How to Perform CPR if Your Cat Loses Consciousness

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

how to perform cpr on a cat

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  • It’s uncommon, but occasionally cats require at-home CPR; the first step is to check whether kitty is breathing and has a heartbeat
  • If resuscitation is needed and you have a helper, get on your way to the nearest veterinary clinic or emergency animal hospital while performing CPR and artificial respiration
  • Seek immediate veterinary care even if kitty starts breathing again on her own
  • Be prepared to perform the Heimlich maneuver in the event your cat chokes on a foreign object
  • Additional signs of feline distress you should never ignore include difficulty breathing, fainting/collapsing, blood in the litterbox, difficulty urinating, and loud crying

Knowing in advance how to perform basic CPR on your cat can give you peace of mind in the event (heaven forbid) you ever find your feline companion unconscious and in need of urgent medical care.

How to Determine If a Cat Needs CPR

It seems obvious, but before you begin CPR you need to be sure your kitty is really in need of it. (If she isn’t, you risk serious injury.) Touch and gently shake her to ensure she’s not just sleeping, then address the following:

  • Is she breathing? Watch her chest to determine if it’s moving or gently rest your hand there. You can also put a finger in front of her nostrils to check for exhalations.
  • Is her heart beating? Gently place your hand on the lower left side of her chest to feel for a heartbeat.

If you can’t detect signs of breathing or a heartbeat, move on to the following steps after alerting your veterinarian or the nearest emergency animal hospital that you’re on your way.

How to Perform CPR on a Cat or Kitten

The following steps are adapted from a PetMD post, and apply to an unconscious cat or kitten who isn’t breathing:1

  1. Open his mouth and carefully remove any visible obstructions in his airway.
  2. Gently pull his tongue to the front of his mouth, then close the mouth and gently hold it shut.
  3. Make sure his neck is straight and breathe short puffs of air into his nose, one breath every 4 to 5 seconds.
  4. Give 3 to 5 breaths, then check for a heartbeat and breathing again. If a heartbeat is present but breathing is absent, continue breathing at a rate of approximately 10 breaths per minute.
  5. If you still can’t feel a heartbeat, continue CPR and add artificial respiration (AR) as described in the remaining steps.
  6. Lay your cat on his side (either side is fine) on a flat surface.
  7. Place the thumb and fingers on either side of his chest, behind his elbows and over the heart. Give a quick squeeze to compress the chest to about one-third of its normal thickness.
  8. Perform chest compressions at a rate of 100-120 per minute, giving 2 breaths for every 30 compressions.
  9. If there’s someone available to help, have them perform AR while you do CPR, switching off every 2 minutes to reduce fatigue.

If you’re able to successfully resuscitate your cat, it’s still important to get him to your vet’s office or an emergency animal clinic right away for observation, further treatment if necessary and to determine the underlying cause for the emergency.

How to Help a Choking Cat

Just like humans, pets occasionally choke on things. Fortunately, it’s uncommon for a cat to choke, especially to the point of unconsciousness, but if yours ever does, knowing how to perform the Heimlich maneuver could save her life.

It can sometimes be difficult to tell if a kitty is choking or just coughing. However, a choking cat will have trouble inhaling, whereas a cat who’s just coughing will breathe relatively normally. If your feline family member is choking, she’s suffocating, and she will get panicky. Also watch for pawing at the mouth. How to perform the Heimlich maneuver on a cat:

  1. Open kitty’s mouth and check for a foreign object. If you can see something in his mouth or throat, try to remove it with your fingers, or grip his tongue and pull it toward you to try to dislodge the object. Alternatively, move your finger around inside the mouth to try to feel and dislodge any foreign object. (There is obviously a risk of being bitten, so take appropriate precautions anytime you put your fingers in your pet’s mouth.)
  2. If you have no luck dislodging the object by manually removing it, pick your cat up and place his back against your chest. Put both hands under his waist area behind the ribs. Make a fist with your hands, place them behind the last rib, and rapidly push up and in 5 times.
  3. Open his mouth again and look for any foreign object dislodged during the abdominal thrusts you just performed. Move your finger around in his mouth to dislodge and remove the object.
  4. If the object still hasn’t been dislodged, with your cat on a flat surface, put your hands in front of his hips, then lift and suspend him with his head toward the floor.
  5. Recheck his mouth and use your finger to feel for the object and remove it.
  6. If this doesn’t work, put your cat in a sitting or standing position and use the palm of your hand to deliver 5 sharp blows to his back between the shoulder blades.
  7. Open the mouth to check again for a foreign object. You might want to use a small flashlight to get a better look inside. Use your fingers to try to find and clear the object.
  8. Until the object is dislodged, continue to repeat the above steps.
  9. If your cat loses consciousness, give him 5 breaths followed by 5 abdominal thrusts and continue these 2 steps (breaths and thrusts) until the object is dislodged.

As soon as the object is dislodged, check his airway, breathing and heart rate. Perform CPR and/or AR if necessary and get him to your veterinarian or an emergency animal hospital immediately. Here’s a video that explains the process:

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5 Additional Do-Not-Ignore Symptoms in Cats

The following signs may or may not mean your cat is in danger but should be investigated right away by your veterinarian or an emergency animal clinic.

1. Difficulty breathing — A cat in respiratory distress will have labored breathing or shortness of breath that can occur when he breathes in or out. Breathing difficulties can mean that not enough oxygen is reaching his tissues. Additionally, cats with heart failure may not be able to pump enough blood to their muscles and other tissues.

Respiratory distress often goes hand-in-hand with a buildup of fluid in the lungs or chest cavity that leads to shortness of breath and coughing. If your cat has sudden undiagnosed breathing problems, he should see a veterinarian immediately.

2. Fainting, collapsing — When a cat collapses, it means she has suffered a sudden loss of strength that causes her to fall and be unable to get back up. If she also loses consciousness, she has fainted. Either of these situations is an emergency, even if kitty recovers quickly and seems normal again within seconds or minutes of the collapse.

All the reasons for fainting or collapsing are serious and require an immediate visit to your veterinarian. They include a potential problem with the nervous system (brain, spinal cord or nerves), the musculoskeletal system (bones, joints, muscles), the circulatory system (heart, blood vessels, blood) or the respiratory system (mouth, nose, throat, lungs).

3. Blood in the litterbox — Finding blood in the litterbox strikes fear in the hearts of even the most laidback cat parents, and with good reason. Digested blood in your cat’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract will appear as black tarry stools. Fresh blood in the stool indicates bleeding in the colon or rectum. Either situation is cause for concern and should be investigated as soon as possible.

Blood in the urine, called hematuria, can be obvious or microscopic. There are a number of serious disorders that can cause bloody urine, including a blockage in the urinary tract, a bacterial infection and even cancer.

4. Trouble urinating — This includes discomfort while urinating, straining to urinate and frequent attempts to urinate with little success. If your cat cries out while relieving himself, isn’t leaving his normal amount of urine in the litterbox, seems preoccupied with that area of his body or is excessively licking the area, you should make an appointment with your veterinarian right away.

There are several underlying causes of urinary difficulties, some of which can result in death within just a few days.

5. Loud crying — You know better than anyone what “normal” is for your cat when it comes to the sounds she makes. For example, some kitties almost never vocalize, while others “talk” non-stop to their humans. Depending on her personality, you may also know the difference between kitty’s happy sounds and her vocalizations when she’s annoyed.

The sounds you don’t want to ignore are yowls that come out of nowhere and for no apparent reason, and especially continuous loud crying, especially if she’s also pacing or seems unable or unwilling to settle down. These are signs she's in significant pain and needs to see a veterinarian right away.

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