New Rules for CPR Save More Lives

They call for immediate action to begin compressions — not to check for a pulse

For years, pet owners were instructed to first check for a pulse before using cardiopulmonary resuscitation to revive a cat. Now, however, new guidelines from emergency care veterinarians advise that if you find your cat unresponsive and motionless, immediately start chest compressions. The reason: This protocol simply saves more lives.
“If a pet’s heart does stop, time is of the essence,” says Gretchen Schoeffler, DVM, DACVECC, Emergency and Critical Care Section Chief at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. “You need to take action, especially if the nearest veterinary clinic is 15 or 20 minutes away.”
To ensure a greater chance for survival, the guidelines from the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care urge action rather than an assessment. “Evidence shows that every time you stop compressions, you decrease the chance of survival,” says Elisa Mazzaferro, DVM, Ph.D., a board-certified emergency and critical care specialist at Cornell University Veterinary Specialists in Stamford, Conn. “The mindset is that there is enough oxygen in the bloodstream so that compressions of the chest alone will circulate enough oxygen to keep an animal alive.”

Chest Compressions. The revised technique calls for 30 immediate chest compressions at a rate of 100 to 120 compressions per minute. That equals 15 to 18 seconds for the 30 compressions. Follow with two quick breaths through the cat’s nostrils. Then immediately resume another cycle of 30 compressions and two breaths. Continue these cycles until your cat is resuscitated, and he’s breathing on his own or moving, or until you obtain professional help.

If you’re doing CPR alone, you may find it difficult to track both the compressions and the timing. Instead, count aloud as you perform 30 fast-paced chest compressions followed by breathing two breaths of air directly into the cat’s nose. Then you can repeat the 30 compressions and two breaths of air. Do not stop to take your cat’s pulse — leave that for a veterinary professional. “Every time you stop compressions, you decrease the chance for survival,” Dr. Schoeffer says.

Seek Help. Injuries and illnesses, such as choking on a toy, being hit by a car or suffering from a chronic heart condition, can cause cessation of a heartbeat in cats. After starting CPR, seek veterinary help as soon as you can. If possible, have an individual call the nearest clinic to alert the staff of your arrival and ask for advice. If you’re alone, use the speaker phone to call to continue CPR.

“Being prepared for a pet emergency and knowing what to do when one occurs may make a difference in the outcome for your pet,” says Dr. Schoeffler. She recommends that owners enroll in pet CPR or first-aid classes taught by qualified instructors. Check with your cat’s veterinarian for
a recommendation.

“In our ER, we see an awful lot of trauma-related injuries, such as cats having been hit by a car or involved
in a fight,” says Dr. Schoeffler. Certainly, you face limitations when your cat has been injured, but if you know first aid and apply it correctly, it could be life saving. ❖

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