Cardiopulmonary resuscitation in dogs (CPR) - How to do it

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Veterinary medicine is a very delicate field where only professionals should act, however, there are some cases and emergency conditions in which having basic knowledge can mean the difference between life and death for an animal. Some of these cases are closely related to resuscitation in canine patients..

In this AnimalWised article we will talk about the basic notions of resuscitation in dogs in order to inform tutors about the main situations in which they must act while the veterinarian arrives. Read on to learn the most basic first aid for dogs and discover how to resuscitate a dog.

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  1. What is CPR in dogs?
  2. Dog vital signs to watch out for
  3. When to do CPR on dogs?
  4. How to resuscitate a dog?

What is CPR in dogs?

Cardiorespiratory or cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is defined as the set of maneuvers aimed at the oxygenation of vital organs when the circulation stops suddenly, regardless of the cause of the stop. It should be taken into account that it is a technique described as temporary, since it is performed while medical services arrive. It has been studied and described in humans since approximately 1775, and has evolved according to efficacy and medical discoveries. CPR has certain considerations depending on the age and size of the patient, as well as the cause of respiratory arrest and the species that warrants it..

Dog vital signs to watch out for

When doing cardiopulmonary resuscitation to a dog, the following vital signs should be known and taken into account:

  • Pulse: pressure wave caused by the expansion of the arteries as a result of blood circulation. It gives us clues about heart rate and blood pressure, depending on how hard you feel that pressure.
  • Heart rate: it is defined as the number of beats that a living being has during a certain time.
  • Breathing frequency: vital constant that is defined as the number of breaths that a living being has during a certain time. In dogs it ranges from 10 to 30 breaths per minute.
  • Capillary fill time: it is a test that provides us with information on the oxygenation of the tissues. It is done by pressing on the gum until it loses its color, when this happens the pressure is removed and capillary filling should not exceed 2 seconds.
  • Mucous coloration: It is not a physiological constant, but it is a fundamental guide that can reveal valuable information about the health of our dog in a fairly simple way. We can appreciate them at the level of the gums (and also other parts). Blue mucous membranes are called cyanotic and are associated with defective oxygenation; yellowish mucous membranes are called icteric and are associated with liver problems; white mucous membranes are called anemic and are associated with low hemoglobin or hypotension; pink mucous membranes are associated with a healthy animal.

When to do CPR on dogs?

Not all canine physiological problems are resolved with CPR. In fact, there are many pathologies that do not respond to this technique. In addition to the fact that it is only indicated when there is a cardiorespiratory arrest, the cause must first be known, since some pulmonary complications can end up being aggravated with this technique. The most frequent cases that merit CPR in dogs are:

  • Shock: is defined as the inability of the body to meet the vital requirements of the organs. There are many types of shock (hypovolemic, septic, obstructive, etc.) and many of them require CPR until medical personnel arrive..
  • Poisonings: some foods or chemicals can poison our best friend, thus compromising their breathing. This situation can put your life at risk if you do not perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation on time in the dog..
  • Head trauma: some injuries tend to have significant consequences and can endanger the life of our furry. In some cases, the use of CPR may be required while arriving at the veterinary clinic..
  • Eat- Prolonged period of unconsciousness caused by injury or illness.
  • Ictus: affection of the blood vessels that supply blood to the brain, causing in many cases a syncope that ends up requiring resuscitation.
  • Suffocation: most of the time in dogs it occurs due to foreign bodies. In this case, a more appropriate maneuver should be performed, but after clearing the airway the dog will probably need CPR.

How to resuscitate a dog?

CPR must go through careful steps to be effective. The correct use of the tools that the person in charge of carrying it out will dictate its success. However, here is how to do CPR on a dog. Before practicing CPR, carry out these tips:

  1. Diagnose as quickly as possible if the arrest your dog is going through is momentary or will really need CPR. It is the first thing that must be done and although it is a very subjective step, it is something quite easy to do. If the animal does not respond to any type of stimulus, or to the call, it is time to quickly look for the cause.
  2. Check the physiological constants of the dog before starting resuscitation. It is important to have knowledge of an approximation of the state of the animal. In this case, you will take into account three physiological constants: heart rate, the Breathing frequency and the capillary fill time. It is necessary to know for sure if the patient is still breathing, if his heart is still beating and an estimate of his circulation. The color of some mucous membranes, such as the gums, will also give you clues about the dog's health..
  3. By realizing for a fact that the dog is not breathing, it is important that you find the cause as much as possible. Sometimes you may not come to a conclusion, but there are causes that the owner can easily diagnose using common sense. A clear example of this step would be try to find a foreign body stuck in your dog's throat, since if found, you will have to remove it instead of doing CPR.

Now, once you have done the steps above, perform the cardiopulmonary resuscitation in your dog So:

  1. Spread the animal's head to facilitate the passage of air through the trachea. Remember that the dog must be lying on the right side, in this way the left side will be exposed, which will facilitate cardiac massage.
  2. He firmly grasps the head and, knowing there is no foreign body, proceeds to give breaths directly into the mouth.
  3. Get a heart level massage (between the third and fifth intercostal space) placing one hand on top of the other and interspersed with chest compressions. These compressions should be performed carefully depending on the weight and breed of the dog, since for obvious reasons, if you exert a force greater than due you can end up injuring the animal.
  4. For every 15 compressions, 5 breaths are taken in large breeds and 3 breaths for every 10 compressions in small dogs.
  5. When the dog can breathe on its own, it should call the veterinarian immediately. This step is usually refuted, since it is sometimes described that health personnel should be called before starting resuscitation, but that will depend on the urgency that each particular case warrants..

Each cause for which a dog enters a cardiorespiratory arrest has its own complications. The breed, age and chronic diseases that the animal may have are determining factors that will mark the success of the procedure. If there is a secret in these cases, without a doubt it is to act as quickly as possible, thus guaranteeing the constant oxygenation of all the important organs. However, we insist, whenever possible, prefer that a professional perform CPR on your dog..


This article is merely informative, at we do not have the power to prescribe veterinary treatments or make any type of diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the vet in the event that it presents any type of condition or discomfort.

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