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CPR for Horses

The question of whether performing CPR on a horse is a “waste of time” has long been discussed. For many equine practitioners, the thought of one of their patients arresting fills them with a two-pronged dread. Their first concern is being unsure how to approach this quite unusual emergency, and the second is the thought that whatever effort is invested in likely to be futile.

There is little published information on the best approach to CPR in the horse (most of what is available is applicable to foals), but much has been written about this procedure in humans. Certain factors will increase the chances of success, and these include having an area, or at least a collection of equipment, ready if this should happen and trained staff to deal with the emergency. The sooner that resuscitation is undertaken, the more likely there may be a good outcome, so chest compressions should begin right away.

The horse/foal should be laid on its side, and the person performing CPR should place their hands over the widest portion of the chest wall. The chest should be compressed to approximately 30-50% of its width using approximately 100 compressions per minute. The person doing the compressions should be relieved every 2-3 minutes to prevent fatigue. One fast breath every 10 seconds is adequate.

Drug therapy is certainly a part of CPR and should be administered by a trained veterinarian. The best approach to cardiopulmonary resuscitation is to make every effort to prevent it and every effort should be made to observe patients in at-risk periods so that CPR can be initiated as quickly as possible. CPR is not a waste of time, and success, particularly in neonates, is achievable but not in every case.


Hallowell, GD. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation: A waste of time? EVE, May 2016, vol. 28, no.5, pp.245-47.

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