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Can I give a cat CPR?

Q: I recently took a pet first aid class, and the veterinarian who taught it did not include CPR instruction. I feel cheated. I have three cats and think it's important for me to know feline CPR. Can you tell me what I need to know?

A: The most important thing to understand about CPR is that you probably will never need to use it on a pet, and if you do, your efforts probably will be unsuccessful, even if you'd been trained. That's because a cardiopulmonary arrest usually occurs during the final stages of a cat's or dog's illness.

Even when cardiopulmonary arrest occurs in the animal hospital, where staff can respond immediately with CPR, oxygen, stimulant drugs and other treatments, fewer than 10% of pets that were not anesthetized at the time survive long enough to be discharged from the hospital. These dismal statistics are even worse when the arrest occurs outside the hospital.

The most common cause of sudden heart failure in apparently healthy cats is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle. Unfortunately, by the time the cat collapses, the disease has progressed to the point that it cannot be reversed, and no amount of CPR is likely to be successful.

I hope you feel better knowing you possess the most important feline first aid skills and that your cats are unlikely ever to need CPR.

Editor’s Note: Having the supplies to stabilize your dog during an emergency can help save its life. Here are tips for creating a pet first aid kit for home or on-the-go.

Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at

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