Your cat is hit by a car. You incorrectly believe he is dead. You bury him.

If your cat has been badly injured and is unconscious don’t presume he is dead.

Bart a cat who was inadvertently buried alive after being hit by a car
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Bart in recovery. Photo: The Human Society of Tampa Bay.

This could happen to anyone but it appears to happen very rarely. But do we know how rarely? Bart, a black-and-white cat was hit by a car in Tampa, USA. His owner buried him. Bart had appeared lifeless. “Appeared” must be the important word because the owner – we don’t know his/her name – decided Bart was dead. Update: the owner is Ellis Wayne Hutson, 52. He says he was too distraught to bury his pet so he asked a neighbor to do it for him. He watched as his neighbour buried Bart.

Actually he was still alive and after being buried (not too thoroughly, it seems) Bart dug himself free after he regained consciousness and went home. He was in a mess and in a lot of pain with a destroyed eye, broken jaw and facial wounds but distinctly alive. It must have been a shock to the owner who had buried him. I bet he thought he’d seen a ghost.

The veterinary bill to treat him was too expensive for the owner so the Human Society of Tampa Bay stepped in. Dusty Albittron, a neighbour is raising funds only for further treatment. Her target was $1,500. So far she has raised around $4,000!

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The vets believe that he’ll make a decent recovery after losing his damaged eye.

The story begs the question, do we check that our cat is deceased if he has been involved in a car accident and looks dead?

I think this is a serious question because a cat could well be unconscious but breathing shallowly.

It is very easy to make a presumption that your cat has been killed on the road. Do you know how to check for signs of life? What if he is still alive and what if you jump to the conclusion he is dead but do nothing for a while. You decide to take him to your vet later on and then have him cremated. Let’s say your cat remains alive but unconscious for the next three hours. He could be saved with emergency veterinary attention but you miss the moment. He dies.

You don’t know he died three hours after you found him and brought him home in a cardboard box.

It seems that if there is any doubt whether your cat is alive he should be taken to the vet as an emergency and decisions and actions taken from there. That should be the default position.

Do most people do that?


Is your cat breathing? Feel the his breath against your cheek. Check for rise and fall of his chest. Does he have a pulse? You can feel for the femoral artery which is located in the groin. Alternatively, the heartbeat can be detected by placing ‘your hand under and around the cat’s chest an compress very lightly to feel for a heartbeat’.

If your cat is breathing pull out the tongue and clear the airway and observe. If your cat is not breathing check for a pulse. If there is a pulse start [weaver_popup_link href=’’ h=’800′ w=’1300′]artificial respiration.[/weaver_popup_link] If your cat is not breathing start CPR – cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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14 Responses


  2. Dee (Florida) says:

    Awesome article.
    As a nurse, it would never have occurred to me that anyone wouldn’t be able to distinguish living from dead.
    I’m very surprised.

  3. NANCY SCHWOPE says:


  4. Michele S. says:

    Once in an episode of QI they mentioned that many owners of pet goldfish mistakenly assume their pet is dead when they find it floating upside down at the top of the tank.

    Apparently this happens mainly due to swim bladder disease or constipation. Both of which can be treated. Makes you wonder how many poor goldfish were flushed down the toilet by owners believing them to be dead 🙁

  5. Michele S. says:

    For mammals, body temperature should be another give away as to whether or not the animal is still alive.

    Whilst living in Cyprus my beloved Holly had to be put to sleep. Since I was taking her body home for burial, the vet very gently arranged Holly into a curled-up, sleeping position. (She explained that rigor mortis would set in very quickly.) I had her on my lap, wrapped in a blanket, during the 20 minute journey home and by the time we arrived her body felt cold and hard 🙁

  6. Ruth (Monty's Mom) says:

    I worried about this possibility immediately when Tippy got hit by a car in 1987. My mom assured me that she checked for a pulse and for breathing. But she said that Tippy’s skull was crushed on one side in a way that pretty much assured a recovery would not be possible anyway. I tried to dig her up to make sure and to say goodbye, even to the lifeless body that was left, but my parents wouldn’t let me do that. I always felt like I wish I’d seen her body, but Mom found her in the very early morning hours and buried her before I woke up to go to work.

    I was the one who let Tippy out in the middle of the night. I would never let Monty out in the middle of the night, and believe me, he begs to go out at all hours of the day and night. I wish we’d have provided an enclosure for Tippy, sort of like what Monty has– a fenced area she could enjoy on her own, but otherwise she could have just been out with us when we were out. I believe in giving a cat that outdoor experience if it’s possible, but that doesn’t have to mean 24/7 access, which means unsupervised time out there. I keep a close eye on Monty, even if I am not out with him every second. It was just so different with our cats when we were kids. Our cats had their own mysterious lives outside, a completely wild existence that had nothing to do with their lives with us. One cat liked it so much he just didn’t come back. We didn’t even really feed our cats that much because they weren’t hungry. They were eating their kills. Cat food was just a supplement or something on the days their hunt was not successful. Of course, that’s sort of the ideal life for a cat. But it isn’t an ideal world and there are automobiles and cats don’t necessarily stay out of the road. Which leads to such sad circumstances as the above story.

    • Ruth, I have a similar feeling about my darling late cat Missie. She was killed on the road in 1994. I found her and buried her but I have this irrational thought that she might have been alive. I am a different cat caretaker these days. What happened to Missie would no happen now.

      • Ruth (Monty's Mom) says:

        Oh, that’s so sad, Michael. It’s too bad you had to go through that experience. I am definitely a different type of cat caretaker today too. It sort of makes Monty into a different type of cat.

        He is more reliant on me and might even have a deeper bond with me. Our cats when I was growing up were so much more independent. They were essentially wild animals that consented to come into the house or to spend time with us sometimes. They were amazing hunters and climbers. Monty has difficulty with hunting and seldom gets a kill. After five and a half years he finally seems to know how to get down from a tree by going down butt first. If I am nearby he’ll meow pitifully asking for help to get down. Sometimes I’ll bend over under the tree and let him jump down onto my back and then onto the ground, or he’ll jump down onto my shoulder. If I tell him to get his own self down and walk away he will figure it out.

        I can remember Tippy way up near the top of a tree and never worrying a bit about her. The thought that she would not know how to get down would have seemed absurd.

        Monty doesn’t seem to know how to be a cat as much as he knows how to be my little boy. He’s adept at pulling my strings for extra snacks. Hunting and climbing are a challenge for him. I think I made him that way. But he is safer sticking closer to me.

  7. Elisa says:

    I have that story I promised you and should have it ready for Friday but as you can see by my comments the spelling police are after me so please double check it once I email it to you 🙂

  8. Elisa says:

    Gonna have a lot of people worried about whether their cat was dead.

    Sent you an email on a topic you’ll want to bite into. 🙂

  9. Elisa says:

    I had this happen with ba hamster. Found him dead in his cage one night and I covered him with bedding after not detecting a heartbeat. I planned to bury him the next day when it was light outside. I went to bed and when I got up the next morning he was running around like nothing had happened

  1. September 26, 2020

    […] Your cat is hit by a car. You incorrectly believe he is dead. You bury him. […]

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