Road traffic accidents happen. Whether it’s a minor fender bender or something more serious, if your pet is in the vehicle, you will have to assist them and keep them calm until other help arrives. Ensuring pets are restrained will help to minimize injuries and possibly reduce the severity of the situation. Here’s what you need to know.
While many states have laws that require pets to be restrained in a vehicle, they are not well enforced. It’s commonplace to see people driving with dogs sitting on laps or jumping all over the place in the backseat and even the front seat, where they could be injured by a seat bag deploying. Restraining a pet is common sense and can save both human and pet lives.
Why Pets Should Be Restrained in Vehicles
A pet can be seriously injured in a vehicle even if you aren’t traveling fast. According to statistics published by Toyota as part of a one-time campaign to educate pet parents about pet safety in vehicles, even at a sedate speed of 35 mph, if the driver brakes suddenly, a 60-pound dog turns into a 2,700-pound projectile. Worst case scenario, a pet is killed crashing into the windshield or a human passenger is injured or killed when the dog crashes into them. Pets who are ejected from the vehicle or who jump out of an open window can cause an even bigger traffic incident by running into the path of oncoming cars. The Automobile Association of America (AAA) further endorses the case to restrain pets, claiming that unrestrained pets are the third biggest distraction in cars after cell phones and dash dining.
While a restrained pet can also be hurt in a vehicle, at least they remain in place until you can attend to them or help arrives. An unrestrained pet, dazed and frightened, is likely to bolt from the scene even if injured and runs the risk of getting lost.
Checking They Are Okay
“In the event of a vehicle accident, it is important to use all your senses — sight, sound, smell and touch – to assess the damage to you and your pets,” says pet health and safety coach Arden Moore, founder of Pet First Aid 4U. “Did you hear your dog or cat cry out? Are they whimpering? Growling? Or being quiet? Dogs and cats can smell our emotional states, so it is vital to do your best to stay calm and speak in a confident tone to your pets.”
Moore adds that it’s important to avoid speaking in a pampering baby tone, as that can unintentionally spike levels of fear, anxiety, and stress in pets. “Say the pet’s name and say, ‘I’ve got this’ or ‘I’m here for you,’” she recommends. “Move slowly and with purpose. Remember, even the sweetest dog or cat when injured can bite you, so make sure you safely approach them from their back and never go eye-to-eye when assessing the pet’s injuries,” Moore warns.
If Your Pet Does Run Away
Have photographs of your pets on your cell phone along with a note in the phone with any detailed descriptions and information such as your phone number and specific pet medical issues. That way you will have it on hand to immediately give to first responders or anyone stopping to help. It also means you can get the word out quickly on social media.
If you and your pet are in an auto collision, and your pet runs away, stay calm. Don’t blindly run after your pet into traffic. See which direction your pet is heading in. When it’s safe, you can follow. Shouting your dog’s name will scare them, so use a gentle tone to coax them back to you, or lure them with treats or toys if possible.
Apart from having a first aid kit in the car that is appropriate for both pets and people (you can purchase one or create your own), Moore advises always having spare leashes in the vehicle to use as makeshift restraints, a large bath towel for restraining an injured cat or small dog, and a large durable plastic shopping bag such as those available from IKEA. Pre-cut the sides so you have a makeshift gurney with handles to transport a large injured dog. It’s also a good idea to have bottles of water to clean wounds and flush eyes.
When to Administer CPR
“If you stomp, clap, and say your pet’s name out loud and there is no response within 10 to 15 seconds following an accident, you should begin CPR,” Moore says. “Every second counts.”
Be prepared by taking a pet first aid course that teaches proper CPR techniques to use with animals. For instance, although humans receive CPR while on their back, pets will be lying on their side. And blowing too hard as you give life-saving breaths can cause a pet’s lungs to rupture. A pet first aid class can offer appropriate demonstrations, so you know what to do.
Moving Injured Animals
If possible, pull over safely to the side of the road and immediately put on your hazard lights. If you are able to do so safely, exit from the driver’s side and immediately go to the passenger side to reduce risk of being hit by oncoming cars. Make sure dogs are leashed securely and cannot slip out of collars. Large towels can be used to wrap injured pets to immobilize them, keep them warm, and prevent them from escaping and running. To transport, support their head and neck and carefully roll them onto a makeshift gurney such as the the IKEA bag option. You can also consider using a retractable rear trunk car security cargo shield if the vehicle has one or shopping netting (taking the pet’s weight into account) to transport them safely to another vehicle to be taken for medical assistance.
If you are in your neighborhood, phone your veterinarian or local 24-hour emergency hospital in advance. If not, first responders or a passerby may be able to help with relevant information.
Does Auto Insurance Cover Pet Accident Injuries?
Some auto insurance companies do offer coverage of veterinary fees for injuries sustained in an automobile accident. For example, if you have collision coverage on your personal auto policy with Progressive, they offer free coverage for pet injuries resulting from auto accidents and will cover vet bills up to a specified limit. If you travel regularly with pets in your vehicle, it’s a good idea to see what coverage is available to you and to regularly check the amount the company will pay out.
If you have a pet insurance policy, see what emergency coverage your policy offers. Some offer coverage at any emergency veterinary hospital, including centers for after-hours treatment.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.
Sandy Robins is an award-winning pet lifestyle journalist and author of For the Love of Cats, Fabulous Felines: Health and Beauty Secrets for the Pampered Cat, The Original Cat Bible, and Making the Most of All Nine Lives: The Extraordinary Life of Buffy The Cat.
Published January 18, 2021