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How To Do Dog CPR

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Dog Care By Ben Team 15 min read May 24, 2021 4 Comments

dog CPR
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We talk a lot about health problems and other kinds of pet emergencies, but canine cardiac arrest is easily one of the most frightening things that could happen to your pet.

There aren’t great statistics for dogs available, but people suffering from cardiac arrest are nearly three times as likely to survive if they receive CPR.

It’s unlikely that CPR is quite as effective for dogs as it is for people, but it should still improve your pet’s chances of a full recovery.

Consequently, canine CPR is something that all dog owners should know. And fortunately, it isn’t very difficult to learn. After all, it even appears that dogs can learn to perform CPR (to be clear, that’s a joke, folks).  

We’ll discuss the basics of canine CPR below, so you can be prepared to help your pooch if the unthinkable happens.

We’ll explain when to perform CPR on a dog, how to perform pet CPR on your pet, and we’ll provide a few additional tips that should help give your pet the best chance of a happy outcome.

And while we’re at it, we’ll explain how to perform the dog Heimlich maneuver too.

Is Dog CPR Common Knowledge?

Human CPR training has become much more common over the last few decades.

In fact, CPR instruction is a normal part of the training process for many jobs these days. The majority of healthcare employees who work with patients must obtain CPR training, as do most people who care for children, such as teachers, coaches, and daycare personnel.

cpr dummy

But unfortunately, despite these modern trends, CPR-trained individuals remain pretty rare.

About half of the people surveyed by the Cleveland Clinic reported that they knew CPR. But unfortunately, most of these were relying on outdated information.

Only a small percentage of the populace (about 11% of Americans) knows how to perform CPR in a manner consistent with the most current data.  

And while there are no statistics available, we’re willing to bet that the percentage of people who know how to perform CPR on pets is much, much lower.

We bring all of this up to make one very important point: Even if your pet goes into cardiac arrest in a public place, it is unlikely that anyone in the immediate area will be able to help.

In all likelihood, you will be your dog’s only hope.

What Is Dog CPR?

Dog CPR – just like human CPR – is a method that can help keep your pet alive if his heart and/or breathing stops.

The term CPR stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation (cardio = heart, pulmonary = lungs).

In a nutshell, the technique requires you to repeatedly compress your dog’s chest, which causes the heart muscle to pump. The heart doesn’t pump as efficiently as it normally should via this method, but it is better than nothing, and often sufficient to keep the brain from becoming oxygen deprived.

Additionally, you’ll blow into your dog’s nose periodically. This will help get oxygen into your pet’s lungs, which – combined with the chest compressions – will help ensure oxygen still reaches his brain and other body tissues (yes, you primarily exhale nitrogen and carbon dioxide, but you also blow out oxygen).

When Is Dog CPR Necessary?

Ultimately, you need to begin performing dog CPR anytime your pet’s heart stops beating.

If your dog is not breathing but has a detectable pulse, you’ll want to provide rescue breathing instead. However, it is important to note that if your dog stops breathing, his heart is likely to stop pumping soon.

So, be sure to check his pulse frequently while giving rescue breaths and be ready to switch to CPR immediately.

giving dog cpr

Of course, this means you’ll need to know how to check your pet’s pulse and breathing. Don’t worry – both skills are pretty easy to learn.

How to Check Your Dog’s Pulse

You can check your pet’s pulse in the same basic way that you’d check the pulse of a person. You simply apply light to moderate pressure with your fingers in one of a few key locations.

For humans, the best places to check are the wrist, the inner elbow, the side of the neck, or on the top of the foot.

For dogs, you can start by trying to feel the heart directly (see the next section to learn how to locate the heart) through the chest.

If you cannot feel your dog’s heart beating through the chest, try feeling the pulse of his femoral artery. To feel this pulse, press down on the inner surface of the thigh, near its junction with the abdomen.   

How to Check Your Dog’s Breathing

There are a few different ways to check your pet’s breathing.

The simplest method is to place your hand on your dog’s chest and see if it is moving up and down. You could also place a tissue in front of your dog’s nose. If your dog is breathing, it should make the tissue move.

Dog Nose

You can also place your head near his mouth and listen for sounds of breathing too. (This assumes your dog is truly unresponsive – you don’t want to place your head near the lion’s mouth, so to speak, as trauma can make pets act in unpredictable ways.)

If you can’t verify that your dog is breathing within 10 seconds, check to ensure his airway is clear.

To do so, gently pull his tongue forward as far as possible and remove any objects you can see with your fingers. Just be careful to avoid pushing any objects farther down your dog’s throat. 

How Do You Perform Dog CPR?

Dog CPR is very similar to human CPR. There are just a few differences, which primarily relate to the differences in anatomy between people and dogs.

For dogs who weigh less than 25 pounds:

  • Roll your dog on his right side (if necessary).
  • Sit on your knees behind his back.
  • Place both hands (one over the other) on the largest part of his ribcage.
  • Lock your elbows.
  • Begin giving compressions. Try to make the compressions at a steady tempo and with about the same amount of force each time. You should try to make the chest collapse by about 1/2 to 1/3 of the width of the chest with each compression. Make sure that you release the pressure completely after each compression and allow your dog’s chest to completely “recoil.” Shoot for a pace of 100 to 120 compressions per minute.
  • After giving 30 compressions, pause to give two rescue breaths and check for a pulse.
  • If you have a partner who can help, he or she should give a rescue breath every 6 to 8 seconds, and you should continue to do compressions the entire time. To give a rescue breath, hold your dog’s mouth closed, place your mouth over his nose and blow.
  • Try to switch roles every 2 minutes or so, and check for a pulse during the transition.
  • If you detect a pulse at any point, stop giving compressions and head directly to the veterinary hospital. If you do not detect a pulse when checking, immediately resume compressions.
  • Continue performing CPR for at least 10 to 20 minutes or until you can detect a pulse.  

For dogs who weigh more than 25 pounds:

  • Roll your dog on his right side (if necessary).
  • Sit on your knees behind his back.
  • Place both hands (one over the other) directly above your dog’s heart. You can find the heart by gently flexing and tucking your dog’s front leg as close to his body as possible. His elbow should now be over his heart (more or less).
  • Lock your elbows.
  • Begin giving compressions. Try to make the compressions at a steady tempo and with about the same amount of force each time. You should try to make the chest collapse by about ½ to 1/3 of the width of the chest with each compression. Make sure that you release the pressure completely after each compression and allow your dog’s chest to completely “recoil.” Shoot for a pace of 100 to 120 compressions per minute.
  • After giving 30 compressions, pause to give two rescue breaths and check for a pulse.
  • If you have a partner who can help, he or she should give a rescue breath every 6 to 8 seconds, and you should continue to do compressions the entire time. To give a rescue breath, hold your dog’s mouth closed, place your mouth over his nose and blow.
  • Try to switch roles every 2 minutes or so, and check for a pulse during the transition.
  • If you detect a pulse at any point, stop giving compressions and head directly to the veterinary hospital. If you do not detect a pulse when checking, immediately resume compressions.
  • Continue performing CPR for at least 10 to 20 minutes or until you can detect a pulse.  

NOTE: For very small dogs, it may be easier to squeeze the rib cage with one hand, rather than delivering compressions with your body weight. Just place your fingers in the same place you normally would for small dogs (over the heart) and place your thumb on the other side of his body.

Your dog’s age does not matter when performing CPR. You’ll perform CPR on a puppy the same way you would an adult dog.

How to Give a Dog CPR Video Demonstration

Check out the dog CPR video below to see the steps above in action.

How Do You Perform Rescue Breathing for a Dog?

If your dog has a pulse but is not breathing, you’ll need to provide rescue breathing.

Just remember that cardiac arrest often occurs quickly when pets stop breathing, so be sure to check for a pulse repeatedly.

If you stop being able to detect a pulse, switch to CPR immediately.

To perform rescue breathing on a dog follow the steps listed below:

  • Ensure that your dog’s airway is clear by gently pulling the tongue forward and out of the mouth.
  • Look inside your dog’s mouth and throat to ensure that no objects are present. If you see something blocking your dog’s throat, remove it carefully with your fingers. Just be careful to avoid pushing the item farther down your dog’s throat.
  • Once you’re sure the airway is clear, close your dog’s mouth gently.
  • Hold your dog’s mouth closed with your hands, place your mouth around your dog’s nose, and blow until you see your dog’s chest rise.
  • Let your dog exhale the air you’ve just blown into his lungs.
  • Continue providing rescue breathing at a rate of one breath every five seconds.
  • If your pet doesn’t regain consciousness in a few minutes, head to the nearest veterinary emergency room. If possible, have a friend drive, so that you can perform rescue breathing en route (be sure to wear your seatbelt).

Can You Do the Heimlich Maneuver on Dogs?

One of the reasons your dog may not be breathing or have a pulse is that something is stuck in his throat. This can block off his windpipe, making it impossible (or difficult) for him to breathe.

If you suspect that your dog is choking, begin by making sure his airway is clear.

  1. Open his mouth with your hands and pull his tongue forward and out of his mouth
  2. Visually inspect his mouth and throat
  3. If you can see an object stuck in his mouth, try to remove it with your fingers. If you can’t grip it with your fingers, you can try to use the handle of a spoon to pry it free.
Dog Heimlich Maneuver

Just be careful that you don’t inadvertently push the object further down your dog’s throat.

If this is ineffective, you can try to perform a version of the Heimlich maneuver for dogs. There are two different ways to do so, depending on the size of your dog.

Performing the Dog Heimlich Maneuver on Small Dogs

If your dog is small enough to pick up easily, begin by gently flipping him over on his back. Then apply upward pressure to his abdomen just below the rib cage. With luck, this will help your dog cough up the obstructing item.

Performing the Dog Heimlich Maneuver on Large Dogs

If your dog is too large to lift easily, you can perform the procedure in one of two ways.

Option 1: For Standing Dogs

  1. If your dog is standing (or you feel that this is the most appropriate position for the circumstance), stand or kneel behind him.
  2. Wrap your hands around his abdomen. Make a fist with one hand and cover it with the other.
  3. Place your joined hands just below his rib cage and squeeze his abdomen by pulling your hands up and into his body.

Option 2: For Dogs Lying Down

  1. If your dog is lying on his side, place one hand on his abdomen just below the rib cage.
  2. Place your other hand on your pup’s spine at about the same level as your other hand.
  3. Press inward and upward with the hand on his belly.

Once your efforts appear to have worked, be sure to lay your dog on his side and make sure there’s nothing in his mouth.

How Do You Know How Fast to Give Dog CPR?

It can be difficult for people to know how fast they need to push to hit the 100 to 120 compression-per-minute guideline.

One of the best ways to do so is by performing the compressions to the beat of a familiar song.

The old standby is the 1977 disco hit Stayin Alive by the Bee Gees. It clocks in at 103 beats per minute (bpm), so it is at the slower end of the spectrum.

Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust has a tempo of 110 bpm, so it works too, but some people find this to be a distasteful song choice, given the circumstances in which it’ll be used.

Is Dog CPR Dangerous?

Dog CPR is not without its risks. It can cause broken ribs, collapsed lungs, and other injuries.

Obviously, broken ribs are preferable to death. So, don’t hesitate to initiate CPR (or rescue breathing) if you deem it necessary.

However, there is a flipside to this coin: You should never perform CPR on your dog for practice, or anytime it isn’t necessary. That could lead to potentially serious and unnecessary injuries.

But, if you want to practice your skills, you can grab a CPR Dog Dummy.   

Can You Call 911 for a Dog?

Many folks would probably be inclined to call 911 in a pet-related emergency, but this probably isn’t a great idea.

can you call 911 for dog?

It’s actually not clear whether calling 911 for your pet would be considered improper use of the emergency system, as the National 911 Program doesn’t detail all of the permissible and non-permissible uses of the system.

At least one woman was fined $100 after calling 911 for assistance when her Great Dane collapsed. However, it isn’t entirely clear whether the fine was levied because she called on behalf of her dog, or because there was a misunderstanding. It appears that the caller referred to her pet as her “daughter.”

So, because the answer isn’t clear, we’re not going to advise you one way or the other. We’ll just encourage you to do what you think is best for your pet.

Just be sure to consider the likely result of calling 911 before making your choice.

In most cases, first responders won’t be willing or able to help your pet – they’re trained to assist humans, not canines. So, it’ll likely be more effective to simply travel directly to the nearest vet or emergency hospital, should you feel that your dog is in peril.

On the other hand, if your pet’s emergency is somehow causing a danger for humans (such as blocking traffic or creating some other potential risk), it probably is wise to call 911.

Can You Earn a Dog CPR Certification?

There are a few places that will provide dog CPR certifications, so you may want to consider enrolling in a program in your area. One of the leading dog CPR certification companies is PetTech. Just check their website and find an upcoming course in your area.

If you are planning on obtaining a certification for your career, you may want to speak with your employer first. They may require you to take a special course that specializes in CPR for veterinary technicians.

Is There an Emergency Room for Dogs?

Pet emergency rooms exist, but they aren’t as ubiquitous as human emergency rooms are. That said, if you live in a major metropolitan area, there is probably an emergency veterinary clinic within driving distance.

dog emergency room

It can be difficult to find one when you may need it the most though. You don’t want to have to scroll through Google on your phone while your pup’s life is in the balance.

So, it is important to come up with a good emergency plan before you will need it.

Start by talking over the issue with your vet. Some vets are even willing to treat their patients in emergency situations. Others may be willing to do so but lack the type of equipment and staff necessary to provide emergent care. Still others may be neither willing nor able to provide after-hours treatment.

In any case, your vet should be able to help you figure out an emergency plan. Once you do so, go ahead and program the important information on your phone, so you’ll have it at the ready.

***

Have you ever been in an emergency situation that required CPR for your pet? We’d love to hear about it (particularly if there is a happy ending). Tell us all about your experience in the comments below!

Thankfully, I’ve never had to provide CPR to my pup. But I did once give CPR to a snake (no, that’s not a joke).

This was about 20 years ago when I was making my living as a snake breeder. I was soaking a snake to remove a bit of shed skin that remained stuck to the little carpet python’s body (it is a common practice that I’ve done a million times). But for some reason, this silly little snake drowned.

Horrified, I removed him from the water and laid him down on the table. I grabbed a drinking straw and held it close to his glottis (windpipe) and gave him breaths and made tiny little compressions on his chest.

Long story short, I was able to bring the little guy back. 🙂  

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Ben Team

Ben is the senior content editor for K9 of Mine and has spent most of his adult life working as a wildlife educator and animal-care professional. Ben’s had the chance to work with hundreds of different species, but his favorite animals have always been dogs. He currently lives in Atlanta, GA with his spoiled-rotten Rottweiler named J.B. Chances are, she’s currently giving him the eyes and begging to go to the park.

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Della

We had a pup that was a dachshund/jack Russell blend. My hubby drove long haul truck. We put our little girl in the truck and she jumped out the window, and knocked her self out, stopped breathing and her heart stopped. My hubby went into panic mode, I told him to stop and watch me, ok. I moved her into a straight position on her side, felt for heart beat and there was none. I started CPR on her, telling my hubby to breathe for her. He did as I told him and she came to after 15 minutes of doing this. We went to a vet and he checked her out after we told him what happened. The vet said she was fine, but to watch her incase she starts having problem from her heart stopping. Then he said oh by the way, your pup did get hurt when she jumped out of the truck. We both looked at him, thinking it was going to be something serious. He said she lost a tooth on her bottom jaw, but the jaw was not broken. So when she smiled, she looked like a child that had lost their first baby tooth. Sadie (the pups name) was fine no problems, she is still with me. I am so glad I asked our vet how to do CPR on dogs, I already knew how to do it on a person. Our vet was innOregon and we were in North Carolina at the time.

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Ben Team

So glad that had a happy ending, Della!
Thanks for sharing and pointing out the importance of learning canine CPR.

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Sarah

Great article!

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Ben Team

So glad you liked it, Sarah!

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