Study differentiates injuries from animal abuse versus car accidents

If you see a canine patient with severe rib and head injuries whose cause of injury is unknown, how can you distinguish an accident from abuse? A new study hopes to help.

Using data from criminal cases of animal abuse, researchers from Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University (Cummings School) and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) demonstrated that motor vehicle accidents and non-accidental blunt force trauma cases in dogs and cats present with different types of injuries.

The study was published online in the Journal of Forensic Sciences on March 3.

The researchers compared records from 50 criminal cases of abuse provided by the ASPCA's Humane Law Enforcement Division with a sample of 426 motor vehicle accident cases from the Foster Hospital for Small Animals at Cummings School.

This is the first study of its kind to look at two populations of animals with known causes of injuries.

"Our research has found that non-accidental injury and motor vehicle accidents cause different patterns of skeletal and soft tissue injury," said Nida P. Intarapanich, one of the study's lead authors and a fourth-year veterinary student at Cummings School.

The researchers found that 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 in which the skin is torn from tissue, lung collapse and bruising, and hind end injury, which the researchers suggest could be a result of running away from a moving vehicle.

A clear difference in rib fracture patterns was demonstrated, 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 fracture.

The researchers also found that victims of non-accidental injury were more likely to have evidence of older fractures, a pattern that is similarly seen in human abuse cases.

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