Carolinas Animal Hospital

Cat & Dog CPR and Vitals: Pet First Aid

Cat and Dog CPR and Vital Signs: Pet First Aid


CPR chest compressions.

Cat and dog CPR and vital signs knowledge are fundamental to pet first aid. In our previous blog post in our Pet First Aid series, we discussed the basics: dog and cat first aid supplies and safe handling. With these things in mind for all situations, the foundation of responding to an injury or emergency is in learning two of the most important aspects of all first aid: Cat and dog CPR and vital signs.

Dog and Cat Vital Signs

Vital signs are important to know for a wide variety of situations from illness to poisoning to trauma. Just as with humans, this is the baseline to which we refer to help establish a picture of your pet’s current state.

Normal Temperature

The average temperature range for both dogs and cats is 100.5 F – 102.5 F. Most healthy pets will be closer to the middle, but anything within this range is considered to be “normal”. To check your pet’s temperature, get the thermometer from your pet’s first aid kit, and using a lubricant, insert it rectally. A common misconception with dogs especially is that you can tell if they have a fever or are sick by whether their nose is warm or cool. This is definitely not true.

Respiratory Rate

To determine your pet’s respiratory rate observe chest motion, and place a wet finger or small mirror just in front of the nostrils. Count the number of breaths for 15 seconds, then multiply by four.

Normal – 20-30 breaths/min
Panting – up to 300 breaths/min

Normal puppies – 15-40 breaths/min
Normal adult – 10-30 breaths/min
Toy breeds – 15-40 breaths/min
Panting – up to 200 breaths/min

(Note that cats do not generally pant unless they are very stressed, very hot, or frightened. If panting is prolonged, call your vet immediately as this could indicate a serious emergency.)

Look for signs of abnormal breathing such as a fast or slow rate, gasping, shallow breathing, etc. Seek immediate veterinary care if anything abnormal is noted.

Heart Rate

Lay your pet on it’s (preferably) right side and place your hand on his or her chest just behind the shoulder blade to feel the heartbeat. Alternatively, you can also feel a pulse through the femoral artery by placing your fingers on your pet’s upper, inner thigh area. Count beats for 15 seconds, then multiply by four.

Normal – 110-130 bpm (beats per minute)

Normal puppies – 70-120 bpm
Normal adult – 80-150 bpm
Toy breeds – 70-220 bpm

An abnormal heart rate, especially one that is prolonged, very high, or very low, should be treated as an emergency and immediately evaluated by a vet.

Gum Color

It’s a good idea to lift your pet’s lip, if you can do so safely, and check the color of their gums. A nice, normal and bright pink is a good indicator that there is good oxygen saturation in the blood. Pale gums or even dark red or brown or bluish gums should be treated as an emergency. Take your dog or cat to your vet immediately as these could be signs of dangerously low oxygenation, shock, anemia, etc.

Cat and Dog CPR

Mouth-to-nose or mouth-to-snout CPR breathing, dog cpr, cat cpr

Mouth-to-nose or mouth-to-snout CPR breathing

If you are sure that your pet is unconscious, check for breathing. If there is no breathing, tilt your pet’s head back a little, check for an obvious obstruction, then pull the tongue a bit to open the airway.

Close the mouth and place your mouth over your pet’s nose/snout, giving 4-5 forceful breaths. You should see the chest rise. Check for breathing and a pulse again.

If there is a pulse, but the animal is still not breathing on it’s own, continue breathing for it as described above.

If there is no pulse, you must begin chest compressions. For small dogs and cats, lay the animal on it’s side and squeeze their chest between your two hands, compressing 1/2”-1” depending on their size. Try to do this 100-150 times per minute. For larger dogs, place them with their right side down, then put your hands, one on top of the other, on their chest behind the shoulder blade so you are over their heart. Compress 1.5”-4” depending on the size of the dog. Try to do this 80-120 times per minute.

Check for a heartbeat. If there is still none, resume compressions. Ideally, a second person would be helping by doing to mouth-to-snout breathing at the same time. If there is no one to help you, try to give two breaths for about every 30 compressions.

Continue CPR until you can get to a vet.




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