Learning the Basics of Cat CPR


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 mucus.

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 facility.

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 compressions.

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 attention. 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.

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