Research distinguishes between injuries from accidents, abuse

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In dogs and cats, blunt force trauma causes different types of injuries depending on whether the trauma is accidental, according to research from Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The findings may help veterinarians distinguish accidental injuries from animal abuse because owners of abused animals often report a cause that differs from the actual cause. Motor vehicle accidents, for instance, are often falsely cited when it’s abuse that caused skeletal injuries. The study compared records from 50 criminal cases of abuse provided by the ASPCA with records of 426 cases of motor vehicle accidents from the Foster Hospital for Small Animals at the Cummings school.

Abused animals generally had more head injuries and rib fractures as well as tooth fractures and claw damage. Pets involved in motor vehicle accidents tended to suffer skin abrasions or injuries involving tearing of the skin from underlying tissue, lung collapse and bruising, and hind end injury, the last possibly as a result of running away from a moving vehicle.

A clear difference in rib fracture patterns was found, with abuse injuries generally causing fractures on both sides of the body, while rib fractures caused by motor vehicle accidents tended to appear on only one side of the body, with the ribs closer to the head more likely to be fractured. Evidence of older fractures was more likely to be found in victims of nonaccidental injury.

The Journal of Forensic Science published “Characterization and comparison of injuries caused by accidental and non-accidental blunt force trauma in dogs and cats” online ahead of the September print edition. The study is available here.