Learning Pet CPR

As in humans, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is an emergency technique used when an animal has stopped breathing and has no heartbeat. It involves rescue breathing (mouth-to-snout resuscitation) and chest compressions.

“While visiting family in New York, I was driving down a dark mountain road and, suddenly, with no time to react, I saw a very large Rottweiler in front of me,” said Lisa Shapiro of Long Beach, California. “His dark color made him invisible until it was too late. Then the worst happened – I hit him. I started crying and shaking, but then quickly realized that I had to help. After all, I could! I was trained to handle the situation – I knew pet CPR. I administered rescue breathing and checked for a pulse. The dog’s heart was still beating, so I gave a few more breaths until he could breathe on his own. He had an ID tag, so we drove him to his owners’ house, who were very grateful, and we encouraged them to have him checked out by his veterinarian.”

What could have been the most horrible nightmare turned into a success story. Statistics show that preventable accidents are the leading cause of death among companion animals. According to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), one out of four pets could be saved if just one first-aid technique was applied prior to getting veterinary assistance. Knowing what to do during those first few moments can save your pet’s life. The most competent veterinarian will not be able to bring your dog or cat back once he has expired, but by knowing the life-saving skills of CPR, you can keep your furry friend’s cardio and pulmonary organs working until professional medical help is available.

As in humans, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is an emergency technique used when an animal has stopped breathing and has no heartbeat. It involves rescue breathing (mouth-to-snout resuscitation) and chest compressions. Although you may have taken a human CPR course, dogs and cats don’t share the same anatomy. The concept is the same, but the technique is different making pet-specific training essential. Here are the steps to take to save your pet.

Step 1

Look, listen and feel for breathing. If there’s none:

Step 2

Place the pet on his right side (legs away from you) and give two breaths into his snout (just enough to make his chest rise), keeping his mouth closed with your hands.

Step 3

Check the pulse at the femoral artery (where the hind leg meets the torso). Use your index and middle finger (never your thumb, or you’ll feel your own pulse) and feel for a throb or vibration as the blood pumps through this major artery. Under normal situations, you would be able to count 60 to 170 beats per minute for a medium to large dog and 110 to 220 for small dogs and cats, which may actually feel more like a flutter. If you detect no pulse:

Step 4

Gently take the animal’s left front leg and bend it at the elbow, rotating it at the shoulder. Place your left hand where his elbow meets his body. Take your right hand across his chest and place it on the ground underneath him, stabilizing his body and preventing him from rolling as you compress. With your left hand, push on his chest twelve to fifteen times for a medium to large dog (approximately three compressions every two seconds) and then deliver two more breaths. Repeat. Every four cycles, check for a pulse. If there are two people, one breathes and the others compresses at the rate of one breath for every two to three compressions.

NOTE: Never breathe or compress on an animal that is breathing or has a pulse.


Quickly transport the pet to the nearest Animal Emergency Center. Realize that you may not be able to get the animal breathing or get the heart beat to resume and may need to continue CPR while someone else drives.

For cats and small dogs, use your fingertips to compress the heart rather than your left hand, or place four fingers of your left hand under the animal’s chest and compress the top with your left thumb. Make five compressions for one breath and check for a pulse every eight to ten cycles.

For barrel-chested breeds, you may position the dog on his back and compress the chest human-style (one hand on top of the other hand and over the chest). Do fifteen compressions for every two breaths, checking for a pulse every four cycles.

When an emergency happens, don’t wish you had learned pet CPR.

Pet CPR classes are available through:

Sunny-dog Ink  |  www.sunnydogink.com  |  (818) 951-7962

The Red Cross®  |  www.redcross.org  |  (202) 303-4498

Pet Tech, Inc.  |  www.pettech.net  |  (760) 930-0309

Denise Fleck is an animal care instructor specializing in senior pet care, first-aid, and CPR. She has her own line of Pet First-Aid Kits and writes for various publications. Denise resides near Los Angeles with her husband and canine family, a loving Black Labrador and two energetic Akitas.


Knowing the procedure for administering CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) is a must for all pet parents of dogs and cats.  You never know when you might need to keep your precious dog or cat’s heart and breathing done manually while getting your pet to an emergency vet.  This procedure could very well save the life of your pet.


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