Artificial Respiration & CPR for Pets

Medicine Chest:

  • Blanket
  • Karo syrup or honey
  • Small pillow or blanket
  • Needle or safety pin
  • Small pliers or tongs


      Pets usually go into respiratory arrest first; the heart may continue to beat for a short time even after a pet’s breathing has stopped.  You must begin artificial respiration within minutes in order to save your pet’s life.  Start rescue breathing immediately, but be prepared to continue in the car on the way to the hospital.  Have someone else drive while you work on your pet.  It is not unusual for a cat or dog to be saved after an owner has breathed for them for ½ hour or more.

      A pet who is very cold may breathe much slower than normal, so be sure that he has stopped breathing; watch to see if the chest rises and falls or feel for his breath with your hand.  If he is not breathing, his gums will turn blue from lack of oxygen.

      CPR combines artificial respiration with chest compressions by alternating the two acts.  To tell if your pet’s heart has stopped, first check for a pulse by pressing the fingertips of your index, middle and ring fingers into the crease where the inside of his thigh meets his body.  This is where the femoral artery is.  If you can’t feel a pulse, put your ear or hand flat against your pet’s left side directly behind the elbow to listen or feel for the heartbeat. 

      Sometimes a pulse can be hard to find, so it is a good idea to check for responsiveness in your pet as well.  This is done by testing his reflexes as follows:

      • Call his name and watch for a response – even an ear twitch.
      • Pull gently on his leg to see if he pulls back.
      • Watch his eyes as you pinch hard between his toes; he’ll blink if he’s even partially conscious.
      • Tap the inside corner of his eyelid to prompt a blink reflex.

      No response means that he is unconscious.  If he’s unconscious but breathing and his heart is beating, continue to monitor for signs of cardiac arrest.  Control any bleeding on the way to the clinic and treat for shock by wrapping him in a blanket.  If you have it available, you can put some Karo syrup or honey on his gums.  This will help raise his blood sugar levels in case low blood sugar is the reason for his unconsciousness.

      Before beginning artificial respiration, check to see if the airway is clear by opening your pet’s mouth and checking for any foreign objects.  If the airway is blocked, grab his tongue and pull it outward to dislodge the object, or reach in with your fingers or small pliers or tongs to grab it.  If you can’t reach it, use the Heimlich maneuver. 

      Once the airway is open, begin Artificial Respiration:

      • Make sure that your pet’s head and neck are in line with his back so that his throat offers a straight shot into his lungs.  Close his mouth with one or both hands and blow two quick breaths into his nostrils.  Watch to see if his chest expands. You’ll have to blow pretty hard to fill the lungs of really big dogs, but with cats and small dogs, be careful to just puff into the lungs so they don’t rupture.  The key is to blow only until the chest rises.  Between breaths, let the air naturally escape out of the lungs before giving the next breath.  Give 15 to 20 breaths per minute until your pet begins breathing on his own or you reach the veterinarian.
      • Sometimes, air will collect in the stomach when it goes down your pet’s throat.  Every few minutes, push on his stomach on the left side behind his ribs to expel it.

      Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) for Pets:

      For Cats & Small Dogs (less than 20 lbs.):

      • Place your pet on his side on a flat, firm surface.  Cup your hand over the point of the chest just behind the elbows.  Squeeze firmly, pressing in about ½ inch, with your thumb on one side and your fingers on the other.  Give one breath for every 5 compressions.  The goal is 80 – 100 compressions and 15 – 20 breaths per minute.  That’s a little more than one compression per second, which can be hard to do without training so if you can manage 60 – 100 per minute, you’re doing fine. 

      For Medium and Large Dogs (over 20 lbs.):

      • Place your pet on his side on a flat, firm surface.  If one is available, place a small pillow or rolled blanket under the lower part of his chest.  This will eliminate any dead space and improve the compressions.  Put both hands, one on top of the other, on his chest at a comfortable position near the highest point (from the floor, up) of the chest wall.  Press down firmly and vigorously with both hands, compressing the chest by 25 to 50%.  You will need to exert a lot of force with larger dogs, but don’t worry about breaking bones – they’ll heal.  Alternate compressions with breaths at the same rate as for small dogs.
      • For a barrel-chested dog like a bulldog, lay the dog on his back, cross his paws over his breastbone, and kneel with his abdomen between your legs.  Hold his paws and perform chest compressions by pushing downward directly over the breastbone.  If it is difficult to keep him square on his back and his body keeps shifting on you, lay him on his side and proceed as described above.
      • Every minute, stop CPR to check for a pulse or breathing.  If the heart starts again, stop the compressions but continue artificial respiration until your pet breathes on his own or you reach medical help.

      Again, it is best to have someone drive you so you can continue the first aid while you’re en route to the vet.