Knowing canine CPR and the dog Heimlich maneuver could save your canine friend's life. Here is how to give a dog CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and administer other pet first aid techniques so you're prepared in case of an emergency.

By Barry Stringfellow
August 24, 2020

Pets are part of the family, and though it can feel sad and scary to think about something bad happening to them, knowing a few pet first aid basics might save your pet's life in an emergency situation. If your dog has collapsed and she's not breathing, responding to your voice, or responding to physical contact, it's time to act—fast. It's important to seek out professional help from a vet or animal hospital immediately, but as you wait for help to arrive or are able to transport your pet to get medical attention, performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on your dog can be a lifesaver. Here is how to perform CPR on a dog, plus advice on how to help a choking dog and how to give a dog the Heimlich maneuver.

white French Bulldog on footpath during garden party
Credit: Robert Cardillo

How to Give a Dog CPR

First, check for a heartbeat then see if the dog is breathing by watching her chest. If she's not breathing, you'll need to make sure the dog's airway is clear before starting CPR. Follow these steps.

A — Assess the Airway

First, lay your dog on a flat surface. Open the dog's mouth and pull out the tongue and remove any objects, blood, or vomit obstructing airflow. If your dog tries to bite you when you do this, it's actually good news. You don't need to do CPR. You can also assess the airway by putting the dog on her side and compressing the chest while holding your hand in front of her nose to feel for air coming out. This may stimulate her breathing on her own.

B — Begin Breathing

With the dog on her side, cup her muzzle with your hand or hands to make a tight seal. Blow two breaths into her nose. If her chest rises when you blow, the airway is open. If it doesn't, you need to check the airway again or you might have to make a tighter seal on the muzzle with your hand or hands.

C — Commence Compression

Just like with people, chest compressions must be performed. Kneel over your dog, with her back pressed against your knees. You should be directly over the dog for maximum leverage. Use two hands, open palm atop open palm, and compress at the thickest part of the chest, just behind the front shoulder. For flat-chested dogs like French bulldogs, put the dog on its back and compress on the sternum, just behind the front legs.

Compressions should be done with your arms locked, using the weight of your upper body and core strength. Don't lean on your dog. Make sure you completely remove pressure on the upstroke to give her chest a chance to fill with air. Compress hard enough to collapse one-third to one-half the width of the chest. You have to compress rapidly—about 120 beats per minute. Think of a fast disco beat,  about the pace of "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees.

After 30 compressions, make a seal on the muzzle, and give two quick breaths. The Red Cross recommends briefly checking for breathing and a heartbeat every 2 minutes. Continue CPR until you reach the vet or medical help arrives.

Tip: Ask for help if another person is nearby. One person can compress and the other can blow air, switching after 2 minutes. On dogs that weigh 15 pounds or less, compressions can be done with one hand on the chest with other hand supporting the back. If there is a friend or family member nearby, they can drive you to the vet while you perform CPR in the car.

Giving a dog CPR can sometimes cause additional injuries, including broken ribs. But in the scheme of things, it's a small price to pay to save your pet.

How to Help a Choking Dog

Another common canine emergency is choking. Playing with a ball small enough to swallow and block the trachea is a frequent cause. Like humans, dogs choke on food. Rawhide chews that have become soft are notorious choking hazards.

Dogs have a tendency to paw frantically at their faces when they're choking. Because they're not getting air, they likely won't be making any noise. Blue gums or a blue tongue are signs of oxygen deprivation.

To help a choking dog, try to reach into the dog's mouth and sweep the back of its throat with your fingers. (Be careful not to shove the object farther back into its throat.) If the object is lodged too deeply in the throat to remove with your fingers or if the dog fights off your fingers, it's time for the Heimlich maneuver.

How to Give a Dog the Heimlich Maneuver

One method requires thoracic compressions done the same way as for CPR, with the dog on her side. These compressions should be done forcefully but not as rapidly as CPR.  After each compression, sweep the mouth with your fingers.

The other Heimlich method is similar to how it's performed on humans:

  1. Kneeling or standing behind the dog, make a fist and place the thumb of the fist on the sternum, located where the ribs end.
  2. Put your other hand atop the fist and make an upward and forward thrust.
  3. Check the airway after each thrust.

There are pet CPR and first-aid classes that teach you the basics to help a dog in need. They can be completed in person or online. (Here's how to find a CPR training class near you.)

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