Pet emergencies can happen in the blink of an eye, and dealing with them can be scary, especially when you don’t know what you should do to help your pet. Having some knowledge of basic first aid, including CPR, can make a difference. Preparedness reduces anxiety and helps you stay calm. Knowing how to perform CPR on a person or pet is a lifesaving procedure everyone should know how to do. However, until recently, there wasn’t one standard set of guidelines on how to perform CPR on pets. That changed in 2012 when a team of veterinary experts released new recommendations to increase survival rates for pets in cardiac arrest. The Reassessment Campaign on Veterinary Resuscitation (RECOVER) is a joint effort between the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care, and the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society to establish evidence based guidelines to improve pet survival rates.
CPR should only be used in an emergency situation when your pet is unresponsive and not breathing. Never on a healthy dog or cat breathing on their own. This is important because you can harm your pet if he is still breathing. If you find your pet unconscious and not breathing with no heartbeat, you need to start CPR. If there’s someone with you, have them call the vet while you attend to your pet. Ideally, you want to be on your way to the vet while performing CPR.
Step One: Open the Airway
Place your pet on his right side. Make sure his airway is free from any obstructions like, vomit, bones, small objects, or blood. Be careful putting your fingers into his mouth. Even unconscious, a pet could bite instinctively. Make sure there’s no foreign objects in his mouth or throat and remove anything you find. Pull the tongue forward so it doesn’t block the airway. You might need to use a cloth to get a better grip on the tongue. Gently straighten out his head to align it with his neck for an open airway, as long as you know there isn’t a neck injury. If you suspect a neck injury – don’t move it.
Step Two: Check for Breathing and a Pulse
Check to see if he’s breathing by watching his chest for movement or put your face next to his mouth so you can feel and listen for signs of breathing. If you don’t detect any, give 4 to 5 rescue breaths (see rescue breathing below) immediately. To check for a heartbeat, put your hand on his chest where his left elbow touches it. Find the femoral artery inside the back leg in the crease where it meets the body, and check for a pulse. Use your index and middle fingers and press lightly to feel for it. Don’t use your thumb to check for a pulse because you are more apt to feel your own pulse. Another area to find a pulse is on the front paws just above the middle paw pad, or on the back paws, above the middle paw pad. The femoral artery is the easiest place to find a pulse on dogs, but it’s harder to find on cats. It’s a good idea to know where to find a pulse and heartbeat before you need to check for them in an emergency. Knowing in advance saves valuable time.
Step Three: Begin Rescue Breathing
Hold a large dog’s mouth closed and get a good seal with your mouth around his nose. For smaller pets, seal your mouth around both the nose and mouth. Make sure there’s no air escaping through the pet’s mouth. Breathe into his nose, just enough to see his chest expand. Be careful not to breathe too hard and over inflate the lungs. Allow the lungs to deflate completely in between breaths. If you don’t see the chest expanding, check again to make sure his mouth is free of foreign objects and realign his airway before trying again. When you see his chest expanding, you have an open airway.
Step Four: Begin Chest Compressions
Only start chest compressions after the airway is clear and you’ve started rescue breathing. If possible, put your pet on a flat, firm surface. Keep doing rescue breathing.
For large or medium sized dogs, put one hand over the other hand on the widest part of the chest and press down, keeping your arms straight. For dogs with a narrow chest, like Greyhounds, place your hand over his heart to compress. Barrel-chested dogs, like Bulldogs, should be placed on their back and given compressions directly over the heart, like you would for a person. When massaging the heart of a cat, puppy, or small dog under 22 pounds, use one hand and place your thumb and fingers around the chest underneath your pet’s front legs and squeeze firmly, but be careful not to press too hard. If it’s difficult with one hand, use both hands, one on each side of your pet’s chest.
Press down on the chest with 30 rapid compressions and then give 2 rescue breaths. Compress one-third to one half of the chest width, 100 to 120 times per minute – 2 per second. Alternate between two rescue breaths and 30 chest compressions. Check for a pulse and signs of breathing every minute or so. Continue until your pet begins breathing on his own and has a steady pulse. If you have someone available, trade off every couple of minutes when doing chest compressions to prevent fatigue which can cause you to lean on the chest in between compressions. Leaning on the chest will make the compressions not as effective. Call your vet immediately when your pet begins to breathe on his own, if you haven’t done so already.
It’s highly recommended to take an American Red Cross CPR course for people and then take one for pets. That way you have lifesaving knowledge for everyone in your family. CPR can save a life, and the new guidelines gives your pet improved odds to survive cardiac arrest. Your quick action is your pet’s best chance.
Here’s a good demonstration video on how to perform CPR on a dog. This video was done, however, before the new CPR guidelines were released last year.
Items in a personalized first aid kit for your pet can make a difference during an emergency. Even if you aren’t in an emergency mode, being able to quickly locate what you need like a styptic pencil/powder to stop a bleeding toenail, a gauze pad to clean out a cut on a paw pad, or a thermometer to take a pet’s temperature, lets you to take care of minor problems immediately instead of wasting time searching for what you need. Knowing what each item is used for and how to use it is as important as the item itself. If you don’t have a pet first aid kit, now is a good time to make one. Include long term medications (rotate to keep them fresh) in case you need to grab your kit in a hurry, along with the new guidelines on how to perform CPR on pets. The first thing to remember in any emergency is to stay calm.