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Kitten Versus Automobile

2011 January 26
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

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