Arts & Life

Pet Patter: Saving your pet’s life, part one: CPR

This monthly column is a space for simple, useful directions, tips and information to help you keep your animals safe and happy.

Many pet parents with whom I have spoken express anxiety over something dire happening to their beloved animal, while they look on helpless and ill-equipped. Over the next few months I will be going through the most common perils that could befall your pet and how to help.

There are a variety of reasons your pet may require CPR, including heart attack, drowning, electrical shock, choking and others. CPR preserves the brain function until proper blood circulation and breathing can be restored.

The first step is to lay the animal prone on right side so heart is facing up.

If possible call out for help as the best chance of survival is if someone can drive you to the vet while you continue to administer CPR.

Next, you need to open the airways: open the mouth and pull the tongue forward. You may need to use your shirt or a cloth to get a good grip on the tongue. Look inside and see if there is any foreign matter, and if you see something use your fingers to sweep it away. Make sure the head and neck are aligned to create open airway. (if you see an object yet cannot dislodge it, you can perform a Heimlich, which will be discussed in next month’s column on choking)

Look, listen and feel for breath to make sure the animal is not breathing. Watch the chest. Put your face right down to the mouth. If you neither see nor hear breathing give 4 or 5 rescue breaths right away. With larger dogs use your hand to keep snout closed and seal mouth over dog’s nose. On smaller dogs or cats your mouth will naturally cover mouth and nose at same time. Breathe into nose but do not over-inflate lungs. Just enough breath so that chest rises. Make sure to let the lungs deflate completely in between breaths.

Next, you’ll want to check for a heartbeat or pulse before you begin chest compressions. There are 3 places you can do this:

1)    Bring top arm back to chest and the point where the elbow meets the chest is where you’ll find the heartbeat.

2)     Place 3 fingers on top of the back leg about mid-point and slide fingers under toward groin. Feel for that recessed part of the leg where the femoral artery runs closest to the skin, and you should find pulse.

3)    Place 2 fingers under the front paw just above the large middle pad and find pulse. (this is often the hardest place to find pulse)

With all animals in our care it is important to find out the best place to locate the pulse in each of them before an emergency happens. Every animal is different, and we don’t want to waste time looking for best place to find it during a life or death situation.

The normal heart beat for a large dog is about 60-80 beats per minute. A small dog is about 120-140 beats per minute and cats are about 150-180 per minute.

Chest compressions:

1)    Use the tip mentioned above to find heart on dogs, so bring top arm back to chest and where elbow meets the chest is the heart.

2)    For dogs: Place heel of your hand over heart, lock fingers together with straight arms and give 15 rapid compressions. Count out loud. On a larger dog you want the compressions to go in about 2 inches but on smaller dogs only compress to half or full inch.

For cats you only use one hand. The heart is a bit higher in the chest and you can lay your hand so your wrist is resting on cat and rapidly lift and lower hand on heart.

Follow with one rescue breath, then 15 more compressions. Keep going like this and check for pulse or signs of life every minute, or after 4 cycles of breath and compression. You can do this for 20 minutes.

When your dog or cat regains consciousness they will be dazed and scared so speak soothingly, pet them gently. Wait until you have both regained your composure before going to the vet.

You have just saved a life. Well done!


Samantha Bennett is a writer and the co-owner of the pet care business Mille Pattes. She can be reached at