So, what is the most common cause of death in cats?
Kidney disease? Heart problems? Nope, it’s being hit by a car. By a long shot.
Unfortunately, vets are more than uncommonly faced with someone bringing in a cat that has been found on the road after being hit by a car. The cat is normally in shock and respiratory distress, and will inevitably have some degree of head trauma along with one or multiple bone fractures, internal bleeding and multiple organ damage.
This scenario is bad enough when it is the owner of the cat who brings them in, but much worse when it is not. As vets, out first priority is to asses the immediate prognosis, then stabilise the cat with intravenous fluids, antibiotics and fast acting steroids, and most importantly to alleviate the pain the animal is suffering. In some very unfortunate cases, the cat is put to sleep straight away if nothing can be done to save it.
If the owner is present, they are at least able to be part of the decision making process, and there to grieve appropriately if the worst happens. However, this is not the case in the majority of cases for two very simple reasons:
• Only somewhere between 32% and 68% of cats are microchipped in the UK (depending on the area of the country surveyed)
• The driver of a car involved in a road traffic accident involving a domestic pet is not obliged by law to stop and see if they can help
I have personally lost three cats this way – two of them died on impact, and the third spent 5 weeks in the teaching veterinary hospital I was a student at. In all cases, none of the drivers stopped. In fact in one case, I shouted for them to stop and they purposefully accelerated off.
The untold drama with all of this is that in the majority of cases, cats will mercifully die straight away, or, they will die later, alone and in pain at the side of the road. This is where the necessity of microchipping comes in. Even IF the driver is a good Samaritan who stops and manages to take the injured cat to a veterinarian, shelter or police station, the owner is never found because:
A) The cat has no microchip
B) The cat does have a microchip, but the owner’s details on the database are out of date (this is far more common that you think – owner’s frequently move house and don’t update their details straight away)
C) Ironically, pets are more likely to get lost when moving to a new home, making it more likely that they’ll be hit by a car
D) There is either no scanner available, or it does not read the microchip
What about the high percentage of cats that are microchipped but the driver does not stop?
What about the good Samaritan who does stop but there is no microchip or collar tag? It is also a traumatic experience for them to go through, especially knowing that they cannot inform the rightful owner.
In all of these cases, the end result is the same – the cat owner never ever finds out what exactly happened to their pet and is robbed of having full closure. This is a particular problem in families with young children, as learning to understand and cope with the loss of a pet is a very important part of their development.
From a vet’s point of view, it is even more distressing to find that the cat brought in after a RTA does not have a microchip, especially when you have been able to stabilise it but have no opportunity to discuss upcoming care and overall prognosis with the owner. Cats are incredibly resilient and plenty do make it through after being hit by a car, but without an owner present many end up being rehomed if possible, but at worst, put down.
So, PLEASE make sure your cat has a microchip, and keep your contact details updated!
Oh and one more thing…I wish you could hear the sound in a veterinary clinic of pure delight and relief when a microchip is found on a RTA animal (or a stray even) especially if it can be saved.
Pure joy. Simple. So do it.
Andrew Bucher MRCVS