What to Do if Your Dog is Hit by a Car

Mindy A. Cohan, VMD
By Mindy A. Cohan, VMD on Jan. 16, 2017

By Mindy Cohan, VMD

Emergency situations require quick thinking and action. Witnessing your dog being struck by a car is a harrowing experience that can be mitigated by preparedness. Since both you and your dog are likely to be in states of shock, having a plan of action will foster the wellbeing of all involved. Here, learn what to do if your dog is hit by a car and how to prevent it from happening again.

How to Get an Injured Dog to the Vet

Because the majority of vehicular accidents involving dogs take place in a roadway, the first critical step is to move the pet and yourself to a safe location. If there are bystanders, ask them to safely stop traffic and to assist you if you are unable to carry your dog.

In a panicked state, pet parents easily forget that their dog is capable of lashing out when it is in pain and distressed. A makeshift muzzle is critical for you to stay safe and to be available to care for your injured dog. Items such as belts, socks, leashes, scarves, shoe laces and shirt sleeves can be temporarily secured around your dog’s muzzle. If your dog appears to have difficulty breathing, do not use a muzzle. Instead, use a blanket to wrap your dog, trying to avoid pressure on injured areas and keep your face away from its mouth.

When it comes to moving an injured pet, small and medium sized dogs can be carefully lifted and carried. Wrapping a small dog in a blanket or towel will provide warmth and security. Larger dogs pose a greater challenge in terms of moving out of the roadway and transferring to a vehicle. A sturdy blanket is an ideal multipurpose tool. A blanket can be used as a sling for dogs with leg injuries, yet able to walk. A blanket can also be used as a stretcher for severely injured or weakened dogs.

Once your pet has been situated in a transport vehicle, call the nearest veterinary hospital to notify them of the situation and your estimated time of arrival. You can provide helpful information over the phone such as whether your dog appears to have a specific injury, any sites of bleeding, difficulty breathing, and whether you suspect head trauma has occurred. By knowing you are en route, the veterinary team can be prepared to help transfer your dog into the hospital and can assemble emergency equipment such as intravenous catheters and fluids, x-ray machines, oxygen masks and pain medications.

Even if you believe your dog has not sustained a major injury as a result from being hit by a car, it is crucial that he or she sees a veterinarian as soon as possible.

“Even if there are no serious external injuries, there can be a variety of internal injuries following trauma that may be difficult to detect just by looking at your dog,” says Dr. Garret Pachtinger of the Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center in Levittown, Penn. “Following a hit-by-car event, it is recommended to contact your primary care veterinarian or the nearest veterinary emergency service for evaluation as soon as possible.”

Treating Car-Related Injuries in Dogs

Upon arrival, a veterinarian will assess your dog’s injuries and discuss a treatment plan with you. Some of the common problems caused by a vehicular accident include fractured bones, lacerations and degloving injuries to skin (in which skin and tissue are separated from deeper tissue layers), head trauma, ruptured bladder, internal bleeding, and injuries to the chest and lungs which result in difficulty breathing.

Depending on your dog’s injuries, he or she may require surgery for orthopedic and soft tissue trauma, treatment of shock, removal of air from within the chest cavity (pneumothorax), and treatment of head injuries. The veterinarian will discuss the recommended medical care, the estimated cost of treatment, and prognosis.

Many injuries sustained after vehicular trauma are life threatening, yet treatable with an excellent prognosis. Other injuries, such as those to the head or spine, can result in lifelong problems such as seizures, behavioral changes and paralysis. Injuries such as bone fractures or a dislocated hip will require surgery and many of these dogs can benefit from rehabilitative care, such as underwater treadmill exercises.

How to Prevent Your Dog from Being Hit by a Car

Sadly, the majority of dogs do not survive the trauma of being hit by a car. If your dog is lucky enough to not sustain life-ending injuries, his or her survival is enhanced by a calm and prepared parent. Of course, the best plan for not losing a dog to a horrific accident is taking every possible precaution to avoid your dog coming into contact with a motor vehicle.

Steps for preventing your dog from being hit by a car include:

  • Teach “sit” and “wait” at every exit door of the house and street curb to avoid your dog bolting into the street.
  • Never leave a dog unattended in a yard.
  • Be alert when walking your dog close to a street, especially if using an extendible leash.
  • Do not drive with the car window open wide enough to allow for a dog to jump out.
  • Keep pets secured in a harness or crate while driving in case you are in an accident.
  • Driveway accidents occur more often than people realize. Always be sure pets are safe before backing out of your driveway.

Learn more about common pet emergencies your dog might experience

Mindy A. Cohan, VMD


Mindy A. Cohan, VMD


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