Animal CPR: It didn’t save the National Zoo’s baby panda, but could it save your pet?

Vets Tried To Revive the National Zoo’s Baby Panda With CPR. Wait, You Can Perform CPR on Animals?

Vets Tried To Revive the National Zoo’s Baby Panda With CPR. Wait, You Can Perform CPR on Animals?

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Sept. 24 2012 6:28 PM

Mouth-to-Snout Resuscitation

How do you perform CPR on animals?

Giant Pandas Tian Tian and Mei Xiang.
Giant pandas Tian Tian and Mei Xiang at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Jessie Cohen/Smithsonian National Zoo/Newsmakers.

The National Zoo’s week-old giant panda cub died over the weekend due to causes that are still unknown. Veterinarians attempted to resuscitate the cub with CPR before pronouncing it dead. How do you perform CPR on animals?

L.V. Anderson L.V. Anderson

L.V. Anderson is a former Slate associate editor.

Pretty much the same way you perform it on humans, with some adjustments for anatomy. CPR is appropriate when a patient’s heart has stopped (whether  or not the patient is human), and the goal is to maximize the amount of blood flowing out of the patient’s heart into other vital organs and to get some air into the patient’s lungs so the patient’s blood will be oxygenated. Some animals, including humans and baby pandas, have bodies shaped in such a way that the best way to pump the heart is to directly compress the chest. Other animals, Iike most dogs and cats, have much rounder chests, which makes it harder to directly compress the heart. With these animals, vets recommend compressing the chest from the side, which puts secondary pressure on the heart.

As anyone who’s recently taken a human CPR course knows, the rate of compression recommended for humans is about 100 beats per minute. (Doctors recommend pumping the chest to the beat of the Bee Gees song “Stayin’ Alive.”) The same rate of compression is recommended for animals; even though dogs and cats have a higher resting heart rate than humans do, the rate of 100 compressions per minute gives the heart a chance to refill with blood between compressions.


CPR consists of both compression and ventilations (at a recommended ratio of 30-2). With most mammals, vets recommend closing the mouth and breathing into the animal’s nose to effectively ventilate the lungs. More effective still is a tracheal tube inserted into the animal’s throat, but mouth-to-snout ventilation is better than nothing.

Most scientific research on animal CPR has been done on dogs or cats, but there’s no reason to believe the same principles wouldn’t apply to other animals, too. It’s very difficult to do CPR on large animals, like adult elephants and llamas, but baby elephants and llamas may respond to it. Likewise, CPR can be adjusted to smaller animals: Vets perform CPR on parrots, for instance, by placing the bird on its back and compressing its keel bone with their finger. Most veterinarians do not recommend trying animal CPR at home if you haven’t been trained in CPR; instead, you should get your pet to a veterinary hospital as soon as possible if its heart stops beating.

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Explainer thanks Daniel Fletcher of Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.

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