During the majority of our years of pet-parenting, few of us really consider the “worst case” scenarios.  Yes, some pets are brilliant escape artists that take us on a cycle of running away and being brought home again. That is a decently normal experience.  But how often do we consider that our dog might get hit by a car, or that our cat will become a coyote’s lunch, or that they will suddenly keel over from heart failure? Who wants to think about that?!  In many tragic cases, pet owners are helpless to protect their animals, but in some instances there are things we can do to intervene.  If the worst should happen, learn how to step in and help your pet recover as soon as possible. 

When Your Pet Stops Breathing

You walk into a room and see your cat on his back, motionless.  If he does not seem to be breathing, remain calm and have someone call the vet or animal hospital.  (Hopefully you have the number on your refrigerator or on an emergency contact list somewhere within reach. If you do not, be sure to place that somewhere easily accessible soon!)

  • Cradling your pet’s head, pry open their mouth and gently pull the tongue forward slightly so that you can look into their throat. Check by the gums, under the tongue, and around the teeth to see if anything is lodged in their throat.
  • If their mouth is clear, then hold their jaw closed so that no air will escape. Then breathe into their nostrils until you see their chest expanding as the oxygen goes in.  Keep this up about every 5-10 seconds until he is able to get to a vet.

When Your Pet Has No Heartbeat

  • First do the rescue breathing described above to make sure that nothing is blocking the animal’s air passageway. Then tilt him so that the pet is leaning on his right side. Position your hand below his body just behind the elbow on the left leg against the chest (this is where the heart is located).
  • Press down firmly but gently directly on the heart, to the depth of about an inch for mid-sized cats and dogs. The larger the pet the harder you will have to push, and if the pet is small, apply gentle pressure.
  • For particularly small pets (including most cats), grasp the animal’s chest, holding it between your index finger and thumb (the thumb should be over the left side of the chest). Squeeze together about 100 times per minute to keep the heart pumping.
  • Since canine and feline hearts beat quicker than ours do, you must be prepared to preform chest compressions about 80-120 times a minute for dogs and 100-150 times per minute for cats.

Alternate between rescue breathing and heart pumping to help keep your pet’s body as active as possible. This may effectively cause the pet to start breathing normally, and the heart might continue beating again independently.  If it does not, continue alternating between the two until you arrive at the vet or animal hospital.

Note: These measures ought to only be temporary “fixes” until your dog or cat is able to be seen by a medical professional who will be able to provide them the care they need. While rescue breathing and heartbeat support will not certainly resuscitate an animal every time, it could be your only chance of saving the pet’s life.