My Dog Was Hit by a Car—So What Happens Next?
What's going to happen when you take your dog to the veterinary clinic? She has just been hit by a car, is acting oddly, and one of her back legs looks odd. What happens next?
You need to stay calm both for your sake and for your dog´s. Being hit by a massive hunk of metal is hard. Dogs hit by a car often die before they even make it to their ride, or die before they reach the veterinary hospital, so if your dog is still alive after being hit by a car, and is able to make it to the clinic alive, there is a good chance she will make it.
When you arrive at the clinic you might be told to wait up front, although in a smaller clinic you might even need to help. Your dog will be evaluated. Even though it may look serious, a broken bone is not the greatest threat to your dog and not what your veterinarian is most worried about.
He needs to prevent your dog going into shock. When she goes into shock most of the fluid in her body moves from the vessels to the tissue; the drop in blood flow means that she no longer has adequate oxygen moving to her brain nor adequate fluid pumping into her vital organs.
What Are the Symptoms of Internal Bleeding and Shock?
Your vet will lift up the lip of your dog and check the capillary refill time. That is the amount of time it takes for the blood to rush back into the tissue after it has been depressed for about a second. Normally the color will return in a second or less.
The lungs will also be auscultated (listened to with a stethoscope) at this time to check for sounds of trauma and fluid.
If your dog is showing any symptoms of shock or internal bleeding she will be catheterized (usually in the front leg) and fluids will be pumped into her rapidly-sometimes with the aid of a pump, sometimes the vet or an assistant will grab the bag and squeeze it to make the fluids go in as quickly as possible.
She will also be given an injection that will help many of her fluids return to the vessels. The fluids will stabilize her and there will be time to diagnose the other injuries. She may need x-rays to check her lungs for injuries, x-rays of the long bones she has injured to check for fractures, or maybe blood work to make sure her red blood cell level is stabilizing.
After your dog is stabilized with fluids and all diagnostics are finished, she can be put in a cage with a heating pad and perhaps with warm bags of fluid packed around her.
What About Surgery?
If your dog has serious soft tissue damage, like a degloving wound (where the skin is peeled off and the flesh is exposed) it will be fixed as soon as she is no longer in danger of going in to shock.
A broken leg will not be fixed until your dog is totally stable. If it is a simple fracture she may be able to get by with a cast. More serious fractures may require a pin, a plate, or even an external fixation device.
Do not be surprised if she is referred to a specialist for these procedures. Remember that the fracture is not an emergency, and if it is not repaired properly she may lose her leg, or the ability to walk.
Can I take her home soon?
She can be taken home after surgery. The vet will give you instructions on how quiet you must keep her.
It is a good idea to make sure that you have a comfortable area for her to stay quiet when you get home. She will probably need a warm bed to sleep in but do not use a heating pad. If she is still very sore she may not roll over and may end up burning her skin.
How Can I Avoid This Happening Again?
I have read a few amazing stories, like from the Hidden Life of Dogs, about some dogs that are able to avoid ever being hit by a car. Don’t count on it. I am a great fan of walking my dog off leash but I have her trained to come next to me if there is a motorcycle or a car coming. I have also worked with her so that she will go “down” on command (in case a car is coming and she is too far away to sit next to me). If you cannot guarantee your dog will listen to you every time, you should not risk her health by walking her anywhere you are not in control. If you do not have a safe place to walk her without a leash, keep her on a leash every time you go out.
A leash is the only guarantee that your dog will never be hit by a car.
It is not just the expense you need to worry about. Next time the outcome of a big car and a little dog might have more tragic consequences.
Take care of your dog, so that she can take care of you!
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© 2012 Dr Mark