Cats & Traffic

Eric R. Pope, DVM, MS, Diplomate ACVS


|February 2004

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Getting hit by a car is a common cause of injury and death of domestic cats, but few studies on road accidents have been done. A pilot study on the longevity and causes of death of cats in the United Kingdom found that road accidents were the fourth most common cause of death and that cats killed in accidents were on average younger than those that died of other causes. In the current study (conducted between March 2000 and February 2001), 6 U.K. veterinary practices collected data on 117 cats involved in accidents and compared them with data reported via owner questionnaires on 1070 other cats to ensure that the cats that had been in accidents were representative in terms of age, sex, pedigree status, and coat color. Cats that had been allowed outdoors but had never been in an accident (796 cats) were used as controls.

Cats that had been in an accident differed from the control population with respect to age, sex, and pedigree status: Odds of an accident decreased by 16% for every 1-year increase in age; males (intact and neutered) were almost twice as likely as females (intact and neutered) to be in an accident; and only 29% as many pedigreed cats were hit as nonpedigreed cats. Cats between the ages of 7 months and 2 years were at highest risk. There was no conclusive evidence from this study that black cats are more likely to be in accidents because of such factors as poor visibility to motorists, but 44% of the cats in accidents were either black or mainly black and white compared with 35% of the control population. There were also proportionately more neutered male cats in accidents, although neutering has historically been considered to reduce the behaviors that put tomcats at risk.

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In part 2 of this study, cat lifestyles were examined via follow-up questionnaires to determine what other factors influenced whether a cat was struck by a vehicle. Questions asked included how much time a cat spent outdoors in the daytime and at night, how long it had lived at its current address, levels of traffic near the home, where the accident occurred, and whether the cat wore a reflective collar. When adjusted for age, the cats that had been in an accident did not differ from controls in amount of time spent outdoors or length of time at their current address. Accidents were evenly distributed throughout the year, with a trend toward more accidents at night. Of accidents with known locations, 48% occurred just outside or near the cat's home. Proportionately more cats that had been struck by vehicles wore reflective collars and/or lived in areas with higher levels of traffic than control cats, although few cats in either group lived in high-traffic areas. Future studies should include studies of home range, age at neutering, at what age a cat was allowed outdoors, and susceptibility of different breeds to traffic accidents.

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It is interesting that the sex distribution of cats hit by cars was similar in this U.K. study to that found in a previous U.S. study (62% male/38% female and 63% male/37% female, respectively). However, there was almost a complete reversal in reproductive status (91.5% neutered in the U.K. study vs. 90% intact in the U.S. study). It certainly lends credence to the author's assertion that factors other than reproductive status are more important in explaining the greater risk for young male cats being involved in road accidents.

Study of factors that may predispose domestic cats to road traffic accidents: part 1. Rochlitz I. VET REC 153:549-553, 2003.

Study of factors that may predispose domestic cats to road traffic accidents: part 2. Rochlitz I. VET REC 153:585-588, 2003.

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