Overview of Canine Trauma & Automobile Injuries
Automobile injury or trauma is defined as an injury sustained when a dog 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.
Below is an overview of canine trauma followed by in-depth information on the diagnosis and treatment of trauma injuries.
Common injuries include but are not limited to:
- 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
- Crying, whining
- Skin abrasions
- Pale gums
- Increased respiratory rate
- Difficulty breathing
- Lameness or obvious broken bones
Diagnosis of Canine Trauma
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 of Canine Trauma
Treatments for trauma/automobile injury depend upon the extent of the injury and may include the following:
- Intravenous fluids
- Oxygen therapy
- Pain medication
- Anti-arrhythmic drugs if the heartbeat is irregular
- Blood transfusions if there is significant blood loss
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.
In-depth Information on Canine Trauma
Trauma may result from other accidents unrelated to moving vehicles. Other causes of trauma include:
- Falling from heights like apartment buildings, roofs, trees and decks. Pets can sustain injuries that are identical to those caused by automobiles. Veterinarians describe this type of trauma as “High Rise Syndrome.”
- Humans can maliciously induce trauma when they purposely strike, kick or shoot an animal with a gun or arrow. Injuries can include head injuries, spinal cord injuries, broken bones, pulmonary contusions and internal bleeding.
- Humans may inadvertently cause trauma when they step on a small dog or puppy. This is very common. Head trauma, broken bones, spinal cord injuries, pulmonary contusions and internal bleeding may result.
- Other, usually larger, animals may attack pets causing serious trauma or injury. Common injuries include bite wounds, lacerations, facial injury, neck and spinal cord injury (particularly when a smaller animal is shaken by the larger animal), perforation of the abdominal cavity and underlying organs and perforation of the chest cavity.
Injuries that result from bite wounds, falls from heights, or other accidents may cause similar signs to those caused by an automobile accident. Signs of injury include:
- Shock is very common following trauma and results from an inability of the heart to pump enough blood to the internal organs. Symptoms of shock include pale gums, increased respiratory rate and heart rate, weakness, low blood pressure, weak pulses, low body temperature and collapse. Shock must be treated quickly before damage to internal organs occurs.
- Head trauma is a common injury seen in animals struck by moving vehicles. Signs of head trauma may include swelling of the nose or around the eyes, bleeding from the ears, mouth or nose, bleeding into the eye, unequal pupil size or fractures of the skull. A dog may be knocked unconscious or may be completely responsive following the injury. Head injuries can result in coma, dementia, seizures or death. Several days may be required before your veterinarian can accurately assess your pet’s prognosis for recovery from head injury.
- An eye can be displaced from the socket (proptosis) and may occur with a blow to the head. This is most common in brachycephalic dog breeds like the Pekingese.
- A tracheal tear (tear in the windpipe) can occur if the animal is struck in the neck region. As a result of this injury, air will accumulate under the skin primarily in the head and neck region but may extend all over the pet’s body and cause difficulty breathing.
- Pneumothorax is the abnormal presence of air in the chest cavity (air is normally confined to the lungs). Pneumothorax results from a tear in an airway and often accompanies rib fractures. This injury causes difficulty breathing and can be life-threatening.
- Pulmonary contusions (bruised lungs) result from blunt trauma to the chest and bleeding into the lung tissue, cause difficulty breathing and can be life-threatening.
- Hemothorax is the accumulation of blood in the chest cavity and results from lacerated blood vessels, often in conjunction with rib fractures.
- A diaphragmatic hernia is the presence of abdominal organs (stomach, liver, spleen, intestines) in the chest cavity. Organs normally confined to the abdomen move into the chest cavity through a tear in the diaphragm (muscle that separates the abdominal and chest cavity). The pet may exhibit no symptoms or may have difficulty breathing. This injury can be life threatening. Surgery is delayed for 24 hours following trauma to allow time for stabilization unless the dog is experiencing respiratory distress.
- A body wall hernia may result when a tear occurs in the muscles of the abdominal cavity and internal organs move into the space between the muscles and the skin. An external swelling may be visible on the animal’s side or between his hind legs.
- Internal bleeding due to laceration of the kidney, spleen or liver is also common. Shock that is unresponsive to treatment, abdominal pain, distension and bruising are signs associated with internal bleeding.
- Uroabdomen is the accumulation of urine in the abdomen and results from a disruption of the urinary tract (kidneys, bladder, ureter, urethra). The pet may or may not pass urine, and is generally very depressed and dehydrated.
- Fractures of the extremities are common and may cause shock.
- Vertebral fractures (back fracture) may cause lack of coordination or paralysis.
- Degloving skin wounds occur when the dog is dragged on the street surface by a car. The skin is completely removed from the underlying tissues, exposing tendons, muscle or bones.
- Traumatic myocarditis. Approximately 50 percent of traumatized animals develop an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) beginning 24 to 48 hours after the initial trauma. The arrhythmia may result from direct bruising to the heart muscle or from the effect of substances that are released during shock and circulate in the blood.