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Trauma/Automobile Injury in Cats

By: Dr. Ann Marie Manning

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Automobile injury or trauma is defined as an injury sustained when a cat is struck by a moving vehicle such as a car, truck, snowplow, train or motorcycle. Injuries may also occur as the result of human abuse, falling from a height, or animal attacks.

The impact of traumatic injuries ranges from minor to life threatening and any body system may be affected. Common injuries include but are not limited to:
  • Shock
  • Skin bruising, abrasions and lacerations
  • Head and facial injuries
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Broken bones
  • Pulmonary contusions (bleeding into the lungs)
  • Pneumothorax (air in the chest cavity)
  • Internal bleeding due to a liver, spleen or kidney injury
  • Ruptured bladder

    What to Watch For

  • Abnormal behavior
  • Inactivity
  • Hiding
  • Crying, whining
  • Bruising
  • Skin abrasions
  • Lacerations
  • Pale gums
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Lameness or obvious broken bones

    Diagnosis

    Diagnostic tests are necessary to recognize trauma/automobile injury, and exclude other diseases. Tests may include:

  • Complete medical history and physical examination
  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Serum chemistry profile
  • Chest radiographs (X-rays)
  • Abdominal radiographs
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG)

    Treatment

    Treatments for trauma/automobile injury depend upon the extent of the injury and may include the following:

  • Hospitalization
  • Intravenous fluids
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Pain medication
  • Antibiotics
  • Anti-arrhythmic drugs if the heartbeat is irregular
  • Blood transfusions if there is significant blood loss
  • Surgery

    Home Care and Prevention

    If you suspect your pet has been struck by a motor vehicle or has suffered any other type of trauma, you should seek veterinary care immediately. The lack of external wounds does not rule out substantial injury.

    Your veterinarian will likely recommend exercise restriction during your pet's first few days to weeks at home depending on the injuries sustained. Animals with chest injuries require one to two weeks of exercise restriction. Animals with fractures of the extremities require four to six weeks of limited and supervised exercise. Animals with mandibular (jaw) fractures must be fed soft food until the fracture heals.

    Your veterinarian may want you to cage rest your pet to allow some fractures (such as those of the pelvis) to heal. This means that you will need to confine your pet to a small area containing a bed and food.

    Keep bandages clean and dry. Check wounds for redness, swelling or discharge. See your veterinarian if you have any questions or problems.                                 

    Return to your veterinarian for follow-up or suture removal if needed.

    Animals with spinal cord injuries and hind limb paralysis may require assistance with a sling or harness to walk outdoors.

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