Cat CPR Basics


Thanks to a course she took in pet first aid and CPR, Los
Angeles-based actress Edie Cagianno was able to save the life of her
cat, Onyx, when he was choking on a hairball. Cagianno managed to clear
Onyx’s airway at the back of his throat and then performed rescue
breathing on him while her neighbor transported both cat and owner to
the vet.

As this former co-star of Buffy the Vampire Slayer proved, CPR
(cardiopulmonary resuscitation) is not just for humans. CPR combines
rescue breathing with chest compressions. If your cat is not breathing
and is in cardiac arrest, performing CPR can provide blood flow to your
cat’s heart and oxygen to your cat’s lungs until you are able to get to
a vet. Do not perform rescue breathing if your cat is breathing or
chest compressions if your cat has a pulse. 

In an emergency, the following procedures could save your kitty’s
life until you are able to get your cat to the nearest animal emergency
facility. Using the Handbook of Veterinary Procedures and Treatment (Saunders,
2005), Thom Somes, the founder of Pet Tech, trains instructors to teach
pet owners to become “part of the link in the chain of survival” of
their pets.

Before you start CPR, make sure that your cat is, in fact,
unconscious by calling out its name, observing movements and so on. And
be very careful to avoid getting bitten or scratched in case your cat
is conscious. According to Somes, “cats have five ways of attacking you
— four paws with claws and they can bite you.”

How to Clear Your Cat’s Airway
Once you have confirmed
that your cat is unconscious, you need to make sure your cat’s airway
is clear. To do this, you should straighten and extend your cat’s neck
and pull your cat’s tongue out (only as far as it will easily go).
Consider keeping a box of surgical gloves — sold at Wal-Mart and most
pharmacies — for emergencies such as this. Next, sweep your finger
through your cat’s mouth to clear any debris that may be blocking the
air passage. When you do this, you will find your cat’s Adam’s apple in
the back of the throat — do not try to remove it! However, you should
remove anything else you find, such as a foreign object, vomit or

How to Tell If Your Cat Is Breathing
Once you have cleared the airway, you should find out if your cat is breathing.

According to Somes, there are three ways to do this:

  • Look to see if your cat’s chest rises and falls
  • Listen to see if you can hear your cat breathing
  • Feel if your cat is breathing by putting your hand up to your cats nose

A cat’s normal breathing rate ranges from 20 to 30 breaths per
minute. However, according to Somes, you should be able to evaluate
whether or not your cat is breathing within fifteen seconds. Somes says
that if your cat is breathing at all, you should not perform rescue
breathing but instead rush your cat to the nearest animal emergency

How to Perform Rescue Breathing
According to Somes, if
your cat is not breathing, you should give your cat “two slow full
breaths” by covering your cat’s mouth, and blowing air into your cat’s
nose — this is also known as mouth to snout breathing. Somes stresses
the importance of not over-inflating your cat’s lungs. As soon as you
see the chest expand, uncover your cat’s mouth and nose so that your
cat is able to exhale freely. After you have given your cat the initial
two breaths, you should check your cat’s pulse.

How to Check Your Cat’s Pulse
You can check your cat’s
pulse by feeling along the outside of your cat’s front leg, just behind
the shoulder. A cat’s heart rate ranges from 120 to 240 beats per
minute. However, like with breathing, Somes says that if your cat has
any pulse or heart rate, rush your cat to the nearest animal emergency
room rather than performing chest compressions.

How to Perform Chest Compressions
If your cat does not
have a pulse, Somes says to place your cat on its side in front of you
with the cat’s back facing you. Then, make an “L” shape with your left
hand and hook your thumb around your cat’s armpit. Use the other hand
fill in the gap between the left hand and the ground to stabilize the
cat. Gently compress the chest one quarter to one third the width of
your cat’s chest.

Tying It All Together
CPR is the combination of rescue
breathing and chest compressions. Pet Tech instructors train pet owners
to breath into pets’ mouths one time after every fifteen chest

Get Your Cat to a Vet
Do not stop CPR until you are able
to get your cat to a vet. According to Somes, you will most likely not
be able to jumpstart your cat’s pulse or breathing. However, you will
be able to provide your cat’s lungs with oxygen and pump blood to your
cat’s heart until you can get your kitty to a vet for expert medical

You may want to review this information with your vet or consider
taking a pet first aid and CPR course to make sure that you are able to
perform each of the steps correctly. To find out about classes in your
area, visit the PetTech website or the American Red Cross website.

Leave a Comment