Do you know what to do if you encounter a pet that is unconscious and not breathing? I want to walk you through the basics of pet CPR in the field so that you will not feel helpless. However, the bottom line I want you to remember is that you need to get this pet to the veterinary emergency clinic ASAP, or all of your efforts will be in vain.

Also, it is good to know when to ask for help. You cannot perform CPR and drive at the same time, so call the closest person (a neighbour, a passerby, anyone!) and see if they can help you by finding the nearest emergency vet and driving you there, while you continue to administer CPR en route. Most people are genuinely good and are willing to help out in emergency situations, so don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask (and keep asking if needed).

In this video, we will demonstrate how to perform CPR on a pet. The background beat track is 100 beats per minute (and 2 breaths per every 30 compressions) so you can hear the rhythm of compressions and ventilation. Feel free to loop the video and practice along. Can you keep up?

When to perform CPR?

CPR is performed when a pet is unconscious (un-responsive) and not breathing. If a very sick or injured pet is still moving, reacting, and breathing, then it is still alive. You can skip the CPR and get it to the nearest veterinary clinic equipped for emergencies as quickly as you safely can.  One quick test that you can do if the pet appears to be dead, but you are not sure is to gently touch the eyelids where they come together on the side closest to the nose- if the pet blinks (that is called the palpebral reflex), then you should probably focus your initial efforts on getting to the pet emergency room STAT.

Can you hurt a pet with CPR?

If the pet has passed away, you can’t actually make matters worse by doing CPR. Even if he is not quite dead yet, but is unresponsive and not breathing, he will be dead soon if you don’t begin CPR.  Don’t worry too much that you are going to hurt him if there is an opportunity to save his life. In those situations, you just have to go for it. Most pets that are still alive will usually react when you start chest compressions, so if the patient responds or starts moving, then you can stop.

Basic life support in the field

Chest compressions:

When the pet is lying on its side, chest compressions are administered by interlocking the fingers and placing the palms over the over the highest point of the chest. Lock your elbows and compress the chest 1/3 to 1/2 the height at a rate of 100-120/minute. I usually just count 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4 over and over again. Make sure you allow the chest to fully recoil between compressions.



Performing chest compressions in a dog (1) and cat (2). Mouth to snout (3). Image courtesy of
RECOVER evidence and knowledge gap analysis on veterinary CPR. Part 7: Clinical guidelines. American College of Veterinary Medicine; Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society.

Ventilations (breaths):

Ventilations are administered via “mouth to snout”  (2 breaths for every 30 compressions). Close the muzzle fully with one hand, and breathe through the nostrils. You should be able to watch the lungs inflate as you administer breaths. How hard do you breathe into the dog’s nose? Watch the chest rise and fall, and try to aim for what looks like a natural breath with the chest rising and falling.

Don’t stop!

It is ideal to continue CPR un-interrupted until you get to the emergency clinic. Try to take pauses for as few seconds as possible (never more than 10 seconds) only to swap out when people get tired, or for moving the pet into the vehicle.

If the little guy doesn’t come back, don’t be hard on yourself. The chances of coming back and making a full recovery in this scenario are probably less than 1%, if that. At least you tried, did your best and put your rescue skills to practice, so that you will be all that much better for next time.

Here are the 3 best pieces of advice from the emergency vet that could save your pet’s life:


If you wait too long, it could be too late. This is especially true for concerns such as laboured breathing, pale gums and weakness. You know your pet best, so if you are worried or concerned, “when in doubt, check it out!”


Learn as much as possible about dangers that face your pet, such as household poisons, seemingly harmless objects (such as toys, clothing, garbage and rocks), other animals, and vehicles. Pets are like toddlers and they need a responsible adult/babysitter to protect them from danger. Puppies and kittens need to start their vaccines at 8 WEEKS (and they need boosters too!) to protect them from deadly diseases.


Have a plan in place, know your nearest emergency clinic, have the ASPCA phone number on speed dial. Know basic first aid training and CPR. But MOST IMPORTANTLY, BE FINANCIALLY PREPARED. The cost of medical treatment in an emergency, and the owners’ ability to pay for it, is probably the most important factor that determines whether a pet will receive the medical care it needs. The best way to protect yourself is to have good medical insurance for your pet. Do your research.

**REMEMBER**: WE ARE ALL ON THE SAME TEAM, with the best interest of the patient as everyone’s first priority. Let your vet do what he/she does best, and don’t try to grab the steering wheel and obstruct your vet from doing his/her job. We are all in the same car, we are all headed to the same place, but only one of us has the driver’s license (meaning, only the vet has the medical training and background to “drive the car”).

Please remember to spay/ neuter your pet, and to donate to your local animal shelter- they really need your help!


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