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Pet CPR and Choking

First thing to remember is that the following information is to help prepare you for an emergency and it DOES NOT replace the directions of a licensed veterinarian..

Remember that your safety comes first. You must be aware of your surroundings. For example, if the pet was hit by a car, are you in the way of oncoming cars? Or a pet that is unconscious regains consciousness and is scared and confused, they might lunge, snap, bite, etc; are you prepared? Even an unconscious pet may bite by instinct.

Always remain calm. This is easier said than done but animals as well as people sense the stress in your voice and body language.There is always time after to release the stress. Over-reacting to a situation can only make it worse and can cause harm. This is why it is important to practice emergency situations. If you do it enough, panic will not take over.

When realizing that you have a life-threatening emergency, ALWAYS TRANSPORT TO THE NEAREST VETERINARY HOSPITAL. You know that your veterinarian knows your pet's history and you would feel more comfortable but when seconds count, you have to go to the closest. If you do not know where the closest is, call your current veterinarian and ask them. If possible, always call the clinic that you are going to and let them know what you are coming in with, not breathing, choking, CPR, etc. If you have someone else with you, give the following information: your name, your estimated time of arrival (ETA), dog or cat, size, breed, steps taken so far (rescue breathing, CPR, splinted, etc.), mechanism of injury or illness (hit by car, poison/medication ingestion, lodged toy or bone, etc.) and any medical history that is relevant such as heart problems, high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.

You probably have heard of the ABC's of first aid and CPR in humans, well it is the same for animals. A is for airway, B is for breathing and C is for circulation. It is very important to follow the alphabet and not proceed to the next letter until the current letter is secure.When treating a person or an animal, it is important not to have tunnel vision.We always want to gravitate to the area that is obvious.For example, you come across a cat that fell from a tree and has a compound fracture (the broken bone is protruding). Tunnel vision has you focus on that bone and the bleeding because it is obvious and not on the fact that the cat is not breathing or does not have a pulse. It does not matter how well you secure the leg and bone, if the cat is not breathing, it will die. So always start with A. If you follow the ABC's, you can never go wrong.

Choking- It is difficult to tell if a pet is choking on an object or just has something like a hairball irritating their throat, especially with cats.Some people confuse difficulty breathing with choking. If your pet is not really choking, the Heimlich maneuver can cause serious injury. If you witness your pet ingesting an item and then immediately begin pawing at the face and throat, drooling, acting frantic, trying to cough and if having difficulty breathing, only then should the Heimlich maneuver be considered.

  • Examine the mouth for any foreign object and remove. Remember, even an unconscious pet may bite.

  • DO NOT blindly put your fingers in the mouth. You might push the object in further.

  • If you can, pick the pet up by the back legs so they are over the head. This could help dislodge the object.

  • If still choking, administer a sharp blow with the palm of your hand between the shoulder blades. If it does not dislodge, continue 4 more times and than check the mouth.

  • If still choking, place the pet in front of you with their back against your front. Make a fist and place the fist below the area where the ribs separate. Pull the fist up and in at the same time, 4 times. Check the mouth again.

  • Continue this until either the object is dislodged or the pet becomes unconscious.

  • If the pet is unconscious, lay the pet on their back, sit over them and push with the palm of your hand into and up at the abdomen where the ribs separate. Do this 4 times and check the mouth. Continue this until the object is dislodged.

  • Once dislodged, go to A-airway.

Picture1A is for Airway - After determining that a pet is not just unconscious but unresponsive, you will obtain an open airway.

1. Carefully pull the tongue straight out of the animal's mouth to open the airway.

2. Make sure that the neck is reasonably straight. Try to bring the head inline with the neck. If there is a chance of trauma, do not over straighten the neck.

3. Attempt 2 rescue breaths. This is done by closing the mouth and breathing from your mouth into their nose. This is called mouth to nose ventilations.

4. If the air can pass freely (look for a rise in their chest), proceed to B-breathing.

5. If it does not, re-position the neck and try step 3 again. If you still can not get air into the animal, go to Heimlich.

Picture2B is for Breathing - After achieving a clear and open airway; you need to determine if the animal is breathing on its own and if it is breathing adequately.

1. Count how many times the chest rises and falls. Sometimes they will be breathing so lightly that you will not see the chest rise and fall. Feel for air coming from the nose and mouth and listen to the chest for air motion.

2. If not breathing, seal the mouth closed by placing your hands around their lips and holding the muzzle closed.

3. Place you mouth over the pet's nose and exhale. Give 4-5 breaths rapidly.


4. Continue to C-circulation.

5. If pet has a pulse, continue rescue breathing by giving 1 breath every 5 seconds. Recheck breathing and for pulse after every 12 breaths. If pet begins to breath on its own than monitor. If pet loses pulse, proceed to circulation.

Picture4C is for Circulation: Is there a heartbeat or pulse? If the pet is breathing on its own, IT HAS a pulse. Conscious and/or breathing pets have a pulse. Never attempt this on a pet with a pulse; you can do severe damage.

1. To check for a pulse, bend the front leg and bring to the side where the elbow touches the chest, this is the area where you can feel a pulse.

2. If there is a pulse, go back to B for breathing.


3. If there is not a pulse, place the palm of your hand (under 30 lbs.) or cup your hands over each other (over30 lbs) on the point ofthe chest where you felt for a pulse. Compress the chest (1/2 to 1 inch under 30 lbsand 1-3 inches for over 30 lbs).

4. Do 5 compressions for each rescue breath for pets under 90 lbs. and 10 compressions for each rescue breath.

5. After approximately 1 minute, stop and check for a pulse.


6. If there is a pulse, stop compressions but continue rescue breathing. If there is no pulse, continue CPR until you get to the nearest veterinary hospital.

For more information on animal first aid and CPR classes, contact your local American Red Cross chapter.