Top 10 Dog and Cat Injuries

How to avoid these common injuries in your dog or cat.

Medically Reviewed by Elizabeth A. Martinez, DVM on March 21, 2011
5 min read

Gwyn Donohue of Arlington, Va., was hiking along the Potomac River with her dog, Sundae, in January, when the mixed-breed broke loose and fell through the ice about 25 yards from shore.

Sundae pulled herself out after 10 frantic minutes. Fortunately, Donohue had American Red Cross Pet First Aid training and knew what to do.

To raise Sundae’s core temperature, she wrapped the dog in her down vest and used pet waste bags to fashion a belt to secure it. Back at the car, she continued warming the dog with an emergency blanket from her pet first aid kit.

“I knew lack of responsiveness was a sign of hypothermia, so I kept talking to her to make sure she reacted quickly,” Donohue says. Sundae’s emergency may have been out of the ordinary, but the dog pulled through fine.

But there are plenty of other ways your cat or dog can be injured. According to Petplan pet insurance, the top three for dogs are rupture of the cruciate ligament in the knee, lameness, and foreign body ingestion.

For cats, the list includes abscesses, foreign body ingestion, and bite wounds.

Here’s a closer look at 10 things that can go wrong:

Dogs will try to eat anything – rocks, broken glass, corncobs, shoes, underwear – even sand. Cats may like string or yarn.

“You name it – if a dog can fit it in its mouth, it’s been eaten, swallowed, and then removed by a veterinarian,” says Jules Benson, BVSc, MRCVS, vice president of veterinary services for Petplan.

Dog chew toys should be large enough that they can't be swallowed. A cat or dog that’s vomiting repeatedly or doesn’t want to eat for a day should be evaluated.

“Many of these will pass and dogs will poop out some amazing things, but some will not,” says Gregg Griffenhagen, DVM, a visiting clinical instructor in the department of emergency medicine at the Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine.

Trauma can range from minor to fatal, and many injuries can be hidden. To prevent such accidents, your pet should be on a leash or under your control at all times.

If you see or suspect a car has hit an animal, stabilize any obvious injuries by wrapping it with something soft like a towel, and have the animal evaluated by a veterinarian. Many injuries, such as bruising of the lungs, can worsen. Diaphragmatic tears or ruptures can go unnoticed by owners for days to weeks.

“By the time the owner knows something is wrong, it may be too late,” Griffenhagen says.

When larger dogs fight, wounds are usually obvious: skin lacerations, bleeding wounds, and bruising. Cuts and wounds should be covered with something clean. If there’s active bleeding, apply gentle but firm pressure.

When small dogs and cats get bitten, the wounds are often not visible – but there may be crushed ribs, broken bones, and abdominal organ damage. To prevent further damage, transport them “with as little movement as possible,” Griffenhagen says.

Many plants, human medications, household chemicals and even common foods – grapes, onions, and chewing gum – can cause illness or death. All should be kept far from your pet.

If you think your pet has eaten something poisonous, call a pet poison control helpline. Don’t force your dog to vomit unless told to do so, Griffenhagen says.

Unlike dog bites, wounds from fighting cats can easily lead to abscesses. That's because cat bites are like holes from hypodermic needles -- the tissue closes over the wound and traps bacteria and contaminants.

Abscesses frequently show up around the rear end of cats in multi-cat households or in indoor/outdoor cats. They can swell, break open, and be very painful, but are typically cleared up by flushing and with antibiotics. Preventing the cat-on-cat aggression that caused the problem is tougher.

“Sometimes the animals need to be separated for a period of time and re-introduced slowly, just like a new cat would be,” Griffenhagen says.

These can range from mild (corneal scratches and abrasions) to bad (corneal ulcers) to severe (perforations and globe rupture).

Dogs are more prone to tears – especially from cat claws. Cats are often seen for scratches.

If your pet is blinking or tearing excessively or doesn’t want you near its eye, get it checked out. Griffenhagen says preventing eye injuries is a challenge because “even in play, dogs lead with their eyes, whereas cats know enough to lean back and keep their faces out of things.”

The cruciate ligament provides stability to the knee. If your dog is holding its leg up or toe-touching at best, get it checked out immediately.

“It’s very painful and dogs will rarely sit still long enough for the knee to heal itself,” says Charles Livaudais, DVM, a senior clinician at Kildaire Animal Medical Center in Cary, N.C.

Dogs that have been treated for such injuries should avoid rapid changes of motion, such as jumping up and down from heights.

Small dogs with long backs -- such as dachshunds, corgis, and basset hounds -- are prone to these injuries, particularly if they jump down from a bed or chair, which can cause a slipped disc.

Symptoms can range from pain to total paralysis. Weight management is critical.

Try to train them to use a ramp. And get them checked out quickly. “If the dog has paralysis, corrective action needs to be taken as quickly as possible,” Livaudais says.

Don’t let your dog or cat’s nails get too long. Your pet might slip or tear the nail and “they bleed like crazy,” Livaudais says. If this happens, your veterinarian will probably need to trim the nail beyond the crack, and this often requires sedation.

If you nick your pet’s “quick” while trimming nails, apply styptic powder, baking soda, or even flour to help the blood coagulate or “cake.” If bleeding doesn’t stop in five minutes, head to the vet.

This is most common in elderly, overweight, and short-faced breeds. Be careful when exercising your pet in hot weather.

According to the ASPCA, on an 85-degree day, it only takes 10 minutes for the inside of your car to reach a sweltering 102 degrees, even if the windows are open a couple of inches. If your dog is panting a lot, get them to a cool place quickly.

“You can spritz them down with water and put a fan on them,” Livaudais says. “But if they’re struggling for more than a few minutes, it’s time to go to the veterinarian.”