Could CPR save your pet’s life?

CPR is a potentially life-saving technique. Know the steps and give your pet a fighting chance for survival

Could CPR save your pet's life?

Source: Best Health Magazine, September 2012; Image credit:

What would you do if your pet collapsed? A 2009 poll found that 58 percent of U.S. pet owners would attempt CPR to save their four-legged friend.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation is a life-saving procedure consisting of artificial respiration and chest compressions performed when the victim’s heart and breathing have stopped. CPR helps to pump oxygen-rich blood to the body’s vital organs. And, yes, you can do it on your pet’but only when he is unconscious, says Dr. Nicole Gallant, a veterinarian in Kensington, P.E.I.

A pet could collapse for several reasons, such as electrocution, choking, blood clots or trauma. ‘CPR will buy time until you can get to a vet,’ says Gallant. But it isn’t a fix-all. ‘If he has been hit by a car and has massive chest injuries, CPR won’t help.’ The same can be said for an old dog whose heart fails. ‘CPR won’t make any difference other than to prolong [a health issue],’ she says.

How to do CPR on your pet

Step one: First, get someone to drive you to a veterinary clinic. In the back seat, lay your pet on his side (it doesn’t matter what side). With your hand on his chest, feel for a heartbeat and breathing. If there’s a heartbeat but no breathing, do artificial respiration only. If you can’t detect either, keep your pet on his side and proceed with CPR.

Step two: Press gently on either side of your pet’s neck to close off his esophagus; then, keeping his mouth closed, blow into his nose, says Gallant. With cats and small dogs, blow air gently into their nose, just enough to see their chest rise; a stronger breath could damage tiny lungs. For large dogs, you can blow with more force. Give two breaths; switch to chest compressions.

Step three: To locate the heart in cats and small dogs, bend either front leg; the heart is in their lower chest under their bent elbow. ‘Put your forefinger on one side and your thumb on the other, and gently compress the chest,’ says Gallant. With large dogs, kneel behind them with their paws pointing away from you. Using your palm, press down on their lower chest. Do it five times, and switch back to respiration.

Step four: Alternate between artificial respiration and chest compressions until you arrive at a veterinary clinic.

Gallant recommends pet owners sign up for a pet CPR course. St. John Ambulance occasionally runs courses, and Walks ‘n’ Wags Pet First Aid offers specialized classes across Canada.

This article was originally titled "Mouth to snout resuscitation?" in the September 2012 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience’and never miss an issue!