What to Do When Your Pet Has Been Hit By a Car

By: Christine New, DVM

TVMA Member
Dallas, Texas

Published June 2014

One of the most common emergency situations seen at the veterinary ER is an animal that has been hit by a car. Injuries are very commonly sustained in these situations and can range from mild to severe, even fatal. If a car has struck your pet, immediately transport it safely to the nearest veterinary hospital.

After Your Pet has been Hit by a Car

In the meantime, some precautions should be taken to ensure that you both avoid further harm. First, your pet is likely to be scared and in pain.  An animal that is in pain and afraid is much more likely to bite someone, even its owners. Attempt to secure your pet. A leash or crate can be used for this. A cardboard box works well for cats. Having them secured will help prevent them from running off and may prevent additional injuries. If your pet can be safely picked up, place them in the car on a towel or large blanket or in a crate or box and drive carefully to your veterinarian or the nearest emergency clinic. It is often helpful to bring a family member or friend to assist with the handling of your dog or cat until you arrive at the veterinary clinic. However, everyone needs to be careful to avoid potential human injury or further injury to the pet during transportation after being hit by a car.

Do not give them any pain medications before arriving at the veterinary clinic. Most human pain medications are not safe for pets and can cause further problems. Even medications that have been previously dispensed for your pet should not be given as they can interact with medications that your veterinarian may need to administer to treat your pet’s shock or injuries. Your veterinarian has multiple options for immediate pain relief.

Bringing Your Pet into the Veterinary Clinic

When you arrive at the veterinary clinic, the staff may assist you in bringing your pet inside. Once your pet is admitted to the veterinary hospital, the well-trained staff will take over the handling of your pet. In addition to being safer for you and your pet, this will allow for much quicker evaluation of their condition and help to alleviate the worsening of any existing problems or injuries from being hit by the car.

It is very common for trauma patients to be transported to the treatment area to have their injuries assessed. If injuries are severe, you may be presented with an authorization form to allow the veterinarian and staff to immediately begin treatment. Diagnostic tests and treatment may include pain medication, IV fluids, oxygen, bloodwork, X-rays, antibiotics and more.

Paying a Deposit

It is typical for a deposit to be requested at the time the initial evaluation is completed and an estimate is presented, even if you were not the person who hit the animal with the car. Any arrangement between the pet owner and the individual who hit the pet is the individual’s responsibility, not the responsibility of the veterinarian or the clinic treating the pet. The veterinary staff will not determine which party is responsible for payment. It is commonly accepted that the individual presenting the animal for treatment is initially responsible for financial payment.

Common Injuries & Testing to Detect Car Accident Injuries

When your veterinarian feels that your pet is stable, he or she will speak with you and request approval for any testing or treatment that has not been completed. Below is a list of common injuries and testing that can be used to detect these injuries.

  • Pulmonary contusion (bruising of the lungs): X-rays are commonly completed on admission and again within 12 to 24 hours. Some bruises are not immediately apparent and, just like on your skin, need time to become apparent. Contusions are concerning because they will cause abnormal breathing. The bruised area of the lung will not be able to adequately distribute oxygen.
  • Hemorrhage (bleeding): X-rays of both the chest and abdomen are commonly completed, as well as ultrasound. An initial blood count and recheck blood counts will help detect slow or ongoing bleeding.
  • Bloodwork may be run to determine if there are any electrolyte changes or underlying problems with organ function that may complicate treatment or affect the prognosis for recovery.
  • Fractures of bones: X-rays are completed in order to identify fractured bones.
  • Diaphragmatic herniaA condition in which part of an organ is displaced and protrudes through the wall of the cavity containing it.: X-rays and/or ultrasound are commonly completed. This condition involves a tear in the diaphragm, which is the muscle separating the chest and abdomen. It is a crucial muscle involved with normal breathing. If the diaphragm is torn, emergency surgery is usually necessary. However, it is not uncommon for it to take days, weeks or even months for this problem to become apparent.
  • Ruptured bladder: An ultrasound is commonly completed to assess if the bladder has ruptured. A torn urinary bladder requires immediate surgery.
  • Pneumothorax: X-rays are usually completed. A pneumothorax is common after trauma to the chest and occurs when air escapes the lungs and collects in the chest, outside the lungs. It typically causes collapse of the lungs. A needle attached to a suction system can be used to remove the air. This procedure may need to be repeated once to several times.

LacerationsA deep cut or tear in skin or flesh. and abrasionsThe process of scraping or wearing away. of the skin are also common. However, these are rarely life-threatening, and treatment is usually delayed depending on how severe the pet’s other injuries are.  In cases of trauma, nonessential anestheticA substance that induces insensitivity to pain. procedures should be delayed until your pet is stable and it has been determined that internal life-threatening injuries are not present.

All pets that have been hit by a car should be hospitalized for a minimum of 24 hours for observation and treatment. Even injuries that are not immediately apparent can be life-threatening as they develop, and the best place for them to be is in the hands of trained veterinary professionals who can quickly recognize and treat these injuries.

Prevent a Car from Hitting Your Pet

You can prevent your pet from being hit by a car by keeping your dog on a leash when outside or confined to a yard. If your pet is not microchipped, keeping a collar with current rabies and identification tags on them can help make sure your pet is returned to you. If your pet is microchipped, make sure to keep your contact information updated in the microchip database. Veterinarians and shelters commonly use these databases to reunite pets with owners.

If You Hit an Animal

If you hit a dog or cat that is not yours, you should call animal control or the county’s sheriff’s department if you are in a rural area to aid in assistance with transport to a veterinary facility. If you hit a wild animal, never attempt to handle it, even if it seems calm or uninjured. In this situation, always call animal control! Remember that handling a scared and injured animal can be dangerous to you and the animal; this risk is much higher with a wild animal.

Dr. Christine New practices veterinary medicine at the Hillside Veterinary Clinic in Dallas.