Avoiding the Hit by Car (HBC) Trauma

In the ER, I see a lot of trauma cases: dogs attacked by dogs (typically what we call big-dog-little-dog, or "BDLD" attacks); cats attacked by predators (e.g., dogs, neighborhood kids, coyotes, mountain lions, etc.); and the most frequent, the hit-by-car, commonly known as the "HBC" in veterinary medicine.

While trauma cases can be really rewarding to treat as an emergency doctor, I’d rather not see them in the first place. Not only can they be life threatening and cause significant pain and injury to your dog or cat, but they are very expensive to treat for you.

The severity of trauma from being HBC ranges from mild scrapes and bumps to fatalities that never even make it to the ER (due to severe internal bleeding). In the past 14 years of my veterinary career, I’ve treated hundreds of HBC cases, mostly from the following:

  • Pet owners letting their dogs run off leash
  • Dogs or cats slipping out of the house inadvertently through an open door
  • Dogs jumping the fence (yes, your dog may actually be able to hop it)
  • Dogs out on long flexi-lead type leashes, only to be hit on the edge of the road (as the dogs' owners can’t pull them back on the leash in time)
  • Dogs chasing cars (please, teach your dog that this is bad!)

And lastly,

  • Pet owners accidentally running over their own dogs in their driveway (this type is actually one of the worst types of HBC, as it’s a "slow roll" and results in more internal damage)

First of all, if your dog can’t be trusted off leash, don’t tempt the fates and let him run around, as he’s likely to be hit by a car. My test? If you can’t call your dog off a squirrel (or deer) immediately, he doesn’t pass the test for being off leash. JP, my rescue pit bull, was so highly obedient trained that I could holler "Down!" while he was chasing vermin and he’d drop to all fours immediately. If your dog can do that, then you win rights to off-leash romping.

Secondly, if you have a cat, keep him inside. I got a lot of grief from cat owners when I released my book It’s a Cat’s Life …You Just Live In It. Why? Because I made two opinionated statements:

  • If you have more than six cats, you’re crossed over to crazy-cat lady (that’s a whole other blog!)
  • If you have cats, do us all a favor and keep them inside.

There are actually several medical reasons why keeping your cat indoors is important, but I’ll expand on that more in next week’s blog (Should I Keep My Cat Indoors?).

So, back to being HBC. Why should you care? Being hit by a car commonly results in the following:

  • Road rash (i.e., having your skin shredded off thanks to the drag against asphalt)
  • Pulmonary contusions (i.e., lung bruises, which result in difficulty breathing or coughing of blood)
  • Pneumothorax (i.e., a tear in the lung lining, resulting in abnormal leaking of air out of the lung into the chest cavity)
  • Fractures
  • Degloving wounds (i.e., having the skin ripped completely off the bone or body, resulting in expensive surgery and daily bandages)
  • Head trauma
  • Eye proptosis (i.e., having your pet’s eyeball "pop" out from severe facial fractures or trauma)
  • Internal bleeding (e.g., laceration of the spleen or liver)
  • Bladder rupture (i.e., tearing of the bladder or ureters — the tubes leading from the kidneys to the bladder, resulting in severe pain and expensive surgery to repair the rupture)
  • Bile peritonitis (i.e., rupture of the gall bladder, resulting in leaking of bile into the sterile abdomen)

While this list isn’t all inclusive, most of it will cause you to pay at least a few thou'. Being HBC requires intravenous fluids to stabilize the patient, pain medication, X-rays, minor or major surgery under general anesthesia, heart and blood pressure monitoring, and advanced diagnostics (like blood work, fluid analysis, abdominal ultrasound, etc.). When in doubt, save your pet some grief and pain, and you some bling, by simply keeping your dog on a leash and your cat in the house…

Have you had the unfortunate experience of having your pet HBC? Any tips to help others avoid it?

Dr. Justine Lee

Pic of the day: A Dog crossing the street by Nikola B

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