Performing CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) on Cats

By Dee (Florida)

CPR is an emergency procedure to try and keep a cat, animal or a person alive. I’m going to talk about Chester the cat. It may be lengthy. Chester was the third and last animal CPR I performed.

Chester came to me as a stray about 4 years ago. He was huge (around 15 lb), all black except for a small patch of white on his neck, large polydactyl front paws and semi-feral. I made him an inside cat although he didn’t really care for other cats. However, he tolerated them, and that’s pretty much all I expect from the clan I have.

After almost a year, he and I were pretty good pals, but he didn’t trust other people, especially my vet. As all of us do with our cats, I knew him well…well enough to see that he wasn’t “right” one day.

It was nothing real specific, but I just knew it wasn’t good. All PoCers know what I mean. So, we went to the vet and his labs showed kidney failure, possibly end-stage. On top of that he had a grade IV heart murmur. It was decision time.

Dr. Kramar was exceptional in explaining what would be involved if I chose an attempt to save him. I opted to try. Now, my only choice was to have him treated in the hospital or treat him at home. So many things were discussed:

  • The hospital couldn’t provide round-the-clock care.
  • Chester required intensive care, subcutaneous fluid administration that was risky as a fluid overload would put him into congestive heart failure, and he would be so frightened in the hospital that he would have to be sedated the entire time.

Well, I was not a vet nurse. I was a people nurse with a specialty in intensive care. I felt that I could handle what was required and Chester would not have to go through the traumas of being alone (and, maybe dying alone at night in the hospital), he wouldn’t have to be sedated, I would have the time to give him 24/7 attention if my daughter would agree to come and stay a short while to take over the rest of my crazy cat life (which she did).

So, armed with antibiotics, bags of IV fluid, tubings, needles, and a schedule of the whens and how much stuff to give, Chester and I went home.

After 3 days, he seemed to be improving. He was eating and drinking some, peeing fair amounts, and even groomed himself a little. I was becoming hopeful.

Then, after his first fluid therapy that third morning, I picked him up to love on him some because I hated sticking him with needles as much as he hated being stuck. And, he suddenly went limp and lifeless in my arms.

This was my third CPR occasion so I was more comfortable than previously. I learned the technique from the internet. There are many sites and videos. It is very different from CPR on a human.

I followed the steps as I remembered them:

  • I laid him on his right side.
  • I could see that he wasn’t breathing, so I made a tight seal around his nose and mouth with my mouth and gave him 4 quick, short breaths.
  • I checked for a heart beat by moving his arm and putting my fingers in the place where his “elbow” had rested. I couldn’t feel anything.
  • I placed my right hand underneath him opposite the place where I checked for a heartbeat and my left hand on top at the heartbeat spot. I compressed with 3 fingers of each hand (sort of like a squeeze) at a depth of about 1/2 inch as fast as I could for about one minute (the compressions are supposed to be 100-120 per minute). Then, 2 quick breaths and repeat over and over.

I tried for at least 15 minutes with no response. I wept the whole time. There wasn’t anything else to do at that point. It was over.

My two previous CPR occasions were with a cat and a dog. The dog was strictly a respiratory arrest and he survived. The cat didn’t respond.


15 thoughts on “Performing CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) on Cats”

  1. The above method can also save a cat from choking to death if he has something lodged in the back of his mouth or throat, which you can’t reach to remove.

  2. Starting vet nursing in the 1960s I was taught by the vet to save a cat’s life who had stopped breathing, by picking him up by the back legs and swinging him, it sounds brutal I know but it does work.
    The action usually shocks the cat to take a breath and carry on breathing.
    Apparently Alf Wight (pen name James Heriot who wrote the All Creatures Great and Small books) used this method.
    Thankfully I didn’t have to do this many times over the years but the times I did, the cat always lived and recovered.
    As Babz says though, in some cases it’s best the cat is allowed to go because of the very real danger of brain damage if he doesn’t respond quickly.

      • We didn’t have all the equipment and drugs those days that vets have now and some of the old methods look a bit barbaric, but they worked.

          • Yes Michael that’s correct, I can only think of very few times a cat stopped breathing.
            I think before all the fancy machines they have nowadays we were more vigilant watching the actual patient too, not a machine showing their condition.
            One of our cats Popsy was in for x rays under anaesthetic a few years back and stopped breathing, being told that on the phone was the most awful feeling, even though they had brought her back. She died a few weeks later of the chest complaint they couldn’t diagnose, we were on our way in the car to see a cat’s chest specialist, so maybe it was meant to be. We still don’t know what was wrong and changed practices after we lost her because we should have been referred to a specialist sooner, he was only 3 miles away from us had we but known it!

      • I performed the Heimlich Maneuver on a cat once. It only works if the airway is completely blocked, which it was. I was in my second year if college at the time, but I still remembered my first aid/CPR training from high school. I knew from my training that she was choking and that her airway was totally blocked and I knew to grab just below the cat’s rib cage and give a good hard thrust, just as you would for a human. The food she was choking on shot right out of her mouth. She would have died had I not been there and thought to give a quick, hard squeeze in the right place. So the training I received in high school saved a life– not a human life, but a life none the less.

        • Fantastic, Ruth. I think it’s essential that people with animals learn lifesaving techniques,
          How horrifying would it have been to just watch your cat choke to death and feel helpless?
          These techniques empower us.

  3. Thanks, Barbara. I’ve never really talked to anyone about those 3 days. I suffered over it for some time afterward, questioning whether I had made all of the right decisions and if all that happened was in Chester’s best interest.
    I made my peace, knowing that he never seemed to suffer
    and that I hadn’t caused him harm. And, I tucked it all away.

    • Hey Dee – I have been super busy so only getting to some articles now – thanks for sharing this, I learned from it but it is also very sad. I am sure it was hard to write about it. Poor Chester. You really took care of him and did your best for him. I’m sure he appreciated how much you loved and cared for him in his last days. How you must have been heartbroken. It’s so hard.

      I had no idea where to even begin with CPR for cats – thanks alot for the info too. You must miss Chester – its a space that can never be filled when you lose a cat you love so much. I’m sorry for your loss.

      • Dee, is exceptional in that she has actually done CPR on cats. That must be as rare as hens teeth. I’d bet some vets haven’t done it.

        I’ve been playing Scrabble at the Hurlingham Club in Fulham, next to the Thames with a drink aftewards. Beautiful place and nice company. Doesn’t get much better.

  4. A really interesting and important article Dee, thank you for sharing your knowledge with us, I can think of only one occasion where perhaps I might have tried this but I think it would have failed. I’ve done CPR training at work but thankfully have never had to use it and hope it stays that way. I’m so sad for you that Chester didn’t respond but maybe it was the best way for him to go, safely in your arms, when the outlook wasn’t very good.

  5. Thanks Dee for taking the time to write this. Everyone looking after a cat should know to do it. I found the article sad though. It was brave of you to care for Chester when he was so ill.

    The actual CPR bit is harrowing. Makes me feel sad.


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