If you have ever struck an animal while driving, you know how scary and heartbreaking it can be.
We hope this never happens to you, but there is a real risk that one day you may drive over an animal while driving.
It’s dreadful, awful, and sometimes downright heartbreaking.
Because these situations can be overwhelming and, unfortunately, are all too common, we put together this guide that will teach you the smartest and safest course of action to take if you ever hit an animal with your car.
Pull over with your hazards on as soon as there is a safe location to do so.
Take stock of your surroundings. Check the road, the volume of traffic, and where the animal is. If it is safe to do so, get out of your car to assess the animal.
Take a few deep breaths and talk yourself through your next steps.
Obviously, if you or anyone in the car is seriously injured due to the collision, the first thing you should do is call emergency services.
What Kind Of Animal Did You Hit?
The next steps you take will depend on what species of animal you hit with your car. An action plan to help an injured domestic dog or cat will differ significantly from what you can do for a dead squirrel.
If you hit a domestic animal such as a dog, cat, goat, cow, pig, or sheep, you should treat it as if you had hit a person.
Even if you were not at fault for the accident, you could get in legal trouble for driving away without attempting to help the animal and notifying authorities.
The law varies depending on the state you are traveling. Generally, though, since pets are considered personal property, you could be charged with animal cruelty or failing to notify the owner of property damage if you drive away.
Call the Authorities
Your next step should be to call the police and/or animal control for further advice and assistance.
Whether you are speaking with the police or animal control, they will likely ask you to assess the animal’s injuries.
Even if you’re not a veterinarian, you can look to see if the animal is breathing and bleeding. Watching to see if the animal’s body moves up and down is one of the best ways to check from a distance if the animal is still alive.
Remember that if it is alive, the animal is likely injured and scared, and may try to bite or scratch you if you get too close.
If you have a small dead wild animal such as a bird, squirrel, or snake on your hands, there’s unfortunately not much you can do. If the remains are in the roadway, safely move them off the road, so that scavengers aren’t at risk of themselves being hit by cars.
Take the Animal to the Vet
These next steps will depend on the kind of animal and the extent of their injuries. The animal control official you speak with will advise you what to do based on the situation.
If you are dealing with a small domestic animal like a cat or dog and you can safely transport it, and you may be asked to take it to the vet.
If you are taking the animal for help, don’t offer it any food or water, unless a trained professional tells you to do so. The animal may need treatment that involves an operation under anesthetic, and should not be ingesting food or liquids.
Wait for help
If the animal needs care, but you are unable to move it or transport it, then it’s essential to stay with the animal until help arrives.
If you leave the scene, animal control may not be able to find the exact location of the animal until it’s too late.
While you are waiting, cover the animal with a towel or a blanket to try to keep it warm and calm.
Ensure Your and the Animal’s Safety
If you are on a particularly busy road, others may stop to help. You can use this to your advantage to create a safety barrier between traffic and you and the animal.
If the animal is in the middle of the road, animal control may advise you to gently move the animal to the shoulder, where it is safer.
If the animal in question is large, this may not be possible. Additionally, wild animals can carry diseases, and you may not want to risk being bitten, scratched, or clawed.
If you hit a large animal, assess whether your vehicle is safe to drive or you need to organize a tow truck and transportation for yourself and any passengers.
We hope you never have to use this information, but accidents like this happen all the time, and it’s better to know what steps to take than to find yourself in a situation unprepared.
If you take one thing from this article, make it this: never drive away from an animal you hit. What you thought was a fox could be someone’s beloved cat. The bird you thought was dead might be injured and suffering. Follow these steps to help the animal, however, you can.
Johnathan David has been a reptile hobbyist since childhood. He has years of experience in herpetoculture and has cared for geckos (2 gargoyles), skinks (blue tongue) and a frog (poison dart).
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.