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Kitten Versus Automobile

January 20, 2011
black short-hair kitten painful face
Painful Face of a Kitten

Little Kitten in Pain After Car Accident

Shadow never had a chance.  The car hit her while she was watching a squirrel flitting among acorns on the opposite side of the road.  Head down, eyes fixed, kitty butt high in the air; Shadow thought she was invisible behind a small pile of autumn leaves.  Problem was, she was right.

The driver did not see the little kitten by the side of the road.  As Shadow darted out to surprise the squirrel, the SUV surprised her.  The driver never noticed, never stopped.

The driver following the SUV saw the whole thing, like a slow-motion horror film unfolding.  He had no choice but to watch.  He stopped to look for the thrown kitten in the leaves.

Signs of Automobile Trauma in a Cat

  • Frayed claws, often with tarmac under the nails
  • paralyzed hind end
  • blood from nose, eyes, or ears
  • heavy, sudden panting breathing and weakness

Shadow the Kitten, Fractured Pelvis and Ripped Up Her Inner Leg

Inside of left hind leg shows pink and white tendons and connective tissue where the skin is torn and open

Exposed white glistening rope-like tendons

Massive Injury to the Leg

Shadow was in shock.  Pale gums.  Panting.  Glazed look on her face.  Eyes focussed inward and toward the back of her body.  Ears pointing back and away from the room, away from the external stimulus of people talking and the hospital beeping equipment.  She did not even acknowledge a barking dog on a table next to her in the triage area.  She was so focussed on her pain and disbelief.

The inner right hind leg skin was torn in several places, with exposed tendons and peeled back fur.

Her hind legs and tail did not move, although she would meow in pain when the toes were touched.

“If you think a cat is paralyzed in the back end and you pinch a paw and the leg pulls up, that does not rule out paralysis.  The spinal cord can be severed in half and a local nerve circuit going from the leg to the spine and looping back to the leg can perform a reflex called the withdrawal reflex without the brain ever being involved,” says Doc Truli.

Fractured Pelvis in a Kitten

The left acetabulum is shattered.  The pubis is cracked inhale and the two sides of the pelvis are squashed together crunching the rectum and the nerves in the hips

Shattered, Displaced Pelvis in a Kitten

Shadow’s pelvis was in bad shape.  She could not move her tail or her legs.  Doc Truli picked up her tail and let it go again.  It flopped down on the table.  No cat just lets their tail flop.

X-Rays Are Always Displayed Left on the Right and Right on the Left

The radiograph is shown with the right side on the left of your picture, and the left on the right nearest this print.  In radiology, the tradition and training dictates standardized presentation of radiographs in this orientation in order to decrease the chances of missing an observation.

Therefore, the left hip joint is on the right of the picture.  And it is shattered into at least 5 pieces.  The parallel wings of the pelvis – the two sides – should form a box around the pelvic canal.  The rectum, urethra, nerves and blood vessels travel through the pelvic canal. In Shadow’s case, you can see that the crooked misshapen rectangular box.  The bottom bone shows a fracture on the left of the picture and the sides appear to close in to each other from front to back.  The only way a solid boney box collapses in is if there are multiple matching breaks along the structure.

Believe it or not, these injuries would not always be deadly in a cat.  Some cats, after 72 hours of rest and painkillers and nutritional support, begin the slow process of regaining neurologic and motor function to the hind end.  After 6-8 weeks, they are functionally normal.

Massive Head Trauma

In Shadow’s case, she also suffered massive head trauma. One eye was filled with red blood.  Half of her teeth on the right upper arcade had been knocked out of her head by the force of the auto impact.  Her right eardrum was shattered and there was blood in her ear canal.  Shortly after starting on her painkillers, she began to seize.

Seizures and trauma are treatable in some cats with intensive hospitalization.  In Shadow’s case,she had suffered multiple massive traumatic injuries to most of her organ systems, including her bones, back, bladder, chest and heart, and brain and head, not to mention her teeth.   Her prognosis for recovery was guarded (the worst level, except “grave.”)  The good samaritan and Doc Truli had to make a fast decision to spare her further suffering.  We let her go with a painless shot of medication designed for such a purpose.

How Did We Know Her Name?

No microchip beeped on the scanner.  No collar graced her little kitty neck.  The whole incident took place in about 3 1/2 minutes.  Doc took the pelvic radiographs after death to teach the technicians and VirtuaVet readers about auto trauma, as she did not want to make the kitty suffer for the sake of x-rays that would not help her live longer.

24 hours after the event, a woman came to the hospital asking if a black kitten had been found.  Doc Truli explained where she was found and about the accident.  We all decided Shadow was the missing kitten.  While sad, Shadow’s mom was grateful someone brought her in for medical care and that Shadow was not made to suffer.


The good samaritan made a donation of some amount he felt he could afford to give to help the kitty.  Doc Truli covered the rest.  The hospital did not ask the real owner the next day for a penny.  Many veterinarians shoulder these decisions and expenses every day.

Next time your vet presents you with a bill for services, consider leaving a donation to help pets in need.  If you hesitate in any way, perhaps you are going to the wrong vet!

Related VirtuaVet Story

Kitten in pain after auto accident

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Mindy permalink
    January 21, 2011 11:13 pm

    Thank you! You know, you’re right…I need to stop looking for problems! My vet said they are eating a very good food and he is a highly regarded GI specialist. On just 1-2 teeny-tiny doses of metronitazole each week Phoebe & Zoey are diarrhea-free with only occasional single-incident vomiting. I need to stop worrying and just enjoy my babies! :o)

  2. January 20, 2011 2:29 pm

    So sad. This is the reason I always have kept my cats inside, and wish others would consider doing it as well, to avoid such a needless tragedy.

  3. Mindy permalink
    January 20, 2011 1:17 am

    Poor baby! Shadow was fortunate to have been helped by the good samaritan and you were so kind to cover the rest. Did Shadow’s mom tell you why he was outside all by himself?

    • January 20, 2011 6:27 pm

      Hi Mindy!
      Thank you for joining our discussion.
      Your question is pointed.
      Many, many people believe a cat is only happy if allowed to go outside and “be a cat.” Even in the face of tragedy, they give the next cat the same lifestyle.
      I myself, have always only had strictly indoor cats. VirtuaCat thinks the window is 2D and he has no idea what open blue sky over his head looks like. He and I like it that way.
      I’m usually the kind of doctor who tries to understand why people think or believe or do what they do, sometimes to a fault.
      In regards to indoor versus outdoor cats, I believe that the outdoor lifestyle is fraught with danger. Dog attacks, deadly infectious diseases, accidents. The statistics show an average lifespan of 3 years for outdoor cats and 12 years for indoors. These statistics fail to sway people who let their cats out.
      Let’s embark on a thought experiment (as Ursula LeGuinn would say). The diseases and life chances of the outdoor cat are tragic, total, and deadly.
      The diseases of indoor cats feel essentially blameless. They are insidious diseases of degeneration and emotional and behavioral adaptation. Obesity, Periodontal disease, Diabetes mellitus, Cancer (If an American pet lives to be 8, half of this group dies of cancer), degenerative joint disease, allergies (even allergies to life-nourishing food). These are diseases in which it is difficult for the human to point a finger at themselves and feel guilty.
      The outdoor illnesses inflict guilt. “If I wouldn’t have let him out, the neighbor’s dog would not have killed him.” So which kind of guilt do you feel better about?
      In this crowded, human-dominated world of technology and toxins, clearly an indoor kitty is a safer, protected kitty. Given proper exercise and emotional stimulation, who’s to say what “natural” really is these days?
      This kitten “naturally” getting smooshed by a car while hunting seems irresponsible on the part of the human who is his caretaker.

      • Mindy permalink
        January 21, 2011 1:39 am

        I completely agree with you, which is why my 2 cats are indoor-only. The only way I would ever let a cat outside is if I had a safe enclosure like the one Molly was able to create at Mythicbells with cat-safe fencing. I currently live in a condo and I’m moving to an unfenced yard that literally drops down about 10 feet into a brook (where it’s not uncommon to see a fox, rabbits, a group of raccoons, a deer family, wild turkeys, etc. right in the middle of suburbia). I honestly get so upset when I see cats outside as they are in SO much danger. Like VirtuaCat, my girls don’t have any idea what they are missing. They delight in nice days as they get to sit in the sills of the open (screened) windows and on snowy days/nights like tonight, they love to chase snowflakes through the glass. My only worry for them continues to be food as I am still unsure staying with the natural corn/wheat free dry food their IBD is stabile on is the right choice over switching them to wet food. I have read so much that points to a wet diet, but my vet (a GI specialist) assured me the food they are eating is very good. Although neither sister is overweight at 7 1/2 years old, I still worry about obesity and diabetes in the future.

      • January 21, 2011 10:06 pm

        Hi Mindy!
        Are you satisfied with your vet’s advice?
        Yes, about the age. 9-12 is young old, 12-15 is middle old and 16 and up are “bonus rounds.”
        Have your vet give Vitamin B12 injection. He can teach you how to do it weekly at home (subcutaneous shot). Some cats’ diarrhea will not clear up unless they get the B12.
        Good Luck,
        Doc Truli

      • January 21, 2011 10:11 pm

        You know, about the food. You have to take all you know and feel and observe about the kitties and combine with your veterinarian’s expertise and pick the best for them that you know how at this time and place. If they are healthy and happy and the IBD is stable, are you looking for problems to fix?
        Yes, wet food is better for cats. Yes, home cooked, or raw with living enzymes and nutrition is great. When I read the research and consulted with board certified veterinary nutritionists, I was horrified that VirtuaCat was eating bagged dry food only.
        Guess what? After fruitless trips to the farmer’s market for fresh gizzards, fish, etc. After 10 organic holistic cat foods. After about 20 brands and varieties of canned foods, he wins! This cat will not touch any of the so-called “healthy” stuff. He’s 15 and going strong so far.
        Do the best you can and be happy. Worry isn’t good for the cats either.
        Doc Truli


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