Owning a cat near a busy road can be a nerve-shredding experience for a pet owner. Cats are always at risk of being hit by speeding vehicles or hiding under cars and trucks. This rarely ends well for the feline, and not every driver is conscientious and caring enough to stop.
Keeping cats indoors is effective, especially at night when visibility is particularly poor. A bright, reflective collar will make it easier for vehicle drivers to see your cat. If you have a male cat, consider neutering them too. This will reduce their wanderlust, and your pet is likely to stay closer to your home.
Cats and roads will always be an extremely volatile combination. If you let your cat roam, there will always be a risk of an accident. We will look at how you can minimize these threats.
Do Cats Have Road Sense?
A study in the Canadian Veterinary Journal reveals a grim truth. Over half of all unexpected deaths in outdoor cats occur through road traffic accidents. Why is this the case?
Cats do not have road sense, in the way that humans do. We are taught as children to stop, look and listen. Felines get no such formal training. Some cats may stop and look both ways before crossing a road. These are the exception rather than the rule, however.
What cats do have is a highly evolved sense of self-preservation. Cats essentially live in survival mode, 24/7, always on alert for potential threats. The scent is the most prominent of these, which is a little problematic. Oncoming traffic does not emit a particular smell to your cat.
Felines will be alarmed by the noise of onrushing traffic. They will be instinctively afraid of fast-moving cars. Unfortunately, this can work against your cat. If your pet hears a loud noise and panics, they think, “danger – run.” If they’re not thinking straight, that could be headlong into traffic.
If your cat has always lived near noisy traffic, they may instinctively know to stay away. Ever since kittenhood, they will associate the traffic noise as frightening.
Sure, cats are curious, but they often have their limits. If you adopt an older cat, however, try to learn about their previous experience with roads. If they previously lived in the country, they could be oblivious to the dangers of traffic.
Can Cats be Taught the Dangers of Busy Roads?
Unfortunately, it’s tough to teach road sense to a cat. Even mothers do not pass this skill onto their kittens. It’s just beyond their realm of understanding.
Some cats learn about the dangers of cars and traffic the hard way. If they have a near miss, or survive an accident, they automatically become considerably more cautious.
This is a steep learning curve. One mistake or misjudgment can end very badly for your poor cat. It’s hugely inadvisable to rely on your cat learning about traffic by narrowly dodging it.
Try deterring your cat from crossing roads by squirting them with water when they approach. Never do this on a busy road with oncoming traffic. Your cat will likely bolt, possibly straight into a car.
Using a quiet street, however, may forge a negative connection between feline and road. It sounds a little cruel, but it’s certainly better than the alternative.
You could also try walking your cat on a leash. Not all cats react well to this, so don’t force it. Being restrained is anathema to many cats, who feel they should walk where they please.
Never drag your cat if they play dead. This will hurt them, and they’ll likely slip the leash. Felines are little furry Houdini’s, and will not do anything they do not want to.
If your cat allows leashed walking, however, train them to avoid the road. Pull them away when they get too close, and use an unmistakable, firm command word.
As a contrast, offer positive reinforcement when they avoid roads. It’s not failsafe, but if you’re consistent, the training may stick.
Alternative Ways to Keep Cats Safe from Cars
If you live near a busy road, you’ll need to take extra steps to protect your pet. These could include:
- Keeping your cat indoors, especially after dark.
- Restrict your cat to the back yard.
- Apply a high-visibility collar to your cat.
- Spay or neuter your cat.
Let’s take a look at each of these in more detail.
Keeping Your Cat Indoors or Restricting them to the Yard
This one comes down to simple logistics. If your pet is indoors, they will not encounter cars or other vehicles. This is especially important at night, when visibility is particularly poor for drivers.
If you provide everything that your cat needs at home, they should not want to wander. Ensure that your pet has plenty of food, water, scratching posts, litter trays, and entertainment. Attention and playtime will also go a long way to keeping your cat happy at home.
Even if you don’t want your cat to stay indoors 24/7, you could allow them into your backyard. Just erect a fence that keeps your cat within a safe perimeter.
This way, they can still enjoy the fresh air in a place of safety. Introduce your pet to your neighbors, too. You can ask them to bring your cat home if they manage to escape.
If you have engaged in road sense training, you can also practice this from your home. Watch your cat in the yard from a window, out of their sight. If they try to leave the yard, use your firm command to deter them.
If your cat acquiesces to your command and returns, reward them appropriately. If they don’t, consider the squirt gun method. Remember, however, you should never startle a cat near the road. This may inspire them to panic and run.
High Visibility Collars
Just like hikers and cyclists, a cat wearing a high visibility collar is easier to see in the dark. This helps drivers notice cats at a distance, and they can reduce their speed or stop accordingly.
Black cats benefit most from high visibility collars. Any feline that roams at night should wear one, however. It is the cheapest way of offering an extra layer of safety.
If your cat tolerates it, you could even consider a high visibility vest or jacket. Naturally, however, it remains safer just to keep your cat at home after dark.
Spaying and Neutering
If you have no intention of breeding your cat, spaying and neutering is advisable. This will protect outdoor cats from unplanned pregnancy, reduce aggression in males, and boost feline health.
Where spaying and neutering come in particularly handy is in traffic training. Put simply, an unfixed cat will want to roam more, and further. If your female is in heat, she’ll hunt high and low for a mate. If your male has not been neutered, he’ll go anywhere he detects a female in heat.
Once cats have been spayed or neutered, they are much less interested in wandering. Male cats, in particular, become far less territorial after the procedure.
An unfixed male considers an entire town his territory, but neutered tomcats stick to familiar terrain. This means that they’ll be less likely to cross over busy roads in the search for new conquests.
Why Do Cats Run in Front of Cars?
Cats often run in front of cars as in a, “fight or flight” response. When a cat is spooked, they’ll typically react in one of two ways. They’ll make themselves look as big and imposing as possible, possibly hissing for good measure, or bolt.
Sadly, the latter is more likely in the event of a sudden fright. A cat will not think to check their surroundings. They’ll just run from whatever scared them. This is why it’s important that a cat is never startled close to a road.
Another reason for cats leaping in front of cars is their hunting instincts. A cat may be chasing prey. Young cats, in particular, will not be deterred. They may blindly follow a small animal anywhere – including across a busy road. When a young cat’s bloodlust is up, there can be no stopping them.
As natural predators, however, cats also know how it feels to be prey. They will often let a potential predator almost reach them, then run across them. This means that the hunter needs to change direction sharply, or even stop. This gives the cat a running head start, and a chance to get away. If your cat thinks of a car as a larger animal, they’ll behave this same way.
Of course, this assuming that a cat is deliberately running into traffic. The truth is, felines successfully crossroads all the time. We don’t notice this. It’s the accidents and near misses that haunt us. It’s possible the cat is just repeating an activity they’ve completed a dozen times that day.
Are Particular Cats More at Risk of Being Run Over?
A study in Veterinary Record offers some interesting insights into this question. Their research breaks down as follows.
- Cats aged 7 months to 2 years are the most likely to be hit by cars. This age group accounted for 46% of all accidents. This likelihood reduces by 16% for every year of a cat’s age.
- Male cats are over twice as likely to be hit by cars as females, with a ratio of 62% to 38%.
- Cars rarely hit Purebreed cats. The amount for just 3% of statistics, with mixed breeds making up the remaining 97%.
- Cats that roam at night were considerably more likely to be hit by cars. 83% of accidents in the study took place at night,
- It’s not just busy, main roads that are dangerous. 36% of accidents took place on roads with very low or low traffic.
When we take a look at these results, it’s easy to apply logic to the findings. Visibility is always poorer at night. Purebred cats are more likely to remain indoors, preferring human company to exploring and hunting. Male cats, as we have discussed, tend to roam more – especially if unneutered.
We can only assume that older cats learn to understand the dangers of traffic over time. Senior cats also become more sedate, preferring to stay home and sleep rather than roam.
The findings of the study are indisputable. If you have a young male mixed breed cat, neutering and road training is highly advisable. Better yet, keep your cat at home.
Can Cats Survive Being Run Over?
The cat hit by car survival rate is higher than you may realize. Only 25% of cats are killed upon impact. Felines are tough little animals, and surprisingly resilient to trauma.
What happens next is pivotal. If your cat can still walk after the accident, they will not hang around. They will usually run away to the closest hiding place.
Note that we say the nearest hiding place, not home. Cats rarely like to let on that they have been injured. This is another reason why it’s helpful to introduce your cat to your neighbors. If somebody finds your cat in distress, you can find out faster and deal with it.
Of course, even if a cat survives the initial impact, that doesn’t mean they’re safe. It all depends on how severe the accident was, and how much damage was done. Fast action and urgent medical attention will often be required.
This means that it’s critical that you have a pet insurance policy. Don’t rely on a vet’s good nature to save your cat in a crisis. They will do everything they can to help. This does not stretch to completing complicated operations free of charge, though.
My Cat Has Been Run Over, What Do I Do?
The steps that need to be taken are as follows:
- See if your cat is breathing. Check for a heartbeat on the chest behind the elbow. Alternatively, hold one finger in front of your cat’s nostrils to feel for breath.
- If required, follow the HowStuffWorks guide to feline CPR. This entails 1/ placing the cat on its side. 2/ Clearing the airways of the mouth or throat. 3/ Tipping the cat’s head back gently, closing its mouth. 4/ Breathing air through the nostrils. 5/ Gently place your palm on the cat’s chest and press down around an inch. Do this thirty times. Repeat the breathing and compressions if required.
- If your cat is breathing, keep them warm. Wrap them in a towel and place them in a cat carrier.
- Get to a vet ASAP. Call ahead to ensure that your cat will be seen as a priority.
- If your cat is bleeding, attempt to bandage any wounds en route. Do not risk causing any further damage, though.
A pet being hit by a car is traumatizing, for animal and owner. Despite this, you must remain calm. Your cat will have enough to deal with. You can have your own breakdown later, when they’re safely being treated. You’ll need to keep your pet calm during this time.
What Will a Vet Do for My Cat?
This entirely depends on the extent of the damage. The first thing a vet will do is assess your cat. If there is an obvious and immediate need for surgery, this will be taken into consideration. The cat may have broken ribs or legs, internal bleeding, head injuries, shock or other concerns.
Your vet will discuss the next steps with you, including possible treatment. You’ll have to brace yourself for some potentially difficult conversations here. A vet will do anything they can to save an animal’s life. This may involve amputation of a limb if it will not heal, or worse.
We previously discussed the need for pet insurance, and times like this are why it’s critical. Every second counts when a car has hit your cat. Do you want to spend time haggling the cost of emergency surgery?
Some vets will arrange payment plans, but not all. Pet insurance takes the sting out of this situation. Consult the Humane Society if you’re worried about the financial impact of your cat’s accident.
Relaxation can seem impossible if you live near a busy road and have an outdoor cat. The curious and adventurous nature of felines means that they may always be at risk. You will be happier if your cat is at home, especially after the sun goes down.
If you struggle to contain your cat’s wanderlust, however, keep them as safe as possible. Do whatever you can to teach your cat road safety, and ensure they are visible.
You’ll have to be patient, and consistent. Road sense just isn’t built into a cat’s psyche. If you appeal to your pet’s survival instincts, however, you’re more likely to keep them safe.