Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He works mostly with dogs and exotic animals.
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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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: My dog was dead in the middle of the road; we can only assume he was hit by a car, but has no apparent physical injuries. He was left with our other two dogs in the front yard by themselves for two minutes. No one stopped. He looked perfect. What could he have died from?
Answer: A dog can die from internal injuries and have no outward signs of damage. A few years ago, a delivery truck (carrying bricks and steel) ran over one of my dogs when she had crawled underneath to get in the shade. There were no visible signs of injuries, but she died in about 30 seconds, so there must have been severe crushing and torn arteries.
Question: Can a three-month-old puppy survive getting hit by a car?
Answer: It depends on the speed of the car, the part of the body that was hit, etc. Yes, a three-month-old puppy can survive sometimes. At times, however, a puppy or dog of any age is going to die if hit by a car.
Question: We found our dog in the street unable to walk properly. His back legs look hurt, but there is no swelling. There is no blood and only a few scrape marks. Could it be internal bleeding or a broken bone?
Answer: The severity of your dogs problems cannot be diagnosed without an exam. You need to take him to your vet; you stated that there is no swelling and no blood but the leg seems hurt. In what way? If there is a broken bone there will almost always be swelling. There will only be obvious bleeding with an abrasion or a laceration.
Question: Is it normal for my dog to not want to go outside after being hit by a car?
Answer: There can be a lot of psychological damage. My dog was hit by a motorcycle while walking on the beach and she was nervous and always tried to avoid that area during our walks.
Question: Even three months after being hit by a car, my dog won't leave the house. How can I help?
Answer: If you are trying to take your dog for a walk; try encouraging her to follow you outside by giving her a treat every few steps. If your dog does not like treats, try to dangle her favorite toy in your hand and encourage her to follow it. (Come on girl, come get it, good girl, etc.)
Question: Is it normal for my dog to potty in the house after severe head trauma?
Answer: It depends on the head trauma, of course. If the dog suffered so many injuries that he is incontinent, then yes, it is normal.
It is more likely that the dog is suffering from psychological problems secondary to the trauma. It is up to you to take him out to the yard, spend some time with him, and get him used to the outside again. If you do not take the time to work with him now, while the trauma is relatively recent, this will become an ingrained habit and will be difficult to stop.
© 2012 Dr Mark
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on August 05, 2020:
Catherine--it sounds to me like you made a hard but correct decision. The thing about those spinal cord injuries is that sometimes a dog will get better but not usually. Most dogs just continue to suffer on.
Sorry to hear about the trauma everyone went through.
Catherine Ward on August 04, 2020:
We recently decided to have our dog put down after having been hit by a truck going roughly 35-45 mph in the road. It was traumatic for all of us. He survived the impact and we brought him to the closest emergency vet in the area (an hour and 15 minutes away). They kept him comfortable there overnight and after several images and two doctors later determined that he had a collapsed perhaps punctured lung, subcataneous air, movement in his two rear legs. He was aware of this limbs but not spatially aware, several broken ribs, and a very sore right front leg the vets were concerned had neuro damage. We were lucky he made it to the first vetinary service and then we transported him to a bigger clinic. At 11 oclock at night during a pandemic where we weren't allowed in to talk things over and everything was done over the phone we were left with a decision. We had accrued $3000 in vet bills in the past 32 hrs and we had to decide if we were going to pursue MRI imaging and surgery to repair the spinal disc (something like that anyway, it was alot to take in) for another $6k not knowing if there was anything to even repair. Not trying to make it about money, we were considered about his life and what that would look like and the potential weeks/months to come of caring for a 70+ lb dog with another sizeable dog and toddler in the house. I'm just still looking to see/hear someone else's informed perspective as to whether we made the right call in the end seeing as he had so much to recover from.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on July 12, 2020:
Latoya--I wish I could provide you with more help but unfortunately there is nothing to do without at least an exam. Your dog may be lame because of swelling on the spinal cord or it may be that his cord was severed in the accident. If it is just swelling he may get better in time, but if it is more severe then it will not.
Do you have any access to prednisone or other steroids? If there is no way to take him to a vet you could at least give him something to treat the swelling and possibly reduce the pain.
Latoya wright on July 12, 2020:
Hello my dog was hit by a car...he his wake and responding. He poop once after the accident and have not pooped again. He is also not moving his back legs at all. What can I do to assist him in pooping. I would really really love to carry him to the vet but I don't have the money.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on January 20, 2020:
Thanks for that comment Gwen. I am glad at least that one problem (the dewlap) is resolved.
I appreciate your comments on the educational aspects. It has become common for veterinarians to complain about clients that Google problems before coming in for a visit but the one thing most of us do not understand is how much easier it has made things. A lot of times I will have to say "call the vet who performed the surgery" but am glad to help when I can.
Gwen J Milton on January 19, 2020:
Dr. Mark, thank you for your comments to my previous post. A return to the vet found nothing specific as to why my dog seemed to have a "dewlap." It does seem to have resolved. Other issues continue to be a struggle as she recovers from rear leg amputation. We made another emergency run when I noticed her lying in a pool of stinky blood, which ran like a stream of milk from a teat when she stood. A third antibiotic was added, and although her wound continues to expel pooled fluids, the amount is lessening over time. Thank you to whoever invented Wee Wee Pads, as they have been a Godsend in providing a clean barrier for her to lay on (not to mention saving our carpet)!
Our veterinarian hospital provides excellent care and is staffed with multiple doctors who have a range of specialty and years of experience. The up and downside of this is that while care for the animal is good, a vet can become lax regarding owner education. I was not prepared well for what an amputation would look like and healing process management. I have had several panicked moments when seeing pools of seepage, her difficulty eliminating, being off feed, dealing with smell, wound care, etc. If I could ask one thing, it would be for veterinarians to remember that they are miles removed from the emotional trauma and fear of an injury of this magnitude, and pet owners don't know what they don't know. More information than less is welcomed and will aid me in managing expectations during recovery; it will also reduce the number of interruptions to your day. Thank you for this forum!
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on January 17, 2020:
Gwen, I have seen a lot of amputees go back to the happy-go-lucky dogs they were before the surgery. It takes more time with some than others.
I am more concerned about the hanging skin you are describing. It does not sound like the site of the amputation. An injury? Talk to the vet that did the amputation and find out if he or she recommends the skin be removed.
Gwen J Milton on January 15, 2020:
My 65 lb husky was hit by a car. Due to severe fracture of the tibia, nerve and artery damage, partial degloving of the vast majority of her leg, what would be a complicated recovery, and very high cost of treatment, I opted to have her left leg amputated. She is home, but I was unprepared for her condition. Most worrisome is that the skin below her rib cavity is hanging like the dewlap of a cow, and she has a slight cough. She is eating, drinking, and pottying, but is overall disengaged. I feel incredibly guilty and now question if amputation was the right thing to do. I am worried about this hanging skin. Is there a logical reason why her skin would be hanging, and do amputees ever go back to the happy dogs they once were?
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on January 13, 2020:
Keke, I am not sure where you guys are located, but she might consider taking her dog to a university veterinary college to get a second opinion from a neurologist. I am not sure if there is anything that can be done, as the personality changes might be because of permanent damage to the brain, but it is worth looking into.
Keke on January 11, 2020:
My sister's dog was struck in the head by a truck. His whole personality has changed. Very scared and really can be aggressive. Vet says he needs more excersise, but he goes for long walks 2-3 times a day.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on September 24, 2018:
Crystal, I cannot tell if your dog is "seeping" from an infection or has bleeding from something that needs to be closed. You need to call and take him back to the vet you have already taken him to.
Crystal1986 on September 23, 2018:
My dog wasn't hit by a car he was attacked by another dog he has been to the vet and he has started to bleed really bad under one of his arms and he has meds for pain and infection. So what can I do now to help with the bleeding
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on August 25, 2018:
Charlotte, the only thing I can suggest (and hopefully you are aldeady doing it) is to massage your dogs leg gently while performing very slow passive range of motion exercises (bring the leg up to the body, pull it out all of the way, move the knee around, flex the paw, etc). If you do not extend and flex the leg at every joint the tendons will contract and your dog will not use it even if there are no obvious medical problems.
Charlotte Leonard on August 25, 2018:
my dog was hit by a car and has had surgery to repair her fractured hip. the problem though now is she won't walk (it has only been 4 days) and her left leg is asleep. they have told me they are concerned but she too has lots of inflammation and within a week we will consider therapy. my question is do you or others have suggestions on what might could be done to awaken the leg?
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on April 18, 2018:
As I mentioned in the question section above, it is not unusual for a dog to be nervous after such a traumatic event. All you can do is take it very gradually. When you are ready to go for a walk take a bag of special treats, like tiny chunks of chicken livers, and give her a lot of praise for each little step.(Stand your front door and when she comes out give her praise and a treat. Do the same thing to the end of her sidewalk, to the next house, to the end of the block, etc.)
It may take some time so do not get upset with her. If she will not go any further, sit down and play with her a while, distract her, and she may forget about her nervousness and go a little further.
Mariesia From New Jersey on April 18, 2018:
My 4 year old dog was hit by a pickup truck on Sunday. She ran out the front door while my daughter was leaving. She is fine. A few scraps on her head but she will not go on any walks. If we try to take her for a walk she will go a few feet then turn around and run to the back yard. She has loads of energy and we have a small back yard. We would take her on walk to burn off some energy. What can we do to help her not be so scared of going on walks again?
Nicky from FLORIDA on March 25, 2018:
My daughter took our little dog for a walk on his leash and a car came around the corner and hit our dog he died on the spot my daughter was only 1 foot away from him and they kept driving like nothing happened it's sad how do these things he was my daughter first pet Thank for all the great advice it help
Shannon on December 13, 2017:
A Leash is NOT a guarantee that your dog will never be hit by a car. Someone hit our dog today while my son was taking her for a walk around the block in broad daylight. She was on a short leash and it was a residential, gated, community and they were on the curb. My son was only 1 foot away from being hit himself because "the sun was reflecting" in her eyes and she couldn't see. Yes, a leash greatly reduced the risk, but it isn't not a guarantee.
Aquamarine on September 13, 2017:
My dog just got hit by a car and it's too late to take her to a vet hospital cause they are closed. Am really scared and don't know what to do.she has blood all over her mouth that makes me think she has internal bleeding. I have tried to keep her warm .Am even too scared to see her now.I don't want to lose hope but I can't even help it.I really want her to get well again.
ganu on August 12, 2017:
I am so worried that my most favourite dog has been hit with a bike i feel so bad
Can't express my name on July 06, 2017:
My favorite dog got hit by a car yesterday and my mom just have up she said a broken back can't be fixed so she shot her now I just sit and cry for hours on end I miss my dog so much I still see her now laying on the road not moving anything but her head
Kay on April 25, 2017:
My little yorkie mix just got hit by a car on her hind legs, she seems calm and breathing well, I tried feeding and giving her water in the mean time but going to take her to a vet later on today. What else should I do?
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on February 19, 2017:
Tim, a lot of people are not able to handle a big dog in a wheelchair, which is why they are usually only sold for Doxies, Min Pins, etc. You have a lot of work ahead of you, but thanks for leaving that great message and letting us know that it is all about staying positive!!!!
Tim on February 18, 2017:
I stumbled upon this site because my buddy was hit by a car a few days ago. He's a 9 year old lab/ German shepard mix. He has fractures in both hips and canot move his tail or walk. A specialist has recommended pins in both hips but the cost is more than I can afford. I brought him home the day after the accident, and he's getting better. He ate a little that night, but didn't eat again for two days. I finally got him to eat last night, but hat to open his mouth and spoon it in, then he'd swallow with no problem. I made overcooked, very soft rice with chicken breast, threw it in a mini food processor, and mixed it with warm beef broth. He's remained in pretty good spirits so far.
I quickly learned how to express his bladder, and he seems to be pooping on his own, but I'm not quite sure if that's the case yet. Cleaning up after him has not been a big deal.
My vet wants me to stay realistic, and keep the option of putting him down because his quality of life might suffer. I'll be damned if I do that, though. He may recover enough to walk with a limp or on three legs, or maybe not. I watched a bunch of Youtube videos of handicapped & paralyzed dogs, and I've realized that the quality of life a handicapped dog has is determined by the owner's efforts. I've already started pricing doggy wheel chairs, and I bought a yard wagon for him. I'm a teacher, and one of my coworkers told be to get him certified as a service dog and bring him to work with me, and I'm absolutely on board with that.
My point is...don't give up hope on your pal just yet. Stay positive!
Loring on February 08, 2017:
My yellow lab was hit by a car a couple days ago. The emergency vet took xrays and an 'expert' read them and said one hip was fractured and she needed surgery. Also lung bruising and internal fluid and bleeding that apparently stopped.
Went to our regular vet who said in a 7 y/o lab you see stuff on xrays that may not actually be fractures. To be honest, it had to be magnified for me to even see what the first vet was pointing out. Our vet is more concerned with her spine. Pricked her back legs with no reaction. Gave her a steroidal anti inflammatory, antibiotic for organ trauma, and continued Tramadol for pain.
Since then, she has tried to move, scooting sort-of, using her back legs rather clumsily and weakly, both turning out or under, but she puts a little weight on them.
She ate the day after her accident, but the next day and today she is not interested. She does drink a lot of water and pee, but not defecate.
I just don't know what to think. I see sites that talk about therapy for dogs to recover from paralysis. We don't want to give up too soon, but we don't want her to suffer. We do not have thousands to spend on her care, but we are willing to at least investigate what might work. We are thinking of trying water therapy in a warm pool, but we are not experienced at all with this sort of thing.
What would you advise? We don't want to push her too hard too soon, nor give up too soon if we don't see improvement. We know she had major trauma from the accident, but she never stopped wagging her tail for us.
Lisa on August 10, 2016:
Hi Dr. Mark ! I just want to also say re: being on leash is not guarantee that I had my Lab on leash and he actually snapped his leather collar to run across the street and got hit by a car which was traveling around 30 mph. He, amazingly, did not have any apparent injuries and that was 6 months ago, although now he is limping and was put on a supplement for stiff joints. Needless to say, even if I am just crossing the street to get to off leash woods, he is on a harness !
Wes T on April 10, 2016:
My dog was clipped by a slow moving car today a few minor cosmetic scrapes on her chest and what appears to be a twisted swollen foot she ran away following the blow and two hours later came back home with blood coming from her ear canal she is responsive but wants to rest ive been waking her up periodicly out of consern of concussion she drinks water but eats very little shes not her rambunctious self i guess shes just bit shooken up or in shock im 99% sure shes fine but im worried about the blood and fluid coming from her ear it has slowed down a whole lot almost to none i dont think its a brain injury that maybe her eardrum hopefully rest will help.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on October 11, 2015:
Hi Jacqui hopefully he is home by now. They probably had to x-ray the lungs to evaluate the damage. I hope everything is okay with your little Yorkie.
Jacqui on October 11, 2015:
Hi my 3 year-old yorkie just escaped from the house and has been hit by a car. He is on way to the emergency vets as although he us running about like a mad thing he is coughing up muscus like red blood. I have been left at home but am worried can anyone help please.
Nenafly on November 13, 2013:
Hi my little shih tzu was hit buy a car his back legs where degloves thank god he did not have any fractures or organ damages but the deglove in one leg is really bad any advice and how take care of it and how long will take?
Robert on November 03, 2013:
A dog should be on a leash if it is not in a fenced in location. This protects the dog and the general public. Many dog owners let their dogs run free, even though most towns and cites have rules against it. The reason dog owners feel comfortable is they have a loving relationship with their dog and couldn't imagine it attacking another human being unprovoked. However, a loose dog can and will attack people who it thinks are a threat , even if those people are a mail carrier, delivery person, utility worker, or a pedestrian walking on a neighborhood sidewalk. Today, I was nearly attacked by a loose dog. I was walking to a neighborhood park this Sunday morning, when a dog came from a front yard and started barking at me. I immediately checked the traffic (on a major arterial road) and crossed to the other side of the street, thinking the dog would be satiated that I backed off from its "territory". I continued walking and listened to my music, when I heard a loud thud along with a loud crying bark from a dog. Unbeknownst to me, the dog had continued pursuing me across the street when it was hit by a car. When I turned around to look, the dog was in the middle of the street whimpering. In painstaking fashion, it got up and struggled back to the sidewalk, where it lied down and continued whimpering or whining in pain. A couple that lived nearby came out of the house and said that the owner always lets the dog out in the morning. Again, I do not think it is a wise thing to do and likely illegal thing to do in a city, for dogs to be let out. It is unsafe for people and dogs for dogs to be running loose in the city.
Becky on March 02, 2013:
Thanks for providing this information. My 5 year old dog was hit 3 days ago. He is still alive but it looks like he may be paralyzed in his back legs. Reading your advice has helped to calm my fears. I am hoping that his behavior is due to shock and not a sign that he won't make it. Our vet has been wonderful but he is not giving any information about Charlie's future.
Barb on February 18, 2013:
My 7 year old dog was hit by a car today after escaping out the front door. She was bleeding profusely from both ears just like a faucet running, but she still lived for about 20 minutes. I know there was nothing we could do, but the whole thing was made worse by the fact the guy never braked or swerved or even stopped. I feel terrible as we rescued her from a shelter several years ago to give her a better life. She was a loyal companion. I feel so horrible and feel like we let our little friend down.
Judy Specht from California on August 23, 2012:
Excellent advice. Sauturday evening before Christmas two years ago while taking one puppy for training the other decided he needed to climb up on the crate. (5 month old Border Collie) He caught his right fore paw on the top and snapped both bones when he fell. I was impressed with how calm my hospital corpsman son splinted the pup's leg and carried him on the ride to the vet. We left one son home with the other pup. My son offered to sell his car to pay for Joe's surgery. I wish he had. The thing only gave him trouble after that. Joe still has screws in his leg, but they don't bother him. I have been teaching the guy to stop and look for cars and heel when we cross the street. At 3 he and his brother are finally getting the hint that they are smart and like being well trained.
Sasha Kim on August 19, 2012:
I've had one dog hit when I was young and hope it never happens again. She was lucky to be small and only suffer a minor leg injury. This hub is very useful and voted as such!
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on August 17, 2012:
Thanks for reading and commenting. I truly hope you never need this info!!!
hisandhers from Toronto, Ontario, Canada on August 17, 2012:
Having one of my dogs being hit by a car is one of my biggest fears. Even when every precaution is taken, accidents can still sometimes happen. After reading this hub I feel like if it ever did happen, I would feel a lot more calm and lot more prepared. Thanks for all the great advice!
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on August 16, 2012:
Personally I would never own a retractable leash. Even if they do not fail they teach a dog bad walking habits.
I want to discuss putting on a quick muzzle, so that there is no risk of getting bit, but thought I would try to write a separate hub about that. But as far as strapping down an injured dog? Do you think anyone would even remember that kind of advice at the time of an emergency?
Thanks for coming by. Stay away from those ear mites, even if they are not zoonotic!
Bob Bamberg on August 16, 2012:
Good, helpful hub, DrMark. Would you agree that folks need to resist the temptation to scoop their injured dog into their arms? I should think they could complicate the injuries, or maybe suffer a serious bite because the dog is so traumatized.
Sometimes even being on leash is no guarantee of safety, though. A neighbor had a retractable leash (a cheap one she bought at a big box store), one that extended 26 feet. When her dog was 26 feet away from her, the leash failed. The dog returned to her and there were no problems, but had he been in the street, there could have been. I told her she should have bought one from my store...they don't fail! :) Regards, Bob