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208 Breeds, 422 Health Conditions  |  Find a Vet

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Car Accidents View In Dogs

First Aid Condition

First aid health condition




Condition Overview

Dogs and cats often survive car accidents because they are protected to some extent by thick layers of fur and their rather remarkable flexibility. Their fast recovery times are deceiving.


An unexplained injury on a pet running loose near roadways.


A pet being struck by a vehicle.


If your pet spends time outside, you should suspect the worst if he comes home with a limp or is having trouble breathing for no obvious reason. These are among the most common symptoms of car accidents, and they can make their appearance even when pets look just fine on the outside.


Pets who have been hit by cars don't always walk away - of course. Knowing emergency first aid is the best way to increase the odds that you can get them to the veterinarian in time.

  1. Muzzle your pet - Dogs and cats who have been injured will often bite the first person who tries to help. First, check to ensure the pet is not having trouble breathing. If this is ok, tie a loop in an necktie or length of panty hose and slip it over his nose. Tighten the knot on top of his nose, then know the fabric under his jaw. Make a 3rd pass by pulling the ends behind the ears and tying them again. For a cat or a short nosed dog like a pug, you can slip a pillow case over his head.

  2. Check breathing - The force of being hit by a car often damages the lungs, causing breathing to stop, and getting the dog or cat to begin breathing again is the first priority. Hold your pet's mouth closed with one hand, put your mouth over his nose, and give 2 quick breaths. Watch to see if his chest rises, then continue giving 15 - 20 breaths a minute until your pet begins breathing on his own or until you reach medical help.

  3. Check for a heartbeat - Press your ear or palm against the chest behind the left elbow or use your index and second fingers to feel for a pulse in the femoral artery, located in the groin where the hind leg meets the body.

  4. Give CPR - If you can't find a pulse or hear a heartbeat, you will need to give chest compressions to force blood through the body. For cats and small dogs, cup your hand over the point of the chest just behind the elbows. Squeeze firmly with your thumb on one side and your fingers on the other - pressing about 1/2 inch - for 80 - 100 times a minute. Alternate one breath for every 5 compressions.

    A medium to large dog needs to be lying on his side on a firm, flat surface. If you have a small pillow or can roll up a blanket or small coat, place it under your dog's lower chest This will eliminate any dead space and improve compressions. Place both hands on top of each other against the chest. Try to compress the chest by about 25 - 50% with each compression. Alternate compressions with breaths at the same rate as for small dogs - 80 to 100 compressions per minute.

    Continue with artificial respiration and CPR until your pet revives or until you can get him to a veterinarian. It is best to have someone drive you so that you are able to treat your pet on the way.

  5. Stop the bleeding - The next priority is to stop the bleeding. The fastest way to do this is to press directly on the wounds with a clean cloth, gauze pad, or even your hand. The idea is to slow the flow of blood and give clots a chance to form. hold the pad in place for about 5 minutes. Even serious bleeding will usually stop within this time if you maintain pressure.

    Its common for blood to soak through the pad or cloth before the bleeding stops. Don't remove it, because that will disturb the clots that are beginning to form. Instead, apply a second pad on top of the first and continue the pressure.
  6. Check the gums - If the bleeding will not stop, take a moment to look at your pet's gums. They should be pink or dark colored. If they appear unusually pale, there's been a great deal of blood loss. and you will need veterinary assistance quickly - as this indicates that your pet is going into shock. Wrap him in a towel or blanket for warmth. You can also put a drop or 2 of Karo syrup or honey on his gums to help keep him conscious.

  7. Cover and protect the wounds - Whether you are giving first aid at the side of the road or while driving to a veterinarian, covering open wounds will keep them clean and prevent infection. You don't need anything fancy, even throwing a T-shirt over a wound will help keep it clean.

  8. Protect your pet's eyes - eye injuries are common in car accidents, and to prevent blindness, you need to protect the eyes if they have been injured. Soak a clean cloth or gauze pad in sterile saline contact lens solution or clean water and hold it gently over the injured eye without applying any pressure.

  9. Check for broken legs - If you suspect that a leg is broken - your pet holds the limb abnormally or doesn't use it at all, he is in extreme pain when moving, the limb dangles at a strange angle, or you can feel the bone crunching as your pet moved that limb - There is no much to do. If you can get to a veterinarian within 20 minutes, touch the area as little as possible.

  10. Immobilize a broken leg - If you can't get to a veterinarian quickly, you have to immobilize the injured leg. Use gauze or cloth to protect any visible wounds, then put a towel around the leg. Immobilize the leg by wrapping it inside a newspaper, magazine, or bubble wrap, or put something long and stiff like a wooden spoon, wooden dowel, or a ruler on top of the towel, then tape the package closed. Work from the leg out - use something clean to protect the wound, something soft to pad it, something stiff to immobilize it, then tape it all together.

  11. Move your pet carefully - Any broken bone needs to be handled gingerly, but it is especially important when the break is in the pelvis or spine. The best way to move pets with fractures is on a rigid surface. A board will work. For small pets, you can use a pet carrier or even a cookie sheet or the blade from a snow shovel. Anything rigid that prevents the spine or pelvis from flexing will work.

    The idea is to drag - not lift - your pet onto the surface by sliding a sheet or towel under him and gently pulling him onto the flat surface, then cover him and tape (duct tape) him down. Put one strip of tape across his body just in front of his hind legs and another strip just behind the front legs. Next, get him into the car and drive to the vets office.


Never allow pets to free run near roadways.


Pets who have been hit hard enough to need first aid are going to need quite a bit of follow up care, beginning with bandages. They should always be dry and clean. Your veterinarian will tell you how to change them to reduce the risk of reopening a wound.

Check your pet's toes several times a day to see if they are swollen, cold, or tender. These are signs that bandages are too tight and need to be loosened.

Smell the bandages one or twice a day. A distinctly bad smell means that an injury is getting infected. Another sign of trouble is licking. Pets who ignore their bandages for several days, then suddenly start licking or biting at them are probably having more pain, and this may mean that an infection is getting started. Fever, loss of appetite, or sudden behavior changes might also mean that there is an infection beneath the bandages. Call your vet if you notice any of these signs.

Keep bandages clean by wrapping them with plastic wrap like Saran Wrap when your pet goes outside. Wounds need to breathe though, so remove the plastic as soon as he comes back in.

Dogs and cats often view bandages as a challenge - things to be removed with their teeth. Veterinarians recommend coating bandages with a nasty tasting substance. Bitter Apple, a repellent sold in pet stores, is a good choice. Your veterinarian may give you a product called Variton, which also has a terrible taste that pets dislike.

Pets who have been badly injured need a lot of time to recover. Their natural instinct is to lie around all day - which is not beneficial. Check with your vet to make sure your pet doesn't need to be strictly confined. With the vets OK, gently encourage your pet to get up, go outside, and move around a bit. Movement helps increase blood circulation in the injured area and removes toxins. Lying around all day increases the risk of infection, pneumonia, or other complications. If your pet is unwilling to move, he may be in pain. Contact your vet with any concerns.

Your veterinarian may prescribe medication for pain. Don't use over the counter pain killers after a serious injury. Even through aspirin is safe for dogs, it can be toxic to cats. Aspirin thins the blood and inhibits clotting, which can lead to increased bleeding later on.

Clean minor cuts and scrapes once a day with an antiseptic liquid soap like Betadine Skin Cleanser.

Show Sources & Contributors +


The First Aid Companion for Dogs And Cats

Publisher: Rodale Inc, 2001

Website: http://www.rodalebooks.com/

Authors: Amy D. Shojai, Shane Bateman DVM

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