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Pet CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation)

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Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can be used in pets, just as in people.  However, in reality, CPR is not nearly as useful in pet emergencies as it often is in cases of human heart attacks.  First, because the vessels that supply blood to the heart muscle itself are different in pets than in people, pets generally do not have the type of acute heart attacks that people do.  Unfortunately, in pets, most cases of heart stoppage are related to end-of-life crises.  In addition, the facial anatomy of dogs and cats make it difficult to effectively perform traditional mouth-to-mouth (or mouth-to-nose) resuscitation.  Regardless, if your pet is unconscious and you feel no heartbeat in the chest, you can try a modified CPR procedure as described below, while you transport your pet to your veterinarian's office or to a veterinary emergency clinic immediately.


With a driver taking you and your pet to veterinary assistance, you can use chest compressions to push blood to the brain and hopefully restart the pet's heart.  Put the pet on its side, and place the heel of one hand on the pet's ribcage just behind the shoulder.  Cover this hand with your other hand and push down hard enough to get the ribs to move an inch or two.  Repeat this every second or so until you feel a heartbeat or reach professional help.


Do not try to do chest compression or mouth-nose resuscitation on a pet with labored breathing.  You won't be able to put more air into the lungs than the animal can on its own, and you may make matters worse (or get bitten by a frightened pet).  Animals with labored breathing should be seen by a veterinarian for oxygen therapy, a diagnostic evaluation, and additional medications.


If you suspect that your pet has an object stuck in its airway, you can perform a modified form of the Heimlich maneuver to try and dislodge it.  If your pet's breathing is labored because it is overheated, you can wet the pet down with cool water or wet towels.

 

Q&A

Can you do CPR on pets?

Yes, but it is not as useful in pet emergencies as it is in cases of human heart attacks.


What is the best way to proceed if my pet's heart stops?

If your pet is unconscious and you feel no heartbeat in the chest, you can use chest compressions to push blood to the brain while you travel to your veterinarian's office or the veterinary emergency clinic.


How about mouth-to-mouth (mouth-to-nose) resuscitation?

The facial anatomy of dogs and cats make it difficult to effectively perform traditional mouth-to-mouth (or mouth-to-nose) resuscitation.  In addition, you could get accidentally scratched or bitten by a frightened pet.

Credit: Written and reviewed by John A. Bukowski, DVM, MPH, PhD and Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS
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