You walk into the room, and your dog is lying on the floor, unresponsive. What do you do?
In true emergencies, it can be difficult to know what order to do things in. Should you call your vet? Should you race to the vet's office? Should you start compressions immediately?
A note before we start: The advice given here is strictly informational. It cannot replace the advice of your vet or an in-person pet CPR training course. We strongly advise you to sign up for a reputable canine first aid course, which should help you feel much more prepared in the event of a pet emergency.
Step 1: Stop and Think
Take a deep breath. Confirm that your surroundings are safe. Please don't run into a busy street!
Call your dog’s name and make a few claps with your hands. Sometimes a very deep sleep can deceive owners if their pet doesn’t immediately respond. (This may seem silly, but it happens more commonly than you might think.)
Step 2: Check for a Pulse and Breathing
If your pet does not respond, kneel down next to them and see if you can watch their chest wall rise and fall. You can also hold your hand next to their nose and mouth to feel for any air movement.
You can also feel if your pet has a pulse in two easy places:
Gently place your hand on the chest wall, just behind where the point of the elbow would be if they were standing.
Feel for a pulse in the groin (inguinal) area, where the femoral artery lies. Place three fingers flat together in the groin area to test this space.
Can you feel air moving? Can you feel a heartbeat or pulse?
A) Yes, my dog is breathing and has a pulse.
STOP. Do not proceed with chest compressions. Place your dog on their right side on a firm surface (if they're not already on one).
Then ensure that their airway is (and remains) unblocked. Open their mouth gently and look for any foreign objects, vomit, or obstructions that might be creating a blockage.
If you see an object, you can attempt to remove it, but this is often recommended with caution as even pets that are not fully conscious can still have a bite reflex! Very gently, pull their tongue straight outward to ensure it is not blocking airflow. Additionally, make sure their neck is out straight (not bent).
Aim to keep the left side high to compress the heart. This is called the "recovery position."
Call your vet—or an emergency hospital if it's after hours—to get advice about next steps. Be ready to drive your pet to the vet right away.
B) No, my dog is not breathing and has no pulse.
If your pet is truly unresponsive with no palpable pulse or confirmed breathing, the best chance is to begin Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) immediately. Move to Step 3.
Step 3: Start Chest Compressions
If there is another person with you, one person can start CPR immediately, and the other can call your veterinarian immediately for recommendations.
The goal with compressions is to compress the chest to push blood out of the heart, then relax to let it fill up again before the next pump. By giving compressions, you are essentially performing the heart's pumping function to get blood and oxygen around the body when it can no longer do so itself.
How to Compress Your Dog's Chest Properly
Keep your elbows straight to improve the force placed on the chest, and aim to compress the chest cavity roughly 30% or 1/3 of the volume of the chest cavity. You may have to push harder than you think, and unfortunately, CPR comes with the risk of trauma to the region.
How you compress varies based on your dog's size and type of chest cavity (barrel-chested vs. deep-chested, for instance).
Medium Dog Breeds (e.g., Australian Shepherds, Cocker Spaniels)
Get your watch or phone timer out if possible (better yet, have a friend or family member do it).
Aim to compress the chest around two times per second. This will get you roughly to your goal of 100–120 compressions per minute. Compressing in time with the beat of the song "Staying Alive" will keep you in the right rhythm!
Large and/or Deep-Chested Dog Breeds
Compressions should be done with both hands over the highest point of the chest wall.
Medium Dog Breeds
Compressions should be given with 1 or 2 hands (depending on the size of your dog) over where the heart sits in the chest cavity.
Small Dog Breeds
Compressions should be done with one hand wrapped around where the heart sits in the chest cavity (thumb under one side, fingers around the other).
Barrel-Chested Dog Breeds
Barrel-chested dogs should be placed on their backs, and compressions should be done with 1-2 hands over where the heart sites in the chest (middle to end of the sternum).
Step 4: Provide Rescue Breaths
Ensure your dog is lying on their right side, and extend their head forward so it's straight and there's nothing obstructing the airway, including their tongue.
Provide two rescue breaths:
Close your dog's mouth
Create a seal around their nostrils with your mouth (in small dogs, you may be covering both nose and mouth, and that's OK)
Blow down their nose for one second (their chest should rise)
Wait one more second for the chest to fall
Generally speaking, around two breaths should be given for every 30 chest compressions. You can do this if you are on your own, but if there are two people, one can take on compressions while the other is able to intermittently give breaths, so there is less movement back and forth.
Step 5: Alternate Chest Compressions and Rescue Breaths
If your dog is still unresponsive and not breathing on their own, continue to alternate 30 compressions and two rescue breaths until they are.
If you are able to successfully revive your pet, please follow your vet's guidance on the next steps, including a trip to their office as soon as safely possible to have your pet assessed.
How Pet Insurance Can Help in an Emergency
While we hope you'll never have to perform CPR on your dog, accidents can and do happen, and it's important to be prepared.
At ManyPets, whether you visit your regular vet or an emergency clinician, pet insurance may help reimburse you for accident- or illness-related expenses. Learn more about how pet insurance can help during emergencies.