What to Do If Your Pet Is Hit by a Car

Dog in Emergency Room
It’s important to see your veterinarian immediately if your pet has been involved in a car accident.

Witnessing your dog or cat being hit by a car can be a harrowing and emotional experience. Knowing what you can do to help your pet can literally mean the difference between life and death.

Even if your pet appears to be OK, if not a little shaken, it’s important to see your veterinarian immediately, because internal bleeding, brain trauma, shock and other injuries aren’t always obvious on the surface and can be life threatening.

Many pets experiencing this kind of trauma, for example, may develop a pneumothorax, a condition in which air builds up between the chest wall and the lungs, making it difficult or impossible to breathe. Prompt veterinary care could help save these pets.

Avoid Being Injured As Well

You’re obviously worried about your pet, but you need to be concerned about your own safety, too. Never enter the roadway until oncoming traffic has come to a stop. If it’s a busy highway, call 911 and wait for help.

If your pet is injured, he’s probably painful or scared and may attempt to bite — even if he's never shown aggression before. You need to protect yourself when moving him to safety. If your pet is trying to bite, wait for a professional to help.

In cases where help is not available and your dog has a long nose (as opposed to brachycephalic breeds such as Pugs and Bulldogs), you may be able to make a temporary muzzle out of a piece of cloth or a leash, but this should never be attempted if your dog is having trouble breathing. For cats and brachycephalic breeds, place a blanket or towel over the body, making sure it is not impeding the pet’s ability to breathe. The point is to have some kind of barrier between the pet's mouth and your hands, arms and face.

When moving your pet out of the road, be aware that broken legs and ribs are common consequences of being hit by a car. These injuries can be extremely painful, so it’s best to minimize movement as much as possible. Gently lift your pet onto a flat board or a blanket, being especially careful when handling the head, neck and spine. With the help of another person, lift the board or blanket, holding the latter taught, to move your pet to safety.

Perform CPR If Needed

If your pet isn’t moving, check to see if he is breathing and if his heart is beating. To assess breathing, watch for the rise and fall of his chest. You can also place your hand in front of his nose to feel for exhaled air. A heartbeat can usually be felt by cupping your hand around the sternum in the front of the rib cage. If no heartbeat is felt or if your pet is not breathing, seek out immediate veterinary help or initiate CPR.

With your pet lying on his side, straighten his head and neck, hold his mouth closed and place your mouth over the nose, giving two to three short breaths into both nostrils. The breaths should be strong enough to make the animal's chest rise, but not so strong that they damage the lungs. Start with about half of a normal human breath and gradually increase the strength of the breath until the chest rises.

This should be followed by about 30 quick chest compressions over the widest part of the rib cage. For cats and smaller dogs, place your hand on the sternum, with a thumb on one side and fingers on the other. Squeeze your thumb and fingers together firmly to compress the ribs. Repeat this at a rate of about 10 breaths and 100 to 120 chest compressions per minute until a heartbeat can be felt and breathing restarts. If the animal is unresponsive after five minutes, discontinue CPR.

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