Road traffic accidents (RTA)

isolated dog rabbit and cat

Overview

EMERGENCY

If your pet has been hit by a car contact your nearest vet straight away.

Even if they seem bright there could be serious injuries that you can’t see on the surface.

What to do if your pet has just been hit by a car

Stay calm - it will reassure your pet.

Take your pet to the vet - Call ahead to tell them what time you will arrive and if your pet has any obvious injuries such as difficulty breathing, bleeding or broken bones. Cats and small pets should travel in a box for their own safety.

Hold them still - Whilst moving your pet, keep their back straight in case they have a neck or spinal injury. Use a board or a blanket to safely move your pet, a towel will help with smaller dogs and cats.

Keep them warm - After an accident your pet might suffer from shock. Keep them as warm as possible.

Prevent bites - If your pet is scared or confused, they may bite. If this is the case, consider using a temporary muzzle to protect yourself until they have calmed down.

Never use a muzzle if your pet is having trouble breathing or has an injury to their face.

illustration showing how to make a temporary muzzle

Never use a muzzle if your pet is having trouble breathing or has an injury to their face.

Watch our video on how to give your pet CPR:

Unsure if your pet has been hit?

If your pet has come home out of sorts and you think they may have been injured in a road accident check them for:

  • Bleeding
  • Split claws
  • Limping or stiffness
  • Breathing problems (hard, fast, shallow)
  • Low energy (lethargy)
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Pain (growling, crying, off food, guarding an area of their body)
  • Seem in shock (pale mouth, cold feet and ears).

Common injuries

Head injuries

  • Head injuries can cause very serious problems including epilepsy and skull and brain damage.

Internal injuries and bleeding

  • Damage to vital organs such as the kidneys, liver, spleen, lungs, heart and bladder. Internal bleeding isn’t always obvious to begin with.
  • Burst bladder is particularly common in cats after a road traffic accident.

Ruptured diaphragm

  • Cats commonly rupture (burst) their diaphragm if they are hit by a car.
  • The diaphragm is a thin muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen (stomach). If it’s damaged, blood or guts often fill the chest and breathing can be seriously affected.
  • This injury is rare in dogs.

Spinal injuries

  • Damage to the back and spine can lead to your pet becoming paralysed.

Broken bones

  • Broken bones are a common road traffic accident injury.

Wounds

  • Wounds including grazes, friction burns, cuts, bruises and degloving wounds where skin is pulled off the legs.

Treatment

Treatment depends on the injuries your pet has suffered. Your vet may need to admit your pet into the hospital to give pain relief and put them on a drip (lifesaving fluids given directly into their blood stream).

Your vet will treat life threatening injuries first, for example damage to internal organs, shock or severe bleeding. Once your pet is stable, they will treat other injuries like broken bones and wounds.

Surgery might be needed to fix broken bones, damaged organs or wounds.

Outlook

Recovery might take a few days or many weeks, depending on how serious your pet’s injuries are.

Serious skin wounds can take weeks to heal, need regular vet checks and special dressings. Skin reconstruction is sometimes necessary.

Broken bones often need complex surgery and long recovery periods, sometimes even physiotherapy to help them walk again.

Sadly, very badly injured pets may not survive their injuries, even if they get vet treatment. Head, spine and chest injuries are often very serious and cause fatal damage that can’t be fixed.

Preventing road traffic accidents

There are lots of things pet owners can do to reduce the chance of their pet bring hit by a car:

Male cats who are not neutered (not castrated) have a much higher chance of being hit by a car. This is because they roam over large areas and cross busy roads in search of a female cat. Make sure your cat is neutered.

Microchipping is also very important. A microchip will enable you to be reunited as quickly as possible if your pet is taken to the vets by a member of the public after a road traffic accident.

Cost

Treatment after a road traffic accident cost thousands of pounds (this varies depending on the treatment needed). Always speak to your vet if you can’t afford the treatment they have recommended, there may be other options. If you are struggling with veterinary fees, PDSA offers free or reduced cost treatment to eligible clients.

We strongly recommend insuring your pet as soon as you get them so that you are covered for any problems. Always check what level of cover you have and whether it is a ‘lifelong’ policy.

Published: October 2018

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Illustrations by Samantha Elmhurst