CPR on Pets -
Your Mouth-to-Snout Rescue Guide

by Gary Le Mon

Performing CPR on pets

CPR on pets (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) combines chest compressions and rescue breathing (mouth-to-snout) to provide needed oxygen when the heart stops beating.

In an emergency, quickly and properly applied CPR can greatly increase the chances of recovery from heart failure whether applied to a person or a beloved pet. 

Standardized pet CPR guidelines were established in 2012 in an attempt to increase the survival rate of pets given CPR. In a collaborative project supported by the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society (VECCS) and the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care (ACVECC) over 100 board-certified veterinary specialists participated from around the world. Some 18 months and more than 1000 scientific papers later, they agreed upon the following:

First things first

CPR on pets is similar to CPR on humans. Just as in standard human first aid, the first step with pets is to check the ABCs:  Airway, breathing and circulation.

To see if your pet’s airway is clear and the animal is breathing, place your hand in front of your pet’s nose and mouth, feeling and listening for breathing. If there are no signs of breathing, open your pet’s mouth and gently pull the tongue forward to clear the airway. 

Take the time to look for any object that might be obstructing the airway. Close your pet’s mouth and breathe two times into your pet’s nostrils. For small dogs and cats, it may be easier to cover the animal’s nostrils and mouth with your mouth and then provide the breaths. 

If the chest doesn’t expand, there may be an obstruction out of sight in your pet’s throat. Make sure your pet’s neck is oriented to provide an unobstructed airway, and try a few more breaths. Finger sweeps can be used to attempt to remove an obstruction, or the obstruction can be dislodged by gently stroking upward on your pet’s throat.

Listen for a heartbeat

Next, check for circulation by listening for a heartbeat. Listen closely to your pet’s left chest near the elbow of the left front leg.  If you cannot hear or feel a heartbeat, it’s time to begin CPR.  

Chest compressions are the most important part of CPR on pets. All cats and dogs should receive 100 to 120 chest compressions per minute, but how you deliver the compressions depends on your pet.

Begin compressions

For most medium and large dogs, compress the widest part of the chest while your pet lies on its side. For breeds with deep, narrow chests, such as greyhounds, compress closer to the left front leg, directly over the heart. For small dogs and cats, wrap one hand around the animal’s sternum (breastbone) and squeeze to apply compressions. 

Combine with rescue breathing

Compressions alone may be helpful, but ideally you should combine them with mouth-to-snout rescue breathing. Pause after every thirty chest compressions to give your pet two rescue breaths.  This is the same ratio used for human CPR.

If someone else is present, you should alternate performing chest compressions with them every two minutes. Continue performing CPR until your pet begins to breathe on its own and has a steady heartbeat.    

For more training, consider taking a pet first aid and CPR class. Fortunately, heart problems are rare in cats and dogs. By knowing the basics of performing CPR on pets you could save your best friend’s life when there's no time to get to the vet.  

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