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).

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


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 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.


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.

WELCOME TO PET PARENTING 101! On this playlist, you will find all of the information that you need to be a responsible and informed pet parent, so that you can keep your furbaby safe from danger and be prepared for the worst case scenario. The year is 2020 and the days of being a "pet owner" are over. There was a time when pets were considered property, and people thought that if their dog got sick or broke a leg- "put it to sleep and get a new one." Our society's beliefs on the responsibilities of pet guardianship have evolved, but there is still a disconnect when it comes to giving pet parents the information that they need to be responsible and informed pet guardians.

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