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Can CPR Help to Save a Pet in Cardiac Arrest? ‘Fur’ Sure!

Bystander CPR significantly increases a person's chance of surviving sudden cardiac arrest. However, did you know it can help pets too?

It’s true! Pets can experience cardiac arrest, and CPR can help rescue your four-legged friend.

Let's explore the latest on CPR for dogs and cats.

Causes of cardiac arrest in pets

Heart abnormalities can trigger cardiac arrest in pets. Other causes include drowning, choking, or trauma – events that deprive the heart of oxygen, causing it to stop beating properly. While the chances of survival with CPR are lower in pets than in humans, attempting CPR provides a better chance of survival than doing nothing.

Several factors – including a pet’s size, shape, and weight – influence the optimal approach to CPR in dogs and cats.

We'll classify large pets as 30 pounds and over, and small pets as under 30 pounds.

Helping a pet that’s choking

If your pet collapses and is unresponsive, check its breathing. If you can’t feel air moving past its nostrils or see its chest rise, try to determine whether it’s choking.

 If your pet is choking and you can see the object, try scooping it out with your fingers, being careful not to push it in deeper. If you can't clear the airway quickly, try using abdominal thrusts to dislodge the obstruction – essentially the Heimlich maneuver for dogs and cats.


Performing abdominal thrusts on a choking pet

1.     Get behind your pet and find the "tuck" where the ribs end and the belly begins.

2.     Make a fist, cover it with your other hand, and press inwards and upwards. Short, quick motions can help dislodge the object.

3.     To perform this maneuver on a large pet, stand it on its hind legs. For a small pet, use your fingers instead of your fist.

Performing compressions during CPR

If your pet is unconscious, not breathing, and not choking, check for a pulse. The femoral artery, a large blood vessel located on the inside of the hind leg, is the best spot.  

§  Use two fingers to press lightly. Don’t use your thumbs. If you don’t feel a pulse, begin CPR.

Just like in humans, your pet’s heart is located on the left side of its body. Make sure the left side is facing up when delivering compressions.

For most large-breed dogs, like a Golden Retriever or Great Dane, deliver compressions over the widest part of the chest.

For narrow-chested dogs, like a German Shepherd of Greyhound, deliver compressions over the area where the front leg elbow lines up with the chest.

For barrel-chested dogs, like a Bulldog, lay it on its back and deliver compressions over the breastbone (sternum).

For a cat, lay it with its left side facing up, and use one hand to compress where the elbow lines up with the body. Wrap your other hand around the other side of the cat’s body to provide support.

Begin compressions. If your pet is on its side, push down about one-third to one-half the width of your pet’s chest 100-120 times a minute. If your dog is on its back, compress the middle of the chest where the ribs meet.

Providing ‘mouth-to-snout’ breaths during CPR

Rescue breaths should be part of CPR on pets. The approach differs from providing breaths to humans: instead of delivering breaths into the mouth, they are delivered into the nostrils, or into the nostrils and mouth. Here’s the full CPR approach:

1. Perform 30 compressions, give two mouth-to-snout breaths, and repeat. Each set of compressions followed by rescue breaths is one cycle. For all breaths, make sure you see the animal's chest rise.

For a large dog, close its muzzle with your hands and breathe into its nostrils.

For a small dog and cat, cover both the nostrils and mouth with your mouth and deliver breaths.

2. After delivering rescue breaths and compressions for two minutes (five cycles), stop and check for a pulse.

3. If your detect a pulse but the pet isn’t breathing, continue rescue breaths.

4. Stop CPR if your pet starts breathing and has a pulse. It’s time to head to the vet.  

You may also check out this video tutorial on providing CPR to pets.

Seek professional care

Congratulations! You’ve done great in proving essential first line emergency care to your best buddy. However, professional care is critical to your pet’s survival. Transport your pet to a veterinarian clinic as soon as you can. Call ahead so the staff is prepared to assist. If your pet still requires CPR, have someone else drive, if possible, while you continue CPR. Veterinary staff can take over once you arrive.

Our pets are our beloved companions and treasured family members. By being prepared, remaining calm, and following the latest best practices, you could save yours in an emergency.


At Starting Hearts, we can provide specific training for making a life-saving difference.

Contact us for more information: [email protected].

Alex Alcon is a registered nurse and healthcare writer based in North Carolina.