Help! My Cat Was Hit By A Car

Updated May 30th, 2020

‘At A Glance (Details Below)’ Emergency Care

What To Do If A Cat Is Hit By A Car

  1. Do not chase if runs away- follow without adding stress
  2. If severely injured, protect your hands when picking up
  3. Lift injured cats wrapped in a blanket if possible
  4. Take straight to a vet to check for internal injuries

Now dive deeper.

First, how to tell if a cat has been hit by a car…

The Signs Of Road Trauma In Cats

Cats get a variety of symptoms depending on which area has been damaged. They include:

claws after road injury
  • Frayed nails (see picture)
  • Greyish smudges on the hair
  • Poor leg use or limping
  • Breathing heavily from chest trauma
  • Hiding or lethargy from pain

These three stories might help explain better how cats can get injured by cars.

Lily

Lily came to us after arriving home one evening unable to walk on her hind leg. Somehow she’d managed to get over a high fence to get home.

Like most cases, the car injury was not seen, and she didn’t seem too bad at first.

We examined her and apart from a very painful hip region she was in reasonably good shape. We placed a drip and took two full-body X-rays.

The half-serious name we give this view is a ‘Cat-o-gram’. It quickly shows in two views a survey of all the important structures likely to be damaged in road trauma. These are: spine, pelvis, hips, thigh bone (femur), lungs, abdominal wall, bladder and diaphragm (see below).

We took extra views of her hip confirming a dislocation. These can usually be easily put back in so we anaesthetised her to do just that.

However, in this case the hip just wouldn’t stay in and kept coming straight out again. She needed surgery.

The next day we operated and found the soft tissues around the hip had been so badly damaged there was no way of reconstructing the joint. The only option was what we call an “excisional arthroplasty” or “femoral head and neck excision”. We removed the top of the femur, and made an artificial soft tissue joint.

It won’t be perfect, but she’ll have normal mobility and will be pain free. Once she heals you’ll have a hard time telling she isn’t like other cats. Here she is after surgery.

Charlie

Charlie is a sadder story. He came in one morning after being missing for a while. He didn’t seem too bad but his owner thought he wasn’t himself and brought him in for a check.

cat sacral fracture

When we examined him two things struck us straight away. His tail was paralysed, he was leaking urine and his bladder was too large. Fearing the worst, we anaesthetised him to take this X-ray.

There is a fracture (arrowed) diagonally through the sacrum (the part of the spine attached to the pelvis). The amount of separation, and his symptoms told us that the spinal cord nerves had all been severed at this point.

The saddest thing was knowing that although he looked OK, and a despite paralysed tail being no big deal, he would never be able to urinate by himself again.

I’ve tried in the past to keep these cats going, but the nursing care is nearly impossible to do well. I always regretted not making the right decision early enough. I advised immediate euthanasia to spare him any further suffering, and thankfully his owner agreed.

His owner, who loves his cats, has since rescued a cat from a local shelter. I hear he’s an inside cat now.

Tux

Tux is a kitten who was found by one of our clients on a local road. We started looking after her and she seemed fine at first. She had a good appetite, put on weight and generally enjoyed her lucky break.

After a few days we noticed her breathing was becoming laboured so we took the X-rays you can see here. When you compare them to Lily’s earlier images you can see that there is no clear division  between the chest (black) and the abdomen (mostly white). In other words, you can’t see the diaphragm and it all looks a mess.

This plus the fact that she was found on a road led us to the diagnosis of a diaphragmatic hernia. This happens when a cat is run right over, and the abdominal pressure ruptures the diaphragm, forcing abdominal organs into the chest space. Cats can usually breathe well enough at first, but fluid and adhesions form making it harder and harder.

This is the main reason why all cats suspected of being in a car accident must have X-rays. They also get ruptured bladders and abdominal hernias at the same time.

Despite Tux’s tiny size and the high risk, Dr Claire successfully operated. Tux’s liver and intestines were put into their rightful place in the abdomen and the tear in the diaphragm was sutured.

Update: Tux came in one year later, this time with a tail degloving injury, which required tail amputation. She’s very lucky; most cats with tail-pull injuries also lose urinary and faecal control like Charlie.

This only repeats what we always say: cats who get hit by cars keep getting hit, unless the owners get them away from cars.

Do Cats Have Nine Lives?

Of course they just have one. We say they have nine lives because:

  • Cats are curious and exploratory, making serious injuries common
  • Cats are very resilient to trauma, and often survive things other species wouldn’t
  • There are lots of cats. In the old days people probably never knew which stray cat was which
  • They keep getting injured- cats don’t usually learn from car accidents

The most common cause of death in cats is still the motor vehicle. But there is some good news. It’s definitely getting better as more and more cats are kept inside. And not all cats die; amazingly, if cats find the strength to get home, vets can usually save them.

These feline patients were al hit by cars. Their stories are typical of the sorts of injuries and recoveries we regularly see.

To completely prevent car injuries requires cats either staying inside or only going outside in enclosed cat runs. Many people let their cats out during the day, and in quiet streets with unadventurous cats this is usually OK. It does seem that most (but not all)  accidents occur at night.

However, being outside without supervision also puts cats at risk of FIV infection (cat AIDS). Please ask us about vaccinating against this extremely common disease.

Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story! The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.

Please note: If your question concerns a cat that has been hit by a car the answer is always to find a vet straight away. I will answer all other questions except this.

Andrew

28 Replies to “Help! My Cat Was Hit By A Car”

  1. I found my cat lying on the sidewalk in the next block with head injury. It was too late for her. She was already dead and stiff. Her right eye had popped out and her jaw had blood and was wide open with her tongue out. Otherwise there did not seem to be any external injury. She was lying on her left side with her legs almost straight. Do you think she was run over?

  2. Hi, Our beloved Tipper was accidently backed over by my son. She looked really messed up at first, no visable signs of trauma, just the way she was acting ( it may have been shock).
    We took her to the vet to have her evalutated. They sent her home without xrays as they said everything felt good, no apparent bones broken, no external bleeding, no bleeding from nose or mouth. Over the course of the next week, she seemed to be getting better, her engery was coming back, she appeared to be eating. A month out, i noticed how thin she was getting so i brought her inside ( our cats are well taken care of but they are outdoor ( spayed and nuetered) cats. and tried to feed her. She was interested in the food , she wanted to eat but when she would take a small piece of food, it would come back out of her mouth. We took her to the vet, 500.00 later they said her liver enzymes are elevated and and that is why she is not eating. My guess is something is inhibiting her from eating, swallowing or chewing. The vet did say both of her canine teeth had fractures but nothing to worrry about. What injuries to the neck, jaw or mouth could prohibit her from eating that a vet may not pick up on? She seems to open and close her jaw fines, she seems to chew weird .
    I do not agree with the vets diagnosis. Her liver enzymes are elevated but i believe that the reason they are elevated is because she has been slowly starving for the last month. please any insight would be appreciated

    1. Hi Colleen. Elevations in liver enzymes can be caused by many illnesses, including starvation. They certainly aren’t sufficient to give a diagnosis on their own. It sounds like you are thinking along the right path. If it were me, I would begin with full body x-rays looking for a major injury such as those described in this article.

  3. My cat was hit by a car 2 days ago and my neighbor saw it and said the cat got up and ran and we don’t know we’re he is or were he is hiding or even if he is still alive do you have a suggestion if were he would go And should I look for him or just let him be and see if he is alive and if he is alive but hurt will he return home.

    1. Hi Collin. He’ll probably be hiding under a bush or even under a shed or house if he can. I’d be knocking on doors in the neighbourhood and asking to search their yards if they let you, or asking them to have a look themselves if not. Good luck.

  4. Hi, my cat got hit by a car 2 weeks ago he suffered 3 broken ribs and air had to be drained from his chest as the trauma coursed lung damage he was kept at the vets for 3 days he’s home and improving, I’ve kept him caged, the last 2 day I’ve let him out, when I go to work leave him in bedroom and close the door, I’m just worried that he’s still in pain and it’s to early to let him out of cage, he’s definitely a outdoor cat and hates being indoors (especially in the cage) but I know if I eventually let him out again he will end up being killed as at the end of my road is a busy road where he got hit. Will he eventually get used to being a indoor cat.

    1. Hi Kathy. You’re quite right that he needs to be kept inside because cats tend to not learn from car injuries. As for becoming an inside cat, he will never completely adjust and will probably always escape if the opportunity presents itself. However, it’s quite possible to make a cat friendly house – I’ve written a whole page on that at the link. Good luck.

  5. My cat has just had his back legs ran over By a reversing car, he’s a little quiet and lets you touch and love him except on his injured leg, strangely enough he seems kind of playful? (Stretching and playfully swiping my hand as I pet him)

    He appears to drag the injured leg, the other three legs seem fine as he’s walking on them.
    The tail has a long graze along it too but it seems like just a graze and doesnt hurt when touched.

    Straight after the incident he took off and hid under the neighbours car, we caught him and have him alone where he can rest but still worried and can’t get an after hour vet at the moment.

    1. I guess the only good thing about this is that he is using one of his back legs, meaning there’s probably not a lot of nerve damage. Good luck.

  6. Hello i ran over my cat. Brought him to the vet and Done xray and found out that his legs are not fractured but his hip is broken So bad. He did poop but he didnt pee for 24hrs now. I dont know whats wrong. Pls enlighten me im so worried

    1. Hi MJ. When the pelvis gets damaged there are a lot of sensitive structures within its that can also be traumatised without it being obvious on x-ray. It’s essential that you stay in close touch with your vet to monitor urination and defecation especially.

  7. My husband and I found a cat that got hit by a car in front of us. No external damage we can see but internal bleeding was coming from the mouth and mostly nose. I scooped him up and brought him home and he is in the bathroom with towels and water. It’s been several hours and he is not able to sit up and down and bleeding has gone down but the issue is that the vet is closed and I can’t get ahold of any help most likely until tomorrow. He wanted love at first but after several hours he is now hissing and protective. What can we do until he gets to a vet?

    1. Hi Ciara. There’s not much more you can do until a vet is involved. I can only suggest that you look for one that offers out of hours services – there are several in our area so I hope there are some in yours. Well done for picking this poor kitty up. I would also do a quick door knock up and down the street to see if anyone knows who’s cat this might be.

  8. Hi, I ran over my cat ( I know, the burden of knowing I injured her is awful). I did not see her and I backed out really fast.

    We took her to the vet who did an xray confirming that her organs have moved around a bit.
    We are now waiting till Monday to see if she ia stable enough for surgery. We are praying and hoping she will pull through.
    She is on a drip and painkillers and was okay when we left. I am so nervous about her and just hoping for the best.
    I am glad I came on this page .

  9. Really interesting post. My rescued 3 months old kitty run over by a car. She immediately did vomit. And then hide under a bird cage. She’s walking alright but her stomach is very soft and spine is perfectly aligned & fine. Initially her mouth was open like gasping but later it’s just laboured breathing but gasps are better. She’s not eating though. Vet gave medicine and says heart and kidneys are fine. I’m concerned about laboured breathing and if she’ll eat ? Do cats get out of such breathing?

  10. A neighbours cat was hit by a car tonight and had several fits on the side of the road. When i got to it, there was blood coming out its nose and mouth. It seemed dead but wasnt rigid when i picked it up. The neighbour took it away. Would the fits killed it? Is there anything. I could have immediately done for it? The whole thing was horrific to watch .

    1. Hi Katrina. That’s horrible to hear. It’s fair to guess that their cat suffered substantial head injuries and would not have survived no matter what you did.

  11. Hey my cat was walking just fine when we found him we put him inside and came back a few hours later now he wount walk but will stretch he growls whenever being touched now what should I do

    1. Hi Noah. It certainly sounds like an injury, though one from a cat fight is just as likely as a car. All you can do is see a vet for this one.

  12. Hi my cat Leo was hit 2 days ago by a car he has no major injuries that my vet could find just a really swollen back leg he won’t walk on. He won’t move much and has been hiding. Won’t eat and drink or get up to go to the bathroom. I’m wondering if that’s normal after that type of trauma. If so when should he be showing improvement

    1. Hi Brett. No, that’s not normal at all. He should be eating and drinking even if he’s quiet. I would certainly take him back to the vet and consider X-rays to check for internal damage. Good luck.

  13. Hello my cat just got hit too and he has lost all his upper left molar and premolar. His tongue was bit in half and was sutured. I’m really scared for him, what kind of after care can I expect when he returns home from the vet?

    1. Hi Sara. He should be OK. Tongues heal well, and tooth fractures are easily managed. The vet might suggest a dental X-ray later to check the roots of those teeth if it isn’t clear whether they need removal or not.

    1. Hi Carol. I’m sorry to hear that. Fracture of the mandibular symphysis is usually well-tolerated. This is the most common sort when the two jaw halves separate exactly in the middle-front, and it’s also easily treated if it happens. Other fractures might need surgery to stabilise the jaw, and for these I would advise getting a second opinion if your vet hasn’t already suggested it. Let me know how you go.

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