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Updated: Jan 25, 2023

Medical life or death emergencies. It's something no one ever wants to think about, yet it's something every pet parent can benefit from being prepared for. We've researched the best sources and the latest evidence and advice for pet immediate CPR, and presented it here:

Be Prepared

  1. Numbers: Keep the telephone number of your vet, and the nearest out-of-hours vet in your phone so you have immediate access. If your pet insurance offers a helpline, it is always worth putting that number in your phone.

  2. Keep a Kit: Learn basic pet first aid and keep a first aid kit in both the house and car.

  3. Get skilled: Learn pet CPR. This might be a daunting thought. But as a nurse, I can assure you that if the necessity for CPR arises, your survival instinct will kick in and you will manage. As always, if you can get them to a vet immediately and let them take over, this is better.

What to do if your pet becomes acutely ill and needs immediate life-saving assistance

  1. Keep calm throughout and talk gently to your pet to reassure them and also to keep them calm

  2. Call for help and get someone to contact a vet asap. Put your phone on speaker.

  3. A B C below:

  4. Note: Do not move the pet unless absolutely necessary (i.e there is imminent danger) and you are advised to do so by the vet over the phone. This is because bones may be broken. The best way of lifting an injured cat is to put one hand under the chin on the front of the chest, and the other behind the back legs. A towel may be required to restrain if the cat is lashing out.

  5. If you have to move an immobilised cat or dog with likely internal injuries to safety, move them gently with assistance onto a flat towel and move them while holding the towel taut like a stretcher, using two people. This also applies if you need to move an animal to the car to take to the vet. It's the best way to minimise the risk of further injury and is a likely scenario after a road traffic accident.

A - Airway

Are they breathing? Is breathing shallow? Can you see a foreign object? If so, be careful removing it so as not to push it further. Lie your pet on its front with paws out ahead. This helps straighten the airway and enables the ribcage to move unobstructed against the ground, allowing for air to flow better (see picture). Check for breathing by putting a mirror in front of their nostrils and check for it slightly fogging up.

If your pet does not spontaneously breathe or stops breathing, move on to B and lay your pet on its side on a firm surface.

B- Breathing – Open your pet's airway by gently grasping the tongue and pulling it out of the mouth until it is flat. Rescue breathing can be done by closing your pets mouth and breathing into its nose firmly but gently until you see the chest expand. Continue every 5 seconds and check for a heartbeat.

C- Circulation – The heart is located just behind the elbow of the left front leg in a dog and can be felt here. In a cat, place your fingers on the side of the ribcage, at the point just underneath the front legs. If you apply very gentle pressure you will feel the heart beating (see picture):

No pulse (Dog) - Lay your pet on its side. Place one hand under the chest for support and place the other over the heart just behind the elbow. Press down gently and firmly (harder for larger animals and less force for smaller animals). 100 times per minute approx. Alternate 30 chest compressions with two rescue breaths and a heartbeat check. Continue until you can get the animal to a vet.

No heartbeat (Cat) – Lay your pet on its side. Cradle your hand around the chest so your thumb is one side of the chest and the fingers are on the other. Compress gently. Cats ribs are fragile. There is no need to squeeze too hard. 100 times per minute approx. Alternate 30 chest compressions with two rescue breaths and a heartbeat check. Continue until you can get the animal to a vet.

Knowing CPR may save your pet's life until it can get to a vet.

Please seek prompt vet advice if your pet shows any of the following signs, don't wait until they collapse and need emergency CPR

  • Seems weak, reluctant to get up, or unsteady on their feet

  • Seizure of any sort

  • There is difficulty breathing, the breath is noisy or rapid, or there is continual coughing that is causing distress

  • There is repeated vomiting, particularly if the animal is young or elderly.

  • Persistent diarrhoea in kittens or puppies

  • Bleeding, especially from the nose, mouth, ears or rectum

  • Blue-tinged lips or gums

  • The animal appears to be in severe pain or discomfort

  • Acutely swollen abdomen

  • They suddenly have difficulty with balance or lose power of their back legs

  • They are trying to urinate or defecate and cannot. Urinary blockage can quickly become lethal in male animals, especially cats.

Further reading

The Royal Veterinary College (RVC) has a good guide here to follow in specific situations such as bleeding, poison, and other- "what to do's". You can even order a pet first aid kit.

The RSPCA do a great guide to pet emergencies such as choking, bleeding, poisoning and heatstroke. It is free and can be ordered here:

PDSA also do a free guide which can be ordered here

With special thanks to:

Royal Veterinary College (RVC)

Petplan UK

Cats Protection UK



Blue Cross UK

Sharon Muir is one of the admin team volunteers here at Balkan Underdogs in the Promotions team. She is a nurse and will be happy to answer any questions if you have any. Please get in touch here to contact Sharon.

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