It is a warm summer evening and nothing could be better then a walk with your best friend Sadie. As you stroll out your door, you forget to grab her leash but that should be okay, she always listens to you and besides, what could happen? So, she chases Mrs. Piddleton’s Poodle again, what does it matter? The only one that gets upset over that is Mrs. Piddleton and she is a drama queen and maybe one of the original drama queens at that considering her age and disposition. You step off your front porch snickering to yourself and call to Sadie to follow.
You are relaxed and Sadie is behaving beautifully, so good in fact, that you wonder why you bother to put her on a leash ever. Then a mile from your house, an unwary cat saunters into the middle of its driveway and Sadie is off before you can even react. You hear a screech of brakes, a heart-wrenching thud and before you are aware of it, your legs are carrying you out into traffic after your beloved dog.
Now what do you?
Its always said to approach an injured animal with caution but guaranteed, when it is your pet lying on the road, you will forget that caution and immediately rush to their side. We all would and the amount of injuries caused by animals in distress is not as bad as what one would imagine. If you do approach Sadie, however, and she is growling or snapping, you need to figure out how to make a quick muzzle.
In veterinary first aid kits, you will often find a pair of women’s panty hose with the panty part cut off because the stretchy fabric is perfect for a make shift muzzle. What do you have on you that has some stretch to it? Your t-shirt is a likely candidate and ripping a one-inch strip off the bottom is easier then you would think. You need it to be one long strip so now tear the one-inch strip at a likely spot. Next, hold both ends and loop one end through on itself to make a loose half hitch. Loop that half hitch over your dog’s muzzle and gently cinch down. Now loop the ends around the back of their head and tie it snug. You now have a muzzle and although she may still be able to get a nip in, she will not be able to do any real damage.
It is also possible to use a leash, a shoelace, a scarf or even a cargo tie down if you are desperate. Anything long enough to tie and firm enough that she will not be able to break it should do the trick in a pinch.
Next step is assessing the damage and if she has not moved off on her own, to then get her off the road.
Assessing the damage can be difficult. Unless lights are broken, blood is actually rare when a dog is hit by car so often it is difficult to see where an injury may be located. With any accident, you must assume there was some damage because so often, there are only internal injuries. Even if the dog immediately gets up and runs around, it is necessary to have a vet check them over.
In human accidents, someone calls 911 and the ambulance promptly arrives at the scene so the pros can look after the victim. In animal accidents, you have to take the role of the paramedic and transport your dog to the hospital yourself. Since you were a mile away from home, you may need to ask for help from the driver of the car or from nearby houses – most times, people are quick to assist.
Dogs are different then humans in that she will have already moved about as much as she is capable meaning there is not much point trying to immobilize her head and back. Keeping her as still as possible is good but strapping her to a board like we do with humans would send her into a state of panic and probably cause more damage then leaving her loose. Encouraging her to stay still is usually all that is required.
Time is of the essence so although you must handle her gently and attempt to support her back, neck and limbs, getting her into the vehicle quickly is also important.
Small dogs that can be picked up by one person should be wrapped in a towel, blanket, jacket or sweater to keep warm. Have the person who is going to hold the dog get in the car and fasten their seatbelt. Now hand them the dog gently. For a medium sized dog or larger, the best way to transport the injured animal is by using a blanket as a stretcher. Lay the blanket on the ground beside her and have two people gently lift her into the middle of it. Now each take a side and lift her into the car this way. SUVs are the easiest as you can put her in the back but in the case of a sedan, have one person crawl in backwards with the blanket in front so that there is as little jostling as possible. Once at the hospital, the staff will use the same blanket to remove her so keep it in place.
If someone has a cell phone, ask him or her to call your vet clinic or a emergency vet hospital for further instructions. Many small clinics have someone on call, it is necessary for them to get to the clinic to treat your pet. Since minutes count, you want them on their way and waiting for you to arrive.
Part Two - The Pet Hospital
When you arrive at the hospital, have the driver or yourself run inside to get help. Hospitals always have gurneys just like human hospitals to aid in transporting patients and it is better for your pet to be put on that directly then to try to carry them into the building.
If it is a large hospital with both doctors and staff, they will wheel your pet into the back room to begin assessing and treating your pet’s injuries. They will want you to stay at reception and give your pet’s information as well as an account of the accident to one of the staff. Once the doctor has performed an initial assessment, he or she will then come out and talk to you about your pet.
In a small clinic where the doctor may be alone, he will need your help. Listen to his instructions carefully and try not to ask questions about what he thinks could be wrong – there will be enough for that once your pet is stable.
The vet will begin with looking at the dogs gums and checking their CRT – Capillary Refill Time. On a human, you squeeze their fingernail and count how many seconds goes by before the healthy pink returns. Because dogs have furry toes, it is hard to see so the next best spot is their gums. Normal CRT is one to two seconds and gums are usually a healthy pink color. In times of shock or injury, gums can be grey and CRT can take up to a few seconds or not at all. This quick diagnostic tool takes only a few seconds but can tell the vet volumes about what is going on inside your dog.
From there the exam moves to the eyes, ears, neck, back and abdomen. If the CRT was slow and the gums grey, the vet may spend a few long moments palpating the abdomen. If the pupils are dilated or there is blood in the ears, he may spend more time on the head and neck area. His final check will be running his hands down the legs and tail.
There are several avenues at this point. Whether you are right there helping him with the assessment or still in the waiting room, he will talk to you about what he has found so far. If he feels your dog cannot wait for treatment, he may just ask your permission without going into detail about your pet’s condition. Vets know when seconds and minutes count so if he seems offhand or sends a staff member to get permission from you to perform diagnostics or begin treatment, give him what he needs quickly and without questions.
If he feels the dog is in shock and/or in pain, he will have a catheter placed in a leg and IV fluids introduced as well as some type of analgesic or painkiller. If he wants a quick X-ray or two taken, he may do that before the IV is placed because not having the bad of fluids to deal with does speed up the process. Many vets will have staff heating warming bags as dogs in shock loose heat quickly and heat is comforting to all of us – canine and human alike.
The truth about animal hit by cars is not good. In suburbia where traffic is slower, dogs stand a better chance of surviving but at higher speeds, the rates drop significantly. Large dogs also have a higher survival rate. Vets know that if an animal makes it to the vet hospital, there is a good chance of survival because the vital time between the accident and arriving at the vet hospital will have proven fatal to most critical injuries. The biggest killer in animal hit by cars is a ruptured spleen and in most cases, the death is almost immediate. The second biggest killer is shock so if an animal makes it to the vet hospital alive, often this is the first thing that is treated because the other injuries are probably not fatal if the dog has made it as far as the clinic.
Once the dog is stable, the vet will give you his diagnosis and suggested course of treatment. Most big hospitals will print out an estimate of costs associated with the injury so that you know what you are facing financially. He will discuss the amount of days your beloved pet will be in the hospital, if surgery is required and what to expect for the recovery period as well as long-term prognosis. It is all difficult to take in and an emotional rollercoaster.
What happened to that companionable walk on a summer’s evening? It was gone in the flip of a cat’s tail and now you are faced with difficult and unexpected decisions about your pet’s health and well-being. It is not necessary to explain the moral of the story but remember it next time you step out off your front porch to take your dog for a walk and you forgot to grab that leash. Take the second to go back and grab it – you might regret it otherwise.