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208 Breeds, 422 Health Conditions  |  Find a Vet

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Cardiac Arrest View In Cats

First Aid Condition

First aid health condition




Condition Overview

Dogs and cats don't have heart attacks, but several conditions can stop their hearts. A blow to the chest from a fall or car accident, temperature extremes like heat stroke, suffocation from drowning or choking, and even diseases like heartworms cause cardiac arrest.


Dogs and cats stop breathing before cardiac arrest occurs, and their gums may be pale or bluish.


Cardiac arrest can be caused by many different things.


They will completely lose consciousness, with no signs of life.


You must immediately use CPR to try to restart the heart and breathing, then get to medical help as soon as possible. Often, CPR isn't very successful without specialized veterinary equipment, but first aid at least gives your pet a chance to make it to the emergency clinic.

  1. Check for a pulse - Determine is your pet's heart stopped by taking his pulse. Press your index and second finger into the crease where the inside of his thigh meets his body and feel for a pulse in the femoral artery, which is very large and near the surface. If you cannot feel the pulse, put your ear or a hand flat against your pet's left side directly behind the elbow to listen of feel for the heartbeat.

  2. Check his reflexes - Sometimes a pulse can be hard to find, so check for responsiveness:
    • Call his name and watch for a response, even an ear twitch
    • Pull gently on his leg to see if he pulls back.
    • Watch his eyes as you pinch hard between his toes - he will blink if he is partially conscious.
    • Tap the inside corner of his eyelid to prompt a blink reflex.
    No response means that he is unconscious. If he is unconscious but breathing and his heart is beating, continue to monitor for signs of cardiac arrest. Control any bleeding on the way to the clinic and treat for shock by wrapping him in a blanket. If you have Karo syrup or honey available, you can put 1 - 2 drops on his gums. This will help raise his blood sugar levels in case low blood sugar is the reason he is unconscious.

If Your Pet's Heart Has Stopped
  1. Begin artificial respiration - If your pet's heart has stopped and he has stopped breathing, start artificial respiration, then begin chest compressions. If his heart restarts, control the bleeding, treat shock, and go to the vet.

  2. Start CPR - Different CPR techniques are needed to get the circulation going, depending on the size of your pet.

    To give CPR to a cat or small dog, cup your hand over the point of the chest, just behind the elbows. Squeeze firmly, pressing in about 1/2 inch, with your thumb on one side and your fingers on the other. This not only pumps the heart, but also makes the pressure inside the chest (and against the heart) rapidly increase and decrease and helps move the blood. Ideally, one person gives chest compressions while a second performs artificial respiration. Give one breath for every 5 compressions. The goal is 80 - 100 compressions and 15 - 20 breaths per minute until your pet revives or you reach medical help.

    Lay a medium size or large dog on his side on a hard surface and, if it is readily available, place a small pillow or rolled blanket under the lower part of his chest. This will eliminate any dead space and improve the compressions. Put one hand on his chest at a comfortable position near the highest point of the chest wall. Place your other hand on top of the first, then press down firmly with both hands, compressing the chest by 25 - 50% (you may need to exert a lot of force with larger dogs, so don't worry about broken bones, they are insignificant at the moment). Alternate compressions with breaths at 1 breath per every 5 compressions.

    For a barrel-chested dog like a Bulldog, lay the dog on his back, cross his paws over his breast bone, and kneel with his abdomen between your legs. Hold his paws and perform chest compressions by pushing downward directly over the breastbone.

    If your dog moves a lot while you are compressing his chest, put him on his side, then proceed as described above.

    Every minute, stop CPR to check for a pulse or breathing. If the heart starts again, stop the compressions but continue artificial respiration until your pet breaths on his own or you reach medical help. It is best to have someone drive you so you can continue the first aid while you are in route to the vet.

  3. If all else fails, try acupuncture - Stick a needle or safety pin (ensure it is clean. if possible rinse with alcohol) directly into the middle of the slit in your pet's upper lip beneath the nose. Insert it into the bone and wiggle it back and forth (slightly). This will stimulate the release of a dose of adrenaline (epinephrine), a natural chemical that veterinarians use to jump start the heart.

If Your Pet Is Not Breathing
  1. Open the airway - If your pet is not breathing but his heart is beating, continue to monitor for cardiac arrest while you try to start his breathing.

    Before rescue breathing can help, the airway must be clear. Open your pet's mouth and look inside for a foreign object. If the airway is blocked, use a piece of gauze or cloth to grip his tongue and pull it outward to dislodge the object, or reach in with your fingers or small pliers (or tongs) to grab it. If you can't reach it, use a modified Heimlich maneuver.

    For a cat or small dog, hold him with his back against your stomach, his head up, and his feet hanging down. Fit your fist into the soft hollow right under his rib cage and pull in and up toward your belly and chin with a strong thrusting action.

    Put a larger dog on his side and kneel behind him, with your knees against his backbone. Lean over him and put your fist into the hollow beneath the rib cage, then push sharply upward and inward, toward the dog's head and your knees.

    Repeat the maneuver 2 or 3 times in succession, then check to see if the object has come loose in their mouth. If it hasn't, you can continue the maneuver in the car while someone drives you to the veterinarian.

  2. Start artificial respiration - Once the airway is clear, close your pet's mouth, make sure that his neck and head are in line with his back, and blow 2 quick breaths into his nostrils. Watch to see if his chest expands, then give 15 - 20 breaths a minute. You'll have to blow pretty hard to fill the lungs of really big dogs, but with cats and small dogs, be careful to just puff into the lungs so they don't rupture. The key is to blow only until the chest rises.

    Sometimes, air collects in the stomach when it goes down your pet's throat. Every few minutes, push on his stomach with your hand on the left side behind his ribs to expel it.


There is no prevention for this condition


Please contact your veterinarian for more information on how to proceed in this situation.

Show Sources & Contributors +


The First Aid Companion for Dogs And Cats

Publisher: Rodale Inc, 2001

Website: http://www.rodalebooks.com/

Authors: Amy D. Shojai, Shane Bateman DVM

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