How far would you go to save the life of a squirrel?
Over the last two weeks, not one, but two videos have surfaced online of everyday people reviving rodents using CPR.
One video, shot by Emerson Salcedo D'Andrey in Colombia, shows an unidentified man compressing the chest of an Andean squirrel after it had apparently gotten zapped by a nearby powerline. After more than a minute of CPR, the animal begins to breathe again and scampers off. (See our favorite photos of squirrels.)
More than 2,000 miles away, a similar scene unfolded when Natalie Belsito, a student at Central Michigan University, resuscitated a gray squirrel fished out of a campus pond.
"At that point it wasn't moving anymore," says Belsito. "It was just making these super slow twitches."
Belsito cradled the animal in a towel and squeezed its chest for five to 10 minutes until it began to cough up water. She then dried the animal and laid it on top of bags of warm water to raise its temperature. When the animal perked up, she released it outside, where it ran up a tree.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that the freshman plans on majoring in biology, with a focus on wildlife conservation. (Watch a dramatic elephant rescue in Zimbabwe.)
"Brought a squirrel back from the dead, what was your Wednesday like?" Belsito tweeted.
Shot to the Heart
Whether the animal is a human, a dog, or a squirrel, the goal of CPR is to squeeze the heart long enough to get blood moving and keep oxygen flowing to the lungs.
"The challenge is that, unlike people who are all shaped kind of similarly, dogs and cats can have a lot of variability in the way their chests are shaped," says Daniel J. Fletcher, associate professor of emergency and critical care at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.
Fletcher, who teaches an online course at Cornell about pet CPR, says that for a deep and narrow chest like that of a squirrel (and many breeds of dogs and cats), it’s best to squeeze from the side rather than to apply pressure straight to the breastbone. Of the two videos, Fletcher says Belsito's technique is preferable.
While he can't say whether the chest compressions actually saved these squirrels' lives, it’s certainly possible. CPR can work on any animal that’s shaped in a way that chest compressions can stimulate blood flow, and squirrels fit that bill. (Read about quirky squirrel behaviors, like stashing nuts.)
Larger animals, like an adult cow or a horse, might be out of luck though, says Fletcher, because it would be difficult for a person to generate enough force to compress the heart.
One more thing: While mouth-to-mouth is no longer required for resuscitating humans, Fletcher says he still recommends it for dogs and cats. (Though for pets, it’s called mouth-to-snout.)
Wild Animal Ethics
Now that you know you can perform CPR on a wild animal, should you?
"It's always heartwarming to see people care so much about wildlife and be willing to step in to help them when they're injured," says David Mizejewski, a naturalist at the National Wildlife Federation and co-host of Pet Talk on Nat Geo Wild. (Also read more about ethics in wildlife photography.)
"I would just caution that it's very easy to further injure or kill an animal that you are trying to help, and wild animals won't necessarily know you're trying to help them and can inflict dangerous bites or scratches to their would-be savior."
And though it may not always be possible, he says a Good Samaritan's best bet is to seek professional help.
"Only intervene if you feel you absolutely must."