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Helping Your Pet in a Car Crash

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 18 Oct 2010 | comments*Discuss
Car Crash Pet Emergency First Aid Dog

As we become more mobile and many places become more pet-friendly, our pets are accompanying us to many more places, whether it is for holiday, play or even work.

However, this also means that our pets have a greater chance of becoming a car crash victim, leading to serious injury for your pet – or even having your pet inadvertently injure others.

This does not mean, though, that you should never take your pet in the car. With a few precautions and a bit of planning ahead, you will be better equipped to prevent injuries and to know how to deal with your pet, should a car crash ever occur.

First Things First…

All pets will be in a state of shock after a car accident – they may be injured and will almost certainly be very frightened. Some pets, such as cats and in particular dogs may even become aggressive, particularly if they are in pain. They will not understand that you are trying to help them and may lash out in defence.

For this reason, always approach the animal very slowly and calmly, talking in a soothing voice. Don’t make any sudden movements. Extend your hand, closed in a fist, and let the animal sniff it. If it will allow you, try to pat it gently, all the while talking soothingly.

Ideally, the animal should be restrained or contained in a carrier but if not, you may need to think about finding a way to contain it safely so that it does not run away.

Muzzle Up

Regardless of whether it is restrained or not – and regardless of how friendly it normally is – always take the precaution of muzzling a dog. Even your own beloved pet, no matter how gentle, may bite in a frightening situation, especially if it is in pain.

If you don’t have a proper muzzle, you can make one easily using a strip of cloth, a tie, a sash, scarf or even a long sock. Simply hold one end of the strip in each hand, lay it across the dogs nose, just underneath the eyes, wrap it around the entire nose and snout and tie gently but securely underneath the jaw – then pull the ends back again on each side of the dog’s neck and make another tie behind the neck, just under the ears.

Note: if a dog starts to vomit, you must remove the make-shift muzzle and then reapply it when the dog has finished vomiting.

Vital Signs

Once the animal is safely restrained, try to assess any injuries: is there a lot of blood loss? Is the animal conscious? Is it lying in an awkward position, indicating possible broken bones? Is it whimpering or crying in pain? Is it breathing abnormally fast? Although bear in mind that all frightened animals will be breathing very quickly and shallowly and small mammals tend to have faster heart rates anyway. If you can, check the gum colour of larger pets, such as dogs and cats, to see if they are still a healthy pink colour.

Here are some basic first-aid tips; these will apply mostly to dogs as they are the most common passengers in a vehicle:

Respiratory Failure

If your pet has very laboured breathing, has pale-coloured gums, a staring expression or is unconscious with dilated pupils then it is suffering respiratory distress and needs first aid immediately. Lay the dog on its side and assuming that it has no neck or back injury, gently pull its head and neck forward.

Open its mouth and pull the tongue forward so that it is not blocking the air passage down the throat. Check for any obstruction in the throat and clear any debris you may see. Next, take a deep breath and place your mouth over the dog’s mouth so that it forms an airtight seal – then exhale (always make sure that the dog is safely muzzled first!). Sit up and allow the dog’s chest to deflate, then repeat.

Do this 10-15 times per minute. You will know that breathing is improving when the dog’s gums regain some colour or if the dog starts struggling.


If your pet is bleeding heavily, apply pressure on the arteries supplying blood to the area, by pressing down with your hands. Only use a tourniquet as a last resort and never place one around the neck or over a joint or fracture. Also, never leave a tourniquet in place for longer than 10 minutes. As soon as you have applied one, the animal should be rushed to the vet. If the journey will take longer than 10 minutes then release it for 1 minute before re-tightening.

Don’t forget that an animal may be bleeding internally even if it seems fine on the outside – if you see any bleeding from the mouth or anus, bloody stools, bloody vomit or the animal is in coma or in shock, then there is a likelihood of internal bleeding. This is a serious emergency and the animal must be rushed to the vet immediately.


Shock can be fatal therefore it should be treated seriously. Shock is essentially the collapse of the circulatory system and fill happen when an animal has suffered a traumatic injury. The symptoms of shock include a weak and rapid pulse, shallow and rapid breathing, pale gums and a body that feels cool to the touch.

Shock is serious and requires immediately veterinary attention. In the meantime, help your pet by covering its body with a blanket to maintain its body temperature and keeping its head lower than its body, particularly if it is unconscious. Transport the animal with as little movement as possible, especially as there may also be the risk of broken bones. A back injury, in particular, must be handled with extreme care as any damage to the spinal cord can cause permanent paralysis.

Safety First

Finally, remember that a bit of safety precaution can go a long way in an accident so always make sure that your pets are safely restrained or contained when travelling in a vehicle, so that there is less likelihood of injury to themselves and to others, as well as easier handling should an accident occur.

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