First aid for dogs: Heimlich Manoeuvre and Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation

At any moment, just like people, our dog can have an accident. Although the most important thing is to always take them to the closest vet as soon as possible, it is recommended that we all know a few basic first aid techniques for dogs that we will be able to use depending on the seriousness of the situation if, at that moment, there is not a vet nearby.

The first thing we have to do is assess the seriousness of the situation.


Ideally everyone should have a digital thermometer at home, exclusively for dogs (with which we take their temperature rectally). The normal temperature for a dog or cat is between 38º-39º. If their temperature is higher, we must go the the vet as soon as possible.


If our dog has had an accident, it is likely that their breathing is altered. (Above 40 breaths per minute). In this case, we must calm our dog down, stay by their side and convey peacefulness. Do not fret or shout next to them as this will only make their state worse. Your dog will look to you for information about what is happening to them and you must make them feel that everything is fine at all times.

If, on the contrary, you don´t know if your dog is breathing, keeping calm, lean into their chest to see if there is movement. You should count at least 15 breaths per minute. Anything lower than this means that the animal is showing signs of Bradypnea (respiratory difficulties) and should be seen to immediately.


It is possible that your dog has swallowed something, or that something is obstructing their respiratory tract, including a piece of food.

For this we will need to search inside their mouth with our fingers, from one side to the other, looking for the object.

If our dog is coughing we must leave them to cough for as long as they need, as it is the most effective way of getting rid of foreign objects from our respiratory tract. Try not to smother them or get upset, simply make sure that they keep on coughing.

If our dog has stopped coughing and we are sure that something is obstructing their respiratory tract and we can’t reach it with our fingers, then it is possible that we have to use first aid for dogs.

Heimlich Manoeuvre for Dogs

The Heimlich Manoeuvre consists of forcing the obstructing object out through the mouth. Before using this manoeuvre, we must use a couple of less “dangerous” techniques.

First we have to try our luck using gravity to our advantage. With small dogs, the easiest thing to do is to hold them by the hips and upside down with their face facing the ground. Normally, with a couple of light jolts the object will come out. With big dogs, we do the same thing as with small dogs but without holding them in the air as their size makes it impossible and we could hurt them. To do this we take the hind legs of the dog while leaving their front legs on the ground, as if they were a wheelbarrow.

If gravity doesn’t work in either of these cases, we can give our dog 5 interscapular slaps (between the shoulder blades). These slaps must be sharp blows with the lower part of the palm of our hand.
If they are still choking, we can use the Heimlich Manoeuvre as we would on people. We put our chest as close as we can to their back and stand them up. Putting our arms around their chest we look for the lower and central part of their ribs, where we will find what we also call the mouth of the stomach. We put a fist on their ribs if it is a big dog or 3-4 fingers if it is a small dog. With the other hand we will make compressions on our fist or fingers. The compressions should be firm and strong but we must be careful as to not break any of the dog’s ribs. After a couple of compressions, look in their mouth again to see if the object has come out. We will try to take it out if we can reach it. If not, continue with two or three more compressions and look in their mouth again. Once the object has come out, check that your dog is breathing normally. If they aren’t, give them mouth to mouth a couple of times but be careful as your dog might bite you. It is a defensive reflex action after returning to normal.


How to look for a dog´s pulse

In the case of a serious accident, if we have already confirmed that our dog isn’t breathing, we must check to see if the dog has a pulse. To do this, with the dog lying on its side, we look on the inside of their leg for the femoral artery.

CPR for dogs (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation)

We ONLY do CPR on our dog if they’re not breathing and do not have a pulse.

The first thing we must do is lie our dog down on their right side and pull out their tongue, leaving it as far out of their mouth as possible, putting it to one side. By doing this we will avoid possible choking. We will close their mouth with our hand and, to be safe, we can even improvise a muzzle around their nose with a piece of clothing or a handkerchief, leaving their nose and mouth free as this is where we will give them CPR.

With small dogs, we will surround their nose and mouth with our mouth, and with big dogs we will only surround their nose. We will give a big blow, as if we were inflating a balloon. We have to take notice of how much their chest inflates. Two or three blows are recommended and we must check the pulse and breathing before starting with thoracic compressions. If there are still no signs of life, then we will apply 5 to 10 compressions depending on the size of the dog. These compressions must be firm and quick with the lower part of our hand helping us, our other hand intertwined and with our arms completely straight. We will apply more or less pressure depending on the weight of our dog. After every 5-10 thoracic compressions we will blow into their nose and/or mouth. You must try this for 20 minutes and keep checking their pulse and breathing every one or two minutes.

We know that it is difficult making the decision as to whether use these techniques on your dog, especially if we are nervous and we don’t have any prior knowledge. But if you don’t have a vet nearby and the situation is truly serious, anything you do to try to save your best friend´s life can make a huge difference.

To conclude, we have found this interesting diagram which shows what to do in case of an emergency. Do not hesitate to print it and keep it at home.


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