Cat CPR and Artificial Respiration

Image via iStock/MonikaBatich

Artificial respiration (AR) and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) for cats are emergency procedures that you will hopefully never need to use. The goal is to restore blood flow and oxygen to vital organs.

It is better to take your cat to your veterinarian before problems become severe enough to require CPR. But performing cat CPR correctly and when necessary may give you time to get your cat to your veterinarian. If you think your cat needs CPR or AR, the emergency situation is not over until your cat is being cared for by a veterinarian and her staff.

What to Watch For

These signs are all reasons to get your cat to your veterinarian immediately:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Weakness or lethargy
  • Unconsciousness
  • Any sudden onset of illness
  • Severe injury or trauma

Here are some vital signs you can check to help you decide if AR or CPR for cats is necessary:

  • Check for breathing. Watch for movement of the chest, or put your hand in front of your cat’s nose to feel his breath. If mist forms on a piece of clean glass or metal that’s placed in front of your cat’s nose, CPR is probably not necessary.
  • Check the color of his gums. If your cat’s gums are bluish or gray, this is a sign that they are not getting enough oxygen; white gums are the result of poor blood circulation. Some cats have dark-colored gums—for those cats, check the tongue color. In most cases, if your cat lets you examine their tongue, they need CPR or AR.
  • Check for a pulse on the inside of the thigh, near where the leg meets the body. This is the femoral pulse. 
  • Listen for a heartbeat by putting your ear (or a stethoscope) on the left side of the chest near the elbow.

Immediate Care

If possible, perform the following steps en route to your veterinarian. Call your veterinarian immediately. She or he can help you through these steps and give your cat the best chance at surviving to make it to the veterinary clinic.

  1. Check for breathing.

  2. If there is none, open the mouth and remove any obstructions in the airway. This is only safe if the animal is unconscious.

  3. Pull the tongue to the front of the mouth, then close the mouth and gently hold it shut.

  4. Make sure the neck is straight and breathe short puffs of air into the nose—one breath every 4 to 5 seconds. (If you have been trained in CPR for human infants, use a similar strength of breath.)

  5. Watch for chest movement; the chest should both rise when you give a breath and relax after the breath. Give 3 to 5 breaths, then check for a pulse and breathing again. Repeat as needed at a rate of 10 breaths per minute. Continue giving breaths as someone else drives you and your pet to the veterinarian.

  6. If the cat's heart stops, use both artificial respiration and CPR (steps 7 through 10).

  7. Check for a heartbeat and pulse.

  8. If there is none, lay your cat on his right side on a flat surface.

  9. Place your thumb and fingers from one hand on either side of his chest, behind his elbows, and give a quick squeeze to compress the chest to about half of its normal thickness.

  10. Compress the chest about 15 times every 10 seconds; give a breath about every 10 compressions.

Veterinary Care 



Your veterinarian will give your cat a physical exam to assess heart and lung activity before beginning resuscitative efforts. If your veterinarian can revive your cat, appropriate testing will be done to determine what the underlying health problem is.


While your veterinary team continues with CPR, some or all of the following may be done to aid in reviving your cat:

  • Endotracheal tube placed and oxygen used for artificial respiration.
  • Intravenous catheter placed to allow for easier administration of emergency medication and to give fluids.
  • Epinephrine and other emergency medications given in an effort to stimulate the heart and breathing.

Living and Management

Unfortunately, most cats that reach the point of needing CPR do not survive. If your cat survives, expect him to stay in the hospital until a diagnosis is made and his condition is stabilized.

Often when a cat requires emergency treatment, including CPR or AR, the cat is very ill. Full recovery may take many days and require significant time, effort and financial cost. It is important to discuss all of this with your veterinarian once your cat has been triaged.


Accidents do happen, in spite of our best efforts to keep our pets safe, and some can be severe enough to require AR or CPR for cats. Regular checkups and prompt care of health problems will diminish the chances that your cat has a serious issue which requires artificial respiration or CPR.