Jack, a 8-year-old mixed-breed, mid-size dog, was brought to our Mount Pleasant Emergency and Critical Care facility about two weeks ago.
He had been out playing when he suddenly became severely lame on a hind leg. This is not at all unusual, and if you are a betting person, the odds-on favorite is that the anterior cruciate ligament has ruptured. That particular injury is the most common cause of an acute lameness in an adult dog.
My (Henri Bianucci) thorough physical examination confirmed the diagnosis, and the discussion turned to treatment. For dogs who weigh more than 10 or 15 pounds, surgical stabilization is the best recommendation. Jack weighed about 40.
In preparation for the procedure, it was suggested that some basic blood work be performed. The report indicated a problem with the kidneys, which could be made worse with anesthesia and surgery. So, the decision was to treat the kidney problem and re-evaluate for surgery in a couple of weeks.
Meanwhile, we were contacted by a local news program working on a news story about car safety for pets, which was prompted by a recent case in which a dog was killed in a car accident. As we awaited the news crews arrival, we learned that Jack would not be coming in for his consultation, because, tragically, he, too, had died in a car wreck.
The fact is that each year we receive patients that have been injured in car incidents that range from abrupt stops to rollovers. The results range from cuts and bruises to fatalities.
Recent statistics indicate that there are approximately six million car accidents reported annually in the United States. At least 25 percent of these included injuries, with more than 30,000 fatalities.
A pet in the car is subject to the same forces that we are, but their likelihood of injury or death is actually higher. One study indicated a mortality rate of approximately 20 percent for dogs presented to the hospital with injuries following a car accident.
The explanation is that most of the time, greater than 84 percent (according to one study), pets are not properly restrained in cars. This means that they can be launched like a projectile, posing a serious risk to them, and anyone else in the car. This also greatly increases their risk of being thrown from the car, in which case they may be injured or killed, or they may be hit by passing traffic, or run away from the scene.
An unrestrained pet can be propelled to create a force many times greater than its actual weight. One report indicated that a dog thrown in a 25 mile per hour accident can create a force 40 times greater than its actual weight. Thus a 60-pound dog could generate a 2,500-pound force on impact, injuring or killing itself or another occupant.
Airbags are another danger for pets. Whether riding on an owner's lap or in the front seat, even if contained in a cage, pets are almost literally sitting on a bomb. In a collision, an electrical impulse causes the detonation of a chemical called sodium azide. The explosion occurs in 0.03 seconds. This chemical reaction creates a violent and forceful explosion, which is why we are advised not to place small children in the front seats of cars, and why our pets do not belong on our laps or in the front seat.
Pets roaming free in a car are a distraction. Numerous surveys attest to the fact that people engage with their pets while driving. Whether petting, talking to, or giving treats, they are not looking at the road. So, in addition to being at greater risk of injury, an unrestrained pet actually increases the odds of an accident occurring.
No article about vehicle safety would be complete without mentioning that it's plain stupid and irresponsible to have dogs riding unsecured in the back of pickup trucks. I can’t imagine an explanation is necessary.
The advice is simple. Whether in the car or the bed of a pickup, your pet should be secured with a crash-tested restraint, which can be easily acquired at pet supply outlets or online. Never allow your pets in the front seat or on your lap. If your pet is in a carrier, be sure it is not in the front seat and that it is properly restrained as well.
If your pet is loose in the backseat, as undoubtedly the majority will continue to be, keep the window opening narrow to keep them from falling out. Yes, that happens a lot.
We humans fancy ourselves the smartest animals on the planet, yet it takes us generations to recognize the dangers of smoking and driving without seat belts or child safety seats.
We actually have to legislate seat belt use to achieve widespread acceptance. The same goes for drunk driving. We can’t stop ourselves from dangerous behavior, so we actually have to pass laws to save us from ourselves.
Just when we start to get people on board about alcohol and seat belts, we add texting to our behind-the-wheel activities, despite the proven risk to ourselves and others. It’s like we think we are exceptions and somehow immune to the dangers. Well, we are not, and neither are our pets.
Yes, the odds are that, on a given car ride, everything will be fine. But the odds also indicate that if an accident occurs, an unrestrained pet will be injured or killed.