We never want to imagine a scenario where a pet needs cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), but if you find your pet non-responsive without a pulse, knowing how to jump in and help may save your pet’s life.
The goal of CPR is to provide blood flow and oxygen to the brain and major organs of a pet who has experienced cardiac or respiratory arrest (or both). CPR is meant to support life until medical treatment can be attained. The breaths you give your pet force air into the lungs and oxygenate the blood, and the chest compressions you give pump that blood through the body.
First thing’s first - before you attempt CPR on any animal, make sure he or she is really unconscious and not breathing. Some pets, especially geriatric pets, sleep very, very soundly. You could risk serious injury to yourself by trying to perform CPR on an animal who is merely sleeping.
If you come across your pet unconscious, not breathing and without a heartbeat, remain calm but act swiftly. If you have another person with you, you will need to instruct them on how to help you. CPR is easiest with two people, but can also be managed with one person if you are alone.
CPR consists of rescue breathing and chest compressions.
Rescue breathing (if pet is not breathing):
Open your pet’s airway by opening her mouth and pulling her tongue out so that you can see the back of her mouth. Remove any vomit or other foreign material by performing a finger sweep with a hooked finger, being careful not to push foreign material deeper into the throat.
Close your pet’s mouth and cover her nose with your mouth to blow air into her lungs. Be sure to hold the corners of her mouth closed as you do this to prevent air from escaping. As you breathe, watch her chest to make sure it rises when you give her breath. If it doesn’t check again to make sure that her airway is open.
Give three to five full breaths, and then check to see if she is breathing on her own. If not, continue rescue breathing.
For small dogs and cats: give 20-25 breaths per minute
For medium and large dogs: give 12-20 breaths per minute
Chest compressions (if pet has no heartbeat):
For small dogs and cats, squeeze the chest with one or two hands, compressing around the chest. Your goal is to give 100-150 compressions per minute.
For medium and large dogs, lay them on their side and use one or both hands to compress the chest firmly 80-120 times per minute.
Ideally, chest compressions and rescue breathing can occur simultaneously, but if you’re by yourself, this is an impossible feat. Instead, you will want to give two breaths for every 12 chest compressions.
Sadly, the survival rates for pets who need CPR is dismal. A mere 6-7% of pets will survive, even when CPR is performed in the hospital. But the chance of survival is always 0% if we don’t try, so having the tools to at least attempt CPR can give your pet some hope.
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