Before you begin to worry that you’ll have no idea what to do should the unthinkable occur, let me assure you that the vast majority of you will never be in a position to perform CPR on a pet. It’s also clear that not everyone is cut out for this kind of life-and-death stressfest. /p>

But then, some of you are … in which case I’ll urge you to keep reading, just in case your pet (or your doggie-park friend’s) suffers the worst kind of emergency: a failure of the respiratory and/or cardiac systems.

CPR, which stands for Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, is employed when an animal stops breathing and/or when his heart stops. The causes for this problem are many. But in the daily lives of most pet owners, the need for knowing how to perform basic CPR comes down to only a few typical instances:

  1. Drowning
  2. Heart disease
  3. Trauma (as in, "hit-by-car")
  4. Smoke inhalation
  5. Airway obstruction (as when choking on an object)

There are others, but these are the biggies. In all instances, "basic" CPR is what you’ll need to know. This is what owners and/or bystanders at the scene typically perform. “Advanced” CPR involves the use of expertise, drugs and equipment available at any veterinary hospital, so I won’t be treating this heftier topic here (though it’s interesting, to be sure). 

Basic CPR (for humans as for pets) is all about the ABCs––as in, Airway, Breathing and Compression. The goal is to get oxygen into the lungs and to move the blood sufficiently  so that the oxygen reaches the tissues of the body. 

But first you’ve got to be sure that the animal is unconscious, not breathing and/or does not have a heartbeat. Easier said than done, right? Feeling over the chest at the level of the elbows is the easiest way to tell if the heart is beating or not while watching the chest rise and fall is the simplest measure of respiration. Next up...

Airway: After you’ve ensured that the pet is unconscious and will not bite you, make sure the animal’s airway is open. Extend the neck and make sure the tongue is pulled out. Look inside: Is there a big gob of saliva or other material? Wipe it away. Can you see anything obstructing the airway? Can you feel anything? Remove any debris gently.

Breathing: Sometimes breathing will start up spontaneously after the neck is extended. If you don’t note a rise and fall in the chest or the sound of breathing, begin "rescue breathing." This means that you close the mouth (pulling the tongue forward before you do so), keep the neck extended, put your mouth around the entire nose (covering the nostrils), cover the edges of the mouth with your hands and breathe deeply until you see the chest rise. Remove your mouth and let the lungs deflate. Repeat about 3-5 times, at this rate:

  • Cats and small dogs: 20 to 25 times per minute.
  • Medium and large dogs: 12 to 20 times per minute.

Check for a heart beat at this point. If there isn’t one, begin...


You do this by queezing the chest. In small dogs and cats, you can grab the whole body and squeeze around the circumference. In medium or large dogs, you can lay them on their side and push on their chest near where it meets the level of the elbows. 

Cats and small dogs: 100 to 150 times per minute.

Medium and large dogs: 80 to 120 times per minute.

If you have a partner, you can continue rescue breathing. If you don’t, stop after every 12 compressions to give a breath. In either case, you should immediately start thinking about how to transport your patient to an animal hospital as soon as possible. Ideally, a third individual will drive as you continue your work. If you are alone, please do NOT drive and perform CPR simultaneously. Work for a few minutes to attempt to regain respiration and spontaneous cardiac function then GO. 

And remember, any resuscitated pet needs to be seen by a veterinarian immediately, regardless of the cause!

One final note: Though no one likes to mention this, please be warned that CPR is not usually successful. Except in the instances of "simple" airway obstruction or near-drownings, it’s very, VERY hard to get things going again––with or without the kind of drugs and equipment vets keep on hand. But then, your pet may be the exception. And as long as that possibility exists, veterinarians should keep on preaching the ABC’s of CPR to pet owners. 


Dr. Patty Khuly