Cats are innate explorers, and little birds and mice are not the only victims of feline adventures; sometimes our free-spirited pets can injure themselves too. But what are the most common accidents that can happen outside our house?

One of our biggest worries, when we consider whether or not we should let our cats venture outdoors, is the risk of road traffic accidents, and that is a valid concern. A recent study by Conroy and colleagues (2019) reported that just over 4% of all cats attending emergency out-of-hours practices in the UK are victims of road traffic accidents, with males aged between six months and two years being overrepresented.

If your cat comes home with scuffed nails, there is a high likelihood they have been involved in a road traffic accident 

Those injuries are the result of fast and relatively prolonged friction between the claws and a hard surface like asphalt.

Road traffic accidents can result in internal injuries that are not always apparent. They can be extremely severe and, in some cases, even fatal. For this reason, any cat that has been hit by a car (or arrived home with scuffed claws), should be thoroughly examined by a veterinary surgeon who will investigate and attempt to detect them at early stages and institute appropriate treatment, increasing chances of survival and/or recovery.

Urgent at-home assessment of the cat with scuffed claws

At home, you can look at your cat without manipulating them to assess if their breathing has been affected, their mentation (how they respond to you and interact with the environment) and what their gait looks like. Abnormal breathing patterns in cats include open-mouth breathing, a dissociation between chest and abdominal breathing movements or asymmetry between the left and right side of the chest, for example. 

Brain injuries are possible and can lead to signs like circling, having different sized pupils, appearing dull, staring at walls or seizuring. Regarding gait, cats can become non-ambulatory (in which case you should carefully place them in a stable carrier and take them straight to the vets), become non-weightbearing on one of the limbs, drag one or more paws on the floor, swing their hips excessively or simple be reluctant to move or climb stairs.

Before attempting to touch, move or manipulate your pet…

Please, please remember an animal in pain and with possible head injuries may be unpredictable. Care is needed to make sure it is safe for them and for yourself. However, if your cat is walking and breathing appropriately and seems otherwise stable and well in themselves, you can approach them. You can have a quick overall check for skin wounds, and check the colour of the gums (cats’ gums are usually a little paler than ours but should still be pink). You can also look for broken teeth which can be painful and check the temperature of the extremities like paws and ears. Generally stroke your cat so see if they show signs of localised pain. This information will be useful when you make your appointment with the vets. It will help them to be better prepared and act quicker when you arrive with your pet. 

When travelling to the vets, your cat should be in a safe and stable cat carrier. 

If unstable, it is important you try to keep them warm. As animals in shock are usually unable to regulate their temperature and hypothermia is associated with a poorer prognosis in these patients.

Your cat will probably just need a check over, BUT…

…even serious injuries may not be obvious immediately while their adrenaline is pumping! They’ve made it home, so make sure they get that check over in case there is anything that needs urgent treatment.


Conroy, M., O’Neill, D., Boag, A., Church, D., & Brodbelt, D. (2018). ‘Epidemiology of road traffic accidents in cats attending emergency-care practices in the UK’. Journal of Small Animal Practice.

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