Canine CPR


What exactly does this mean?

CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) preserves brain function until proper blood circulation and breathing can be restored. Artificial respiration is a technique used in first aid to manually get air flow in and out of the lungs so that a patient in respiratory distress can get adequate oxygen delivered to the heart and brain.

How do I know if my dog is in respiratory distress?

Any condition that causes breathing to cease or severely reduce oxygen intake requires emergency artificial respiration. A dog can be in respiratory distress if you observe any of the following:

  • The dog’s tongue, lips, gums and eyelids may be dark red or blue.
  • Respiration may stop completely, or may be much slower than normal and the dog may gasp for air.
  • The dog may extend its neck, elevate its nose, and try to pant in attempt to breathe more easily.
  • The dog may become unconscious and the pupils of the eye may appear dilated. There may also be lack of a blink reflex in the eyes.

Common causes of respiratory emergencies

Obstruction of the pharynx or air passages.

These situations are often caused by a foreign body obstruction such a piece of bone or stick, a ball or piece of a toy; by mucous, vomit or blood, by swelling from burns, or by ingested corrosive materials. Be aware that in these cases the tongue may also swell and fall back into the throat which can add to the obstruction.


This occurs when the oxygen level in the air is reduced by smoke or toxic gases. Animals trapped in confined areas such as refrigerators, small boxes, wells, etc. that cannot escape the carbon monoxide buildup may be deprived of enough oxygen to support life and can die quickly. Other examples of asphyxia are: drowning, smoke inhalation, strangulation, electrocution and poisonings because the respiratory system can be weakened by the toxic effects of poisons or damaging effects of electrocution.

Chest Injuries

Crushing and kicking injuries to the chest may damage or puncture the lungs and other vital organs. Ribs may break and let air into the lungs which destroys the normal capacity of the lungs to function.  This is called pneumothorax. No matter how hard the animal tries, it cannot inhale and exhale adequate amounts of air. Other types of injuries to the chest include impalement such as running into a sharp stick, deep lacerations, even arrow or gunshot wounds.

Procedure – The key to CPR is remembering the ABCs: Airway, Breathing, and Cardiac compression.

Chest comprssions


Lay the dog on a flat surface on its right side, and extend the head back to create an airway with the tongue pulled out and forward.

Open the dog’s mouth and examine the back of the throat for anything that may be causing an obstruction, and if there is one gently try to remove it. Be careful because your dog is going to feel panicked and may inadvertently clamp down on your hand. Cup your hands around the muzzle of the dog’s mouth so that only the nostrils are clear. Blow air into the nostrils with five or six quick breaths, depending on the size of the dog. Small dogs and puppies and require short and shallow breaths. Larger dogs need longer and deeper breaths. Continue the quick breaths at a rate of one breath every three seconds or 20 breaths per minute.

Check for a pulse by using your finger on the inside of the thigh, just above the knee. If you don’t feel a pulse, put your hand over the dog’s chest cavity where the elbow touches the middle of the chest. If you still don’t find a pulse, have one person continue breathing into the nostrils (mouth to snout), while another gives chest compressions. If you are alone, do the compressions and artificial respiration yourself.

Begin chest compressions by placing both hands palms down on the chest cavity of the dog. For most dogs, chest compressions can be performed on the widest part of the chest while the dog is lying on his side.

  • For dogs with keel-shaped chests (i.e. deep, narrow chests) in breeds such as greyhounds push down closer to the dog’s armpit, directly over the heart.
  • For dogs with barrel-chested dogs like English bulldogs lay the dog on its back and compress on the sternum (directly over the heart).
  • For smaller dogs (and cats) chest-compressions scan be done with one hand wrapped around the sternum, encircling the heart or two-handed on the ribs.
  • For large dogs, place your hands on top of each other. For small dogs or puppies, place one hand or thumb on the chest.

Use the heel of your hand(s) to push down for 30 quick compressions followed by 2 breaths of air and then check to see if consciousness has been restored. Continue in the same fashion of 30 compressions to 2 breaths of air until  the dog is breathing on its own, or you have arrived at the veterinary office and have been advised to stop.