Artificial respiration (CPR)

Learning how to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) may be the only chance you have to save the life of your pet. It would certainly be alarming to see your pet lying unconscious. This occurrence can be the result of choking, poisoning, seizure and accidents that can result to severe head injuries and various medical concerns. Incidents like this will happen no matter how careful you are. The most rationale thing you can do is to keep calm, have the presence of mind to know what to do to save the life of the pet.

Artificial respiration is done when the dog is unconscious and not breathing. Heart massage or chest compression is done when there is no heartbeat. Artificial respiration combined with heart massage constitutes the CPR. CPR is for cardiopulmonary resuscitation. This first aid procedure is done when normal functions of the heart and normal respiration have failed. Irreparable damage to the tissues can occur within 2 to 4 minutes after breathing and normal functioning of the heart ceased. CPR is vital to sustain the life of the dog. The artificial respiration and the heart massage are life support techniques administered on an unconscious dog. However, there are conditions that would determine which procedure should be used on the injured dog.

Check if the dog is breathing

Breathing would be evident in a dog as the chest would rise and fall for every breath taken. Also air can be felt if the cheek or a hand is placed against the dog’s nose. A dog that is unconscious but breathing can be helped by opening the mouth and pulling the tongue to see if the airway is obstructed by a foreign object.

If the dog is not breathing, you need to administer artificial respiration. Artificial respiration can be done through mouth to mouth resuscitation or through chest compression. Both methods can be done only on a dog with pulse.

Check if the dog has a pulse

Feel for the pulse if the dog is not breathing. There are several pulse points but the femoral artery located in mid thigh of the dog is the easiest one to find. Use the index finger or the middle finger to find the pulse. Slide the fingers inside the hind leg and move upwards until you can feel the pulsing blood on the groin area. Thumb should not be used as you may feel your own pulse and not the dog’s.

If there is a pulse, administer mouth to snout resuscitation however, if a pulse can not be felt, CPR must be done at once.

First Aid for unconscious small dogs

Life support techniques given on puppies and small dog differ from the one given to large dogs. Obviously, puppies and dogs less than 30 pounds needs to be handled gently.


Chest compression

  • Open the mouth of the small dog. Wipe any secretions.
  • Make sure that the airway is not obstructed by any foreign object. Use a finger to sweep the back of the dog’s mouth. Care must be taken so as not to push the foreign object farther down the throat of the dog.
  • Gently pull the tongue past the front teeth to ensure a clear and open airway
  • Lay the dog on the ground or on any flat surface with the right side down
  • Bend the left front leg at the elbow. The part of the chest touched by the elbow is where you will place your fingers to compress the chest.
  • Use the forefinger and the thumb to press the chest about one inch deep. Press and release at the rate of 80 to 100 compressions for every minute

Rescue Breathing/mouth to nose resuscitation/muzzle breathing

  • Similar to the chest compression, the small dog must be laid on a flat surface with the right side down
  • Clear the mouth with any secretion and make sure that airway is open and not obstructed by any foreign object.
  • Pull the tongue gently making sure that it is even with the dog’s teeth. Close the dog’s mouth
  • Lift the head of the dog to straighten the chin
  • Place your mouth on the dog’s nose and blow gently on the nostril of the dog. The chest will fill with air and expand
  • Remove your mouth from the dog’s snout to allow excess air to escape. This will prevent over inflation of the lungs and bloating of the stomach.
  • Blowing on the nose must be continued at the rate of one breath every two or three seconds. This must be continued until the dog is breathing on its own.

Heart massageHeart massage is done on a dog that does not breathe and has no pulse.

  • Open the dog’s mouth and wipe away secretions. Check for any foreign object that was lodged on the mouth and obstructs the airway.
  • Lay the dog on a flat surface
  • With the thumb on one side and the fingers on the other side of the dog’s body, press gently about an inch on the dog’s heart.
  • Compression must be 100 to 150 times per minute
  • Heart massage must be alternated with rescue breathing
  • Rescue breathing must be administered after every 2 to 3 compressions.
  • This procedure must be continued until there is a pulse and the dog is breathing on its own.
  • After ten minutes or so and the vital signs have not returned it would be best to stop CPR.

Heimlich maneuver

  • Open the dog’s mouth and perform the finger sweep taking care not to push any foreign object further.
  • If the object can not be removed by your hand hold the dog upside down with your arms around the lower abdomen of the dog
  • Sway the dog gently for about 30 second. This should dislodge the object blocking the airway
  • If it didn’t work, place the small dog on a flat surface. Use one hand to steady the dog. Place the other hand at the center of the rib cage and in a thrusting motion press in and up four or five times.

For Medium and Large dogs

Large and medium dog are those weighing 30 pounds and above. CPR procedures will be the same as the one administered on small dogs. The only difference is the frequency and the amount of pressure that has to be applied on the chest of the dog.


Chest Compression

  • Check the airway passage for any obstruction. The dog must be laid on the ground or any flat surface with the right side down
  • Using both hands press down on the chest of the dog sharply about three inches deep. The compression should not be longer than half a second. Make sure that you are pressing on the widest part of the chest and not on the dog’s heart.
  • Rate of compression must be about 80 per minute

Rescue breathing/mouth to nose resuscitation/muzzle breathing

  • Clear mucus from the dog’s mouth and perform a finger sweep to remove any foreign object on the dog’s mouth.
  • Tilt back the head of the dog to make the airway passage straight
  • Hold the mouth with one hand making sure that it is tightly sealed
  • Blow into the dog’s nose. This should make the chest expand.
  • Release the mouth of the dog as the chest expands to let out excess air
  • This procedure must be repeated once every 5 seconds until the dog is breathing on its own.

Heart Massage

  • Place the dog on a flat or firm surface right side down.
  • With you at the back of the dog, put one hand on top of the other on the widest part of the rib cage. This should not be over the heart.
  • With your arms straight, compress the rib cage about 3 inches deep.
  • Repeat procedure about 80 times per minute until vital signs are regained.

Heimlich maneuver

  • Pull out the dog’s tongue if an object is obstructing the airway. Remove the object with your hand if you can.
  • Use the heel of your hand to deliver a sharp blow to the dog’s back to dislodge the object. This can be repeated until the foreign object is dislodged.
  • Holding a big dog upside down can be difficult. An option is to lay the dog on a flat surface and using a fist forcefully compress the dog’s chest to expel the object blocking the airway.
  • Once the object is dislodged check pulse and breathing. Administer artificial resuscitation or CPR if necessary.


Undoubtedly, artificial resuscitation and CPR have saved lives of countless dogs. However, these life saving techniques when done the wrong way can cause detrimental effect on the pet. Too much force applied in the chest can cause broken ribs. Too much air blown on the dog’s nose can cause the lungs to collapse.

N.B. Never practice CPR and any other life saving technique on healthy dogs.

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