Every Dog And Cat Owner Should Know Pet CPR—Here's How To Get Certified

With a little online training, you might just be able to save your pet's life.

February 9, 2018
dog with first aid kit
PK-Photos/getty

Being a pet parent comes with numerous responsibilities. One you may not have on your list? Learning how to do CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) on your cat or dog.

CPR isn’t only a lifesaving skill for people, but pets, too. “Cardiopulmonary arrest is fatal if not treated quickly,” says Daniel J. Fletcher, Ph.D., D.V.M., associate professor of emergency and critical care at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, N.Y., who helped develop guidelines for pet CPR. “You have only minutes to act – within four minutes of the heart and blood flow stopping, there’s injury to the tissues, and within 10 minutes of no blood flow, there may have irreversible damage—and because you can’t call an ambulance, you’re the only shot your pet has.”

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While success rates aren’t as high in pets as in people, evidence suggests CPR on pets works. Among cats and dogs who go into cardiac arrest after being given a general anesthesia, for instance, those who are given CPR have an almost 50 percent survival rate.

Related: 5 First Aid Essentials Every Pet Owner Should Know

Unlike cardiac arrest in people, though, dogs and cats often arrest because of respiratory, not heart, problems. “While people usually arrest because their heart stops first, it’s often the opposite in pets who stop breathing first,” says Jennifer R. Pittman, D.V.M., specialist in veterinary emergency and critical care at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Sandy Springs, Ga., adding that there are always exceptions to this, as some pets have heart issues that may cause their heart to stop. Chief among the causes of respiratory issues are objects getting stuck in their throat – think toys, bones, even corn cobs – which blocks their airway. Trauma, advancing diseases, and adverse reactions to medications might also contribute.

Getting Certified In Pet CPR

Fortunately, anybody can learn how to do pet CPR, and it’s something you can even do online. For example, Cornell offers an e-learning course, and the American Red Cross offers a Cat & Dog First Aid Online Training. Make sure, though, you ask if the class is using the latest CPR guidelines for pets, which were released in 2012. Prior to this, the industry didn’t have solid guidelines for pet CPR, and as a result, many practitioners have been trained to do it differently than what’s currently recommended, Fletcher says.

 

Just expect a slightly greater learning curve with pet CPR versus people CPR, namely because of the difference in body shapes with dogs in particular. “All people are shaped similarly, but with dogs, there can be striking differences, which affects where you do compressions,” Fletcher says. For instance, with Labrador retrievers, you focus on doing compressions on the widest part of their chest, not necessarily their heart, while a narrow dog like a greyhound will require compressions directly over the heart.

You’ll also need to learn how to mouth-to-nose breathing. In the end, though, just as with people, you’ll be doing a set amount of compressions followed by breaths, alternating as long as you need.

Treat your special pup to some homemade pumpkin oatmeal dog treats:

How To Know If Your Pet Needs CPR

Your first task is to check their responsiveness. If your dog or cat isn’t responding, try to stimulate her by doing something like clapping your hands.

Once you’ve determined that your pet is unresponsive, you’ll check her airway to see if anything is blocking the airflow, a common occurrence in dogs. (Here's how to do the Heimlich Maneuver on a dog.) “If you don’t remove that obstruction, CPR won’t be helpful,” Fletcher says. That means opening her mouth and pulling her tongue back, but if you sense any tension in her jaw, stop immediately. That’s a clear sign your pet doesn’t need CPR, and you could risk being bitten. She still might require emergency care, but at least you’ll know she’s breathing then. If she hasn’t given you that sign, you can also place your hand on her chest to see if you can detect any breathing. You’ll then start CPR as you transport your pet to the vet, hopefully calling a friend or family member who can drive you there if you’re at home alone.

 

One important point to remember? CPR isn’t a replacement for veterinary care. “CPR you perform at home shouldn’t ever delay or prevent you from seeking medical attention,” Pittman says. CPR can, however, buy your pet time until you can get to a pet hospital or vet clinic to figure out what caused the arrest.