPR on a cat that is startled awake while sleeping. Here are some vital signs you can check to help you decide if AR or CPR is necessary:

  • Check breathing – Watch for movement of the chest, or feel for it with your hand. Put your hand in front of your cat’s nose to feel his breath; if mist forms on a piece of clean glass or metal placed in front of your cat’s nose, CPR is probably not necessary.
  • Check the color of his gums – Bluish or gray gums are a sign of not enough oxygen; white gums are the result of poor blood circulation.
  • Check for a pulse on the inside of the thigh, near where the leg meets the body.
  • Listen for a heartbeat by putting your ear (or a stethoscope) on the left side of the chest near the elbow.




If possible, perform the following steps en route to your veterinarian.

  1. Check for breathing.
  2. If there is none, open the mouth and remove any obstructions in the airway.
  3. Pull the tongue to the front of the mouth, then close the mouth and gently hold it shut.
  4. Make sure the neck is straight and breathe short puffs of air into the nose – one breath every 6 seconds (10 breaths/minute). (If you have been trained in CPR for human infants, use a similar strength of breath.)
  5. Watch for chest movement; the chest should both rise when you give a breath and relax after the breath.
  6. If the cat’s heart stops, use both artificial respiration and CPR (steps 7-10)
  7. Check for a heartbeat and pulse.
  8. If there is none, lay your cat on his right side on a flat surface.
  9. Place your thumb and fingers from one hand on either side of his chest behind his elbows and give a quick squeeze to compress the chest to about 1/3 to 1/2 of its normal thickness.
  10. Compress the chest about 100-120 times per minute; give two breaths for every 30 compressions.





Your veterinarian will give your cat a brief physical exam to assess heart and lung activity before beginning resuscitative efforts. If your veterinarian can revive your cat, appropriate testing will be done to determine the underlying health problem.



While your veterinary team continues with CPR, some or all of the following may be done to aid in reviving your cat:

  • An endotracheal tube will be placed and oxygen used for artificial respiration. (An endotracheal tube is a tube placed in the trachea – the large airway that connects the throat to the lungs – that can be used to deliver oxygen to the lungs.)
  • An intravenous catheter will be placed to allow for easier administration of emergency medication and to give fluids.
  • Epinephrine and other emergency medications will be given in an effort to stimulate the heart and breathing.




If your senior cat has been previously diagnosed with a serious and/or terminal illness, you may wish to consider whether it is in your cat’s best interests to pursue heroic life-saving measures. Ideally, this decision would be made before a crisis occurs, so you know how you wish to proceed.

Unfortunately, most cats that reach the point of needing CPR do not survive. If your cat survives, expect him to stay in the hospital until a diagnosis is made and his condition is stabilized.

Follow all your veterinarian’s aftercare instructions, and if your cat shows no improvement or relapses, be sure to contact your veterinarian immediately.




Accidents do happen, in spite of our best efforts, and some can be severe enough to require cardiopulmonary resuscitation or artificial respiration. Regular check-ups and prompt care of health problems will diminish the chances your cat has a serious issue which requires artificial respiration or CPR.



This is an excellent article to keep handy.  Of course the best care is to bring your cat to the vet at the first sign of the problems listed in the beginning of the article.

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