This article will help you decide if your dog needs CPR and how to perform CPR on your dog in an emergency.
illustration of person performing CPR on a dog
Credit: Yeji Kim

The ability to perform dog CPR, the acronym for cardiopulmonary resuscitation, is an important skill for dog owners to have. Hopefully, you will never need this skill but if you do, it can be a lifesaver. 

A good way to prepare yourself to learn this skill is to watch a video. As with many things, it will be easier to translate the written steps into actions if you have seen them done before. This video from the American Veterinary Medical Association gives you a quick overview. And this program from Cornell offers an in-depth look. 

Evaluate Whether Your Dog Needs CPR

Before you perform CPR on your dog, you need to evaluate him. While CPR can save a life, it can also cause some damage. You don’t want to perform CPR on your dog unless it’s necessary.

If your dog is alert and observing you, he doesn’t need CPR. He may need medical care if he was just hit by a car, but CPR isn’t on his list of “must be done right away” tasks. In fact, he may resent your attempts to do so! Never attempt CPR on a seizing dog–you have a great risk of being injured yourself.

Check Breathing

If your dog is very still, check for breathing and a pulse. Respirations may be quiet and soft, but you can watch for the rise and fall of his chest or feel for air movement from his nose. If your dog is breathing, you can hold off on the respiratory part of CPR. If you don’t detect any breathing, carefully open his mouth and pull his tongue forward. Look for, and remove, anything that might be blocking his airway.

Check for a Pulse

There are multiple places you can feel for a pulse on your dog. Often, the easiest spot is in the groin. Reach inside the hind leg, right up at the top where it joins the body. The femoral pulse should be palpable there. Use your fingers, not your thumb, to feel for the pulse.

You can also feel for heart beats. This is easiest if you lie your dog down on his right side. Then gently place your hand on his chest, behind his elbow. You can also put your hand around his chest if you have a small dog. If you detect a pulse but your dog is not breathing, go directly to artificial respiration techniques. If you don’t detect a pulse, go straight to full CPR.

How to Perform Dog CPR

Step 1

Have your dog lying flat on his right side. Pull his head and neck forward to provide a straight pathway into his lungs. Check that his tongue is pulled forward and out to prevent any blockage of air flow.

Step 2

Set your hands on your dog’s chest with one palm over the other. This is easiest if you’re behind your dog’s back. For a small dog or puppy, you might be able to put your hand around the chest with your fingers on one side and your thumb on the other.

Step 3

You want to do a series of quick compressions, pushing the chest in about ¼ to 1/3 of the way. Keep your elbows straight and control the pressure you apply carefully. For a big dog, about 15 compressions in 10 seconds is good; for a small dog, you might want to go to 17 compressions for 10 seconds.

Step 4

You have the blood moving, now you need to get some oxygen into your dog’s system. If you are working alone, one breath to every 15 compressions works well. If you have help, you can go up to one breath every 5 compressions.

Step 5

For artificial respiration, you need to hold your dog’s mouth tightly closed. Then put your mouth as closely fitting as possible around his nose and exhale to breathe into your dog’s nose. For a small dog, his entire muzzle might be in your mouth. As you breathe into his nose, you should be able to detect the chest rising. For a small dog or puppy, a gentle breath will be all that is needed. You might have to breathe harder for a big dog. If your dog already has a good pulse, you can do respirations timed to about 30 per minute. Pause between breaths to let air flow out.

Step 6

Add an abdominal squeeze after each cycle of compression and a breath to help get circulation moving.

Step 7

Re-evaluate. Stop after a minute or two and check to see if your dog is responding. If there is no response after 20 minutes or so, you are unlikely to be successful. If at any point, your dog starts to fight you over this, then he no longer needs the CPR assistance.

The Red Cross offers courses that teach CPR for pets using a special “dummy” dog. You can also ask at your veterinary clinic or local human society if they offer a class.