lindsey-nielsen-sage-campbellThe screech of an animal injured in a car accident can pierce through double-paned kitchen window glass and send us instinctively racing outside to help. So it may surprise you to read the first step you should take when that happens.

Step #1: Keep Your Distance

No matter how hard it is to do, pause at least long enough to assess the scene from a safe distance.

Why? Your job as first responder starts with reducing any chance of further injury – to the animal and yourself.

“Be sure you are not putting yourself in danger with any further oncoming traffic,” saysSAGE Campbell’s Criticalist, Dr. Lindsey Nielsen. “Also, be aware that your pet might bite when you try to help it away from the accident scene since your pet may be in severe pain.”

If your pet is already safe from oncoming traffic, gather a few things before approaching the animal. 3 things you’ll find particularly useful are a blanket (or towel), cell phone and a helper. Don’t hesitate to involve strangers, but advise them so they won’t be hurt either.

Step #2: Approach Your Pet with Caution

An injured pet’s behavior is unpredictable so please be careful. Look for obvious injuries, but minimize contact and initial movement.

Animals instinctively flee danger. Try to avoid inciting that flight response, risking both additional injury and/or delayed medical help.

As much as you may want to do it, this is not the time to hug your pet or hold him close. Instead, try covering your pet with the blanket to help calm him.

Step #3: Triage Critical First Aid

An animal hit by a car can suffer a wide array of trauma, much of which can’t be seen with the naked eye. As first responder, your main job is to stabilize your pet enough to transport her to a veterinarian who can assess the full extent of the injuries and begin treatment.

A blanket can serve as oversized bandage, stretcher for transport and/or warmer against shock onset.

Call your primary veterinarian or SAGE Centers for advice. It’s a good idea to also verify your destination. Depending on time of day and/or extent of injury, your primary veterinarian may suggest you drive directly to the pet emergency clinic.

Tip: Ask your primary veterinarian for a 24/7 emergency clinic recommendation now — before you need it — and store that information in your cell phone.

Step #4: Avoid the Big Mistake

Common sense and knowledge about human first aid can go a long way to help your pet in an emergency.

The biggest mistake pet owners make is in believing what they see.

“Even if your dog or cat looks perfectly normal after being hit by a car, they should be evaluated by a veterinarian to assess any hidden injuries,” advises Dr. Nielsen.

Depending on location and force of any trauma, “hidden” injuries can range from damaged organs and internal bleeding to traumatic brain injury.

Explains Dr. Nielsen: “Pets often initially mask the full extent of their injuries. Instinctually they avoid appearing to be the weaker member of a pack or vulnerable. But there is also a surge of adrenaline that flows as a result of experiencing a traumatic event that can delay symptoms from presenting themselves.”

Waiting to seek medical help can result in additional medical complications that become more difficult (and expensive) to treat.

Step #5: Get Your Pet to the Vet

Where possible, transport your injured animal in a pet carrier or something similar, like a ventilated cardboard box, to minimize movement. Place larger animals in the back seat, away from the driver, and covering them with a blanket to help keep them calm.

Bring along a friend to help so that one of you can drive while the other focuses on the injured pet. Keep in mind that the jostle of the car may induce pain and/or fear in your animal.