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One of the most important and often overlooked skills that a pet owner needs is the knowledge and ability to save their dog during an emergency. 

A pet medical emergency happens every 2.5 seconds in the U.S. (1). In fact, every household pet has a 1 in 3 chance of needing emergency veterinary care each year (2). Medical costs from these events can often balloon past the $10,000 mark. The good news is that many veterinary emergencies are preventable and easily managed with canine first aid. In cases that need CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), survival chances are low, but knowing how to perform CPR may help you beat the odds.

The most important factor for an emergency event with your dog is preparation. Remaining calm, using a quiet, even-toned voice, and steady hands are all helpful steps when dealing with your pup’s emergency. Here are three important things you can do to prevent and prepare for an emergency event:

  • Have an emergency medical kit for your dog in your house and car.
  • Manage your environment (don’t leave out harmful chemicals or choking hazards, etc.).
  • Know how and when to respond with CPR.

Can You Give a Dog CPR?

Yes, the process for giving a dog CPR is very similar to giving CPR to humans. CPR is usually given to a dog when they are not breathing and don’t have a pulse. CPR scenarios have a low survival in dogs, even with veterinary intervention. While dogs who need CPR due to anesthetic complications have a significantly higher survival rate closer to almost 50 percent, only around 6 percent of dogs who experience cardiac arrest due to a critical condition will survive CPR and the recovery period afterward (3). In most cases, your dog has a better chance of survival if you’re able to rush them to an emergency veterinarian for advanced CPR. Ideally, you would perform CPR while someone else drives you and your pet to the veterinarian. 

 If you are in a situation where you may need to perform CPR yourself, knowing how to determine if your pet needs CPR is key.

How to Tell if Your Dog Needs CPR

Dog laying down and owner checking on them

When conducting a quick assessment of a dog to determine if they need CPR, be sure to remember your ABCs:

Airway: Is their airway (mouth and throat) clean and open? Open their mouth, pull out the tongue, and make sure there isn’t an obvious obstruction, like a tennis ball, in the throat. 

Breathing: Is their chest moving up and down?

Circulation: Is a pulse present? Most pet owners don’t have a stethoscope and don’t know how to quickly feel for a pulse in dogs. If your dog is not breathing and their mucous membranes (gums, pink tissue around eyes, genitals) appear pale, muddied, or bluish/purplish, it would be better to assume your pet’s heart has stopped beating as opposed to feeling or listening for a pulse.  

If you find your dog unresponsive and not responding to your calls or touch, conduct your ABCs quickly and then be ready to move on to CPR. Every second is critical in saving your dog’s life, and you will want to begin CPR as quickly as possible. 

How to Give a Dog CPR in 5 Steps

Once you’ve determined that your dog needs CPR, here are five steps to follow:

Step 1: Get your dog in the proper position for CPR. The ideal position for your dog is dependent on their body type. Most dogs should be lying on their right side. However, a barrel-chested dog like a bulldog or pug should be lying on their back.

Step 2: Determine the appropriate location on the dog’s body for chest compressions. In large dogs with a typical build, you’ll want to do compressions at the widest point of the chest. This should be the area that is highest when they are lying on their side. In keel-chested dogs like Greyhounds or Doberman Pinschers, and in small dogs like Chihuahuas or Maltese, you’ll want to do compressions directly over the heart, which is just behind the left elbow. In barrel-chested dogs that should be on their back, you’ll do compressions over their breastbone between their front limbs. 

Step 3: Begin chest compressions with your fingers interlocked and one hand over the other. Lock your elbows and use your body weight to compress the ribs 1/3 to 1/2 the total width of the dog’s chest. Allow the chest to fully recoil between compressions. While it may be frightening to compress your dog’s chest this hard, keep in mind that you’re doing this to save their life!

In very small dogs like Yorkshire Terriers or puppies, you can use one hand to perform chest compressions. To do this, you wrap your hand around the breastbone behind where the dog’s elbow lies. Your thumb will be on one side of the chest, and your fingers on the other side of the chest. In this hand position, you squeeze the chest to do compressions.

Compressions should be performed at 100-120 compressions per minute (about 2 compressions per second). If you are alone, one cycle of compressions is 30 compressions, followed by 2 breaths (see Step 4). If you have someone who can help you, continue compressions for two-minute cycles, trading off who is doing the compressions with minimal pause between each person. It’s best to have the next person lined up and in position when you swap who is doing compressions to eliminate a pause in compressions. Compressions are the most important part of CPR, so if you have another person who can help you perform CPR, this is ideal! Trading off every two minutes helps to prevent fatigue.

Remember! Keep your elbows locked and use your abdominal muscles and body weight to do compressions. You’ll get more strength this way. You should not be bending at the elbow during chest compressions.

Step 4: If you are alone, give 2 deep breaths every 30 compressions. To give a breath, hold the dog’s mouth securely closed and form a tight seal over the nostrils with your mouth. Blow firmly into the nostrils until the chest rises.  If you have someone who can help you, one person can breathe in the nose while the other is doing compressions. 

Step 5: Repeat CPR cycles until your dog recovers consciousness or until you arrive at the emergency veterinary clinic. Do not check for a pulse each cycle, as this is time wasted.  If they recover consciousness or continue breathing on their own, transport them immediately to veterinary care while monitoring them.

Dog CPR: Tips and Advice

Dog laying on ground with paw being held

Every scenario is different, and investing in the training for these lifesaving skills is important so that you can conduct them properly and safely. 

Remember: Never perform CPR on an alert dog! Instead, grab a pillow or stuffed animal to practice your technique. 

Keep in mind that dogs can vary greatly in size and conformation based on their breed. While the CPR process is the same, the technique depends on the individual dog. Make sure your pet is in the proper position and you are doing your compressions in the proper location. Research your specific dog’s anatomy in conjunction with your vet to be prepared before an event occurs.

Giving CPR is physically demanding, so practice is a vital piece of future success. You will be surprised by how exhausting 2 minutes of chest compressions can be when performed appropriately. Staying physically fit can help you to be more prepared to perform CPR on your pet. Remember – lock those elbows and use your abs!

Dog CPR Class and General Preparedness

It is important to have the right mindset when facing the reality of a situation where you need to give CPR to a pet. If your dog is unresponsive and stops breathing, CPR is the best chance at saving their life until you can get them to a veterinarian. 

Finding a reputable training class is a key element to learning and practicing the techniques needed for those situations. With online training options, you can learn canine first aid and CPR at your own pace from the comfort of your home.

The most important thing to remember is that CPR and first aid are perishable skills. This means that you need to frequently brush up on your skills, stay current on new techniques, and regularly check the status of all canine first aid kits to remain prepared to save your dog’s life.