What to Do if Your Pet Is Hit by a Car

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 09, 2021
4 min read

If your pet is hit by a car, it is crucial to get emergency veterinary care right away. A veterinarian should check your pet even if they don’t appear to have severe injuries from the accident.

A quick assessment of your pet’s injuries is important. Take your pet to a nearby veterinary office even if you think your pet is OK after being hit by a car. If your regular veterinary office is nearby, take your pet there. Otherwise, take your pet to any veterinary office in your area.‌

Try to call ahead and let them know you’re coming in with an injured pet, so the veterinarian and staff are prepared for emergency care. If it is after hours when your dog or cat is hit by a car, take them to an emergency veterinary center.

Your pet cannot tell you what hurts, so you have to know what signs of injury to look for. Some injuries are obvious, while others are more difficult to identify. Keep in mind that your pet is probably very scared and may act aggressively toward you and even bite. Approach your pet slowly and give them plenty of space.‌

Mental state. If your pet is not conscious or doesn’t respond to you, take them to your closest veterinary office right away. If your pet’s eyes are open, check to see if their pupils are the same size. Extreme trauma to your pet’s head may cause a brain bleed or brain swelling. Signs include: 

  • Head or facial swelling
  • Wounds on the head or face
  • Blood in your pet’s ears or nose
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Pupils of different sizes‌
  • Seizures ‌

Bleeding. If your pet allows you to touch them, look all over for signs of bleeding. Make a note of any swelling and open wounds. This can help a vet provide emergency care to the most critical injuries first.‌

Teeth and gums. Note if your pet lost any teeth after being hit. While you look at their mouth, check their gums for signs of internal bleeding. When your pet loses too much blood or goes into shock, their gums may turn pale pink, white, or blue. Normally your pet’s gums should be bright pink and moist.‌

You can also check your pet’s capillary refill time (CRT). Press a finger gently against your pet’s gums, and then remove your finger. The gums should turn white from the pressure and then become pink again within 2 seconds. If it takes longer than 2 seconds for your pet’s gums to turn pink again, it's a sign of blood loss.‌

Pulse. You can feel your pet’s pulse on the inside of their thigh near the groin. Your dog’s pulse should be 60 to 160 beats per minute, and your cat’s pulse should be 140 to 220 beats per minute. If you can’t feel a pulse on your pet’s thigh, you can place your hand over their heart to count beats.‌‌

Breathing.Your dog normally takes 16 to 32 breaths per minute. Your cat normally takes 20 to 42 breaths per minute. Breathing faster than this or struggling to breathe is a sign of distress. If your pet is hit in the chest, they may bleed into their lungs, causing distressed breathing.

You can take steps to keep your pet comfortable and slow down bleeding before you reach the vet. Your lifesaving measures may be the difference in your pet surviving their accident.‌

Bleeding. Use a clean cloth to apply pressure to open wounds. If possible, keep pressure on the wound during transport until you can hand your pet over to a veterinarian.‌

Broken bones. If you suspect your pet has a broken leg, help your pet lay in a comfortable position that doesn’t place pressure on the bone. If you have an ace bandage, you can wrap the bone to stabilize the injury. Fold up a magazine or several sheets of paper as a makeshift splint. Place it next to the bone inside the ace bandage to keep the bone straight and flat.‌

Head trauma. If your pet shows signs of head trauma, do your best to leave their head still. Move their neck as little as possible and lay them in a comfortable position. Encourage them to keep their head down and still.

Your veterinarian may ask questions about your pet’s mental state and activity after being hit by a car. They will complete a physical assessment and then begin treatment, which may include:

  • Oxygen therapy
  • IV fluids
  • Pain medication
  • Antibiotics 
  • Cleaning and applying bandages to open wounds
  • Ultrasound or x-ray imaging to identify internal bleeding and broken bones
  • Emergency surgery for severe cases‌
  • Blood transfusion‌

The veterinarian may want to keep your pet overnight for observation. Some brain and internal injuries do not begin to show signs until 24 to 48 hours later. It's always better to be safe and seek emergency care for your dog or cat after they are hit by a car.