Sadly, we expect to see numerous road accidents in dogs and cats within the practice each year. When an animal is knocked over, it will experience a huge surge of adrenaline which is the hormone associated with the fight or flight response. Adrenaline primes the body to escape and is a very powerful stimulant and pain killer. This is how animals are able to run away from the scene of an accident in many cases, sometimes even with fractured spines, only to collapse later. It is very important to realise that the injuries are not always immediately apparent and so never be fooled into thinking, “Thank goodness, everything seems ok”. Always seek veterinary attention.
Animals may not respond in their usual way when they are distressed and in pain. If you try to move them, as you will need to, and this causes a fracture to move they will associate the pain with you and not with their fracture as they do not know what the latter is – that requires a human brain to understand. This means they may try to bite you to stop the pain so be careful and do not be fooled into thinking that they would never bite as the rules have changed completely. There is not a great deal that can be done about this but being aware of it helps. A big bath towel or blanket is invaluable here as by scooping the animal up in the towel you can handle it as a whole rather than moving specific parts.
Generally you are best to get the dog or cat to the veterinary surgery as there will be the facilities to put the patient on a drip, xray or operate as necessary. Many people want to ask the vet to visit the animal, but this does incur a delay in providing treatment as we cannot offer what is needed at the roadside, so if at all possible get the animal to the surgery. We see far fewer spinal injuries in RTAs than Doctors treating human patients and so there is less concern with this when moving the patient, but that is not to say there is no concern and so make some effort to keep the spine roughly in alignment if possible – that having been said, we would still advise that prompt transfer to the surgery outweighs the risk of trying to move the animal on a board as, unlike human patients, dogs and cats with severe spinal trauma are likely to have to be put to sleep.
You may have to provide some basic first aid to stop bleeding, in which case pressure with a clean towel is the best option. Gently wrap any wounds in the towel and compress the bleeding point; don’t be tempted to take the pressure off to check if it is working – let us do that once you arrive. Some animals will be very distressed with their breathing so make sure you do not hold them tightly across the chest or neck as a result of your own tension. Keep the patient warm.