Dog CPR: The How-to That Could Save Their Life

Watch any television hospital drama and you’re sure to see resuscitation attempts. That’s because life saving measures like CPR are the first line of defense when someone collapses or becomes unresponsive.

But did you know you can perform CPR on dogs, too? Though you may rarely see it on a show like Greys Anatomy, learning the technique can save your pet’s life. Just be sure you’re administering it correctly. Make a wrong move and it can be wholly ineffective, or, worst case, do serious physical damage.

To be prepared in the event of an emergency, follow these updated instructions that chronicle how to give CPR to a dog.
dog laying down

When to Administer Dog CPR

If you discover your dog has stopped breathing or you can’t find a pulse, performing a combination of compressions and mouth-to-snout resuscitations could buy you enough time to get them to the emergency vet.

First, check to see if the chest is rising and falling. If not, get close to the snout and feel for their exhale. Keep in mind that faint breathing can be hard to detect. When in doubt, hold a mirror up to its nose and watch for fog. You’ll also want to open their mouth and look to see that the airway isn’t being blocked. If it is, gently pull out their tongue and remove any foreign objects.

Next, evaluate your dog’s pulse. This can be done one of three ways: the pad of their front paw, the chest or inner thigh. Some vets suggest the most accurate read comes from checking the inner hind leg where the femoral artery runs. Once you verify they have a pulse, focus on mouth-to-snout respiration to stimulate breathing.

No pulse? Engage CPR with full-scale compressions, immediately.

How to Perform Dog CPR

In an emergency, it’s helpful to have at least two people present: one to drive and one to administer CPR. This extends the chances of keeping your pet alive until it can be seen by a veterinarian. While in route, perform the following steps:

  1. Roll your dog to its side. Sit behind with your knees gently pressed against their spine.
  2. Find the heart. Do so by determining the shape of their chest.
  • Most dogs have a round chest. It’s especially common among retriever breeds. You’ll compress against the widest area of their ribcage at the top of the dome.
  • If you own a Greyhound, Doberman Pinscher or German Shepherd you’re dealing with a deep, narrow Keel-shaped chest. To seek out their heart, gently move your dog’s elbow one-third of the way toward the opposite shoulder. The bend will point to it.
  • Barrel-chested dogs, like Bulldogs or Pugs, have chests shaped similar to a human’s. Compress at the center along the breastbone (sternum).
  • If your dog has a smaller frame that you can fit in one hand,wrap around as far as you can and squeeze.
  1. Get in position. Bend at the waist then place both hands go over the heart with elbows locked and shoulders squared.
  2. Begin compressions. Push down until the chest collapses to 1/3 or1/2 its original width. Do this in quick succession two times per second or approximately 120 a minute. Keep count until you reach the two-minute mark and if necessary, switch out with another person part way through. Experts always suggest singing the aptly titled “Stayin’ Alive” to help you compress at a quick, steady pace.
  3. Start mouth-to-snout resuscitation. Straighten the neck so it’s elongated and in line with the spine. Create an airtight tunnel with your hand that fits around the nose. Place your mouth over both nostrils and give two quick breaths for every 30 compressions. Repeat until admitted by the vet.

What to Know Before There’s an Emergency

Practicing dog CPR and committing the steps to memory is the best way to ensure you immediately spring into action in a life or death situation. Don’t wait until you’re panicked and under pressure to try and learn how to administer it properly.

It’s also helpful to have the phone number and location of your nearest 24/hour emergency vet clinic or pet hospital on hand so you don’t waste time searching.

In the end, no one can predict when or if an animal emergency will occur, but you can prepare. Don’t wait until your dog collapses from cardiac arrest to learn how to give your dog CPR. Practicing these five steps will help you act quickly and are the best chance you have at saving their life.

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