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Comprehensive explanations of difficult pet health problems.


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CPR and Chest Compressions for Pets: Do You Know the Guidelines?

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Dealing with a pet emergency can be frightening. Knowing basic lifesaving techniques in an emergency could save your pet’s life. 


Dealing with a pet emergency can be frightening. Knowing basic lifesaving techniques in an emergency can save your pet’s life. Of course, whenever your pet is showing serious signs of a health issue, your first step is to contact your primary care veterinarian or an emergency veterinary hospital. If it is indicated that your pet may suffer from a serious condition, a veterinary specialist or emergency clinician is available at an ExpertVet certified or affiliated hospital.


Getting Vital Signs

Taking a Heart Rate or Pulse:

The heartbeat of a dog or cat can be felt at about the point where the left elbow touches the chest (about the fifth rib). Place your hand or stethoscope over this area and count the heartbeats. Pulses can also be felt with a light touch high up on the inner thigh approximately halfway between the front and back of the leg.


Normal Heart and Pulse Rates:

  • Small breed dogs (up to 30 lbs): 100 – 160 beats per minute
  • Medium to large breed dogs (over 30 lbs): 60 – 100 beats per minute
  • Puppy (until 1 year old): 120 – 160 beats per minute
  • Cats: 150 – 220 beats per minute

Normal Breathing Rates:

  • Dogs: 10 – 30 breaths per minute, panting is faster
  • Cats: 20 – 30 breaths per minute (Note: panting in a cat can be a sign of serious illness and may require immediate veterinary attention).

Normal Temperatures:

  • Dogs: 100° – 102.5° F
  • Cats:  100° – 102.5° F

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)

CPR is an emergency technique used to help a person or pet whose breathing and/or heart has stopped. The first step is to determine if the pet is breathing and if they have a pulse. It is dangerous to perform CPR on a pet if they are breathing normally and have a pulse. CPR should be performed until the pet has a pulse and starts breathing again or until you have reached a veterinary hospital. However, after 20 minutes, the chances of reviving a pet are extremely unlikely.

The following two methods should be performed in order:

Artificial Respiration

During CPR, artificial respiration is no longer recommended. The current thinking is that the action of chest compressions moves enough air without pausing to rescue breath. Rescue breathing is only recommended for respiratory arrest – in other words, the heart is beating, but the animal is not breathing.

Chest Compressions

Before starting chest compressions, check for a heartbeat or pulse. You can feel for the pulse on the inside of the pelvic limb (thigh), or feel for a heartbeat on the left side of the chest. Do not assume that there is no heartbeat or pulse simply because a pet is not breathing. If the pet is conscious and responds to you, then the heart is beating.

Small Dog (< 30 lbs) or Cat:

Lay your pet down with the chest facing you. Kneel and place the palm of one of your hands over the ribs at the point where the elbow touches the chest. Place your other hand underneath from the opposite side of the chest. With your elbows softly locked, bend at the waist and compress the chest 1/2 to one inch. If working alone, perform two chest compressions per second. Stop compressions periodically (every 30 – 60 seconds) and check for a pulse. If there are two people, have one perform the compressions and the other check for a pulse. Trade activities when fatigued.

Medium to Large Dog (30 – 90 lbs):

Kneel down next to the dog with its back near you. Extend your elbows and cup your hands on top of each other.  Place your cupped hands over the ribs at the point where the elbow meets the chest, then compress the chest two to three inches at three compressions per two seconds (80 – 100 per minute). Check for a pulse at one minute and continue compressions if none are detected.

Giant Dog (90+ lbs):

Follow the technique for medium to large dogs.  The rate of compression should be one per second.


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