First Aid for Electrocution Injuries in Dogs

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Puppy wrapped in Christmas lights
Puppy Wrapped In Christmas Lights

Puppies are often injured or killed by electrical shock. Lightening, fallen electrical cables, or faulty circuits offer opportunities for disaster. Most accidents result when the puppy chews on an electrical or telephone cord. This can happen at any time of year, but often the holiday lights from Christmas trees offer too much temptation.

The damage can be doubly problematic because the puppy may not show dangerous problems until long after the event. Sometimes electrical shock causes an erratic heartbeat or difficulty breathing several days after the accident.

Electrical Shock Injuries

Injury varies depending on the degree of the voltage and the pathway taken through the body by the current. Most household cases of electrical shock in puppies aren’t immediately deadly and may not be serious. Usually, electrocution only causes burns at the point of contact, usually the mouth area in dogs where they’ve chewed. In fact, veterinarians call this characteristic burned strip across the tongue an “electrical bite.”

The lungs often fill with water within twelve hours after the incident, due to electricity rupturing tiny capillaries in the lungs. The fluid which leaks into the lungs makes it difficult to breathe. You may not notice this for a day or two, but the puppy will have labored breathing, may cough, and become very anxious.

black dog biting brown twig
black dog biting brown twig

Current through the heart may prompt an irregular beat and circulatory collapse. A central nervous system injury may affect breathing, cause seizures and affect other bodily functions.

Unless treated promptly, the puppy may fall into a coma, suffer convulsions, and die. Pets who survive can suffer permanent nerve damage. The trauma typically causes shock and should be treated accordingly.

First Aid

  1. Shut off the power. Electrical current may cause muscle contractions that make your puppy bite down even harder and prevent it from releasing the cord. Shut off the current before you try to touch your puppy or you could get shocked yourself. If you don’t know how to shut off the main electrical supply, find rubber gloves and wear them to pull out the plug from the wall.
  2. Give CPR. If the puppy collapses and stops breathing, administer rescue breathing. Check for a heartbeat, too, by placing the flat of your palm over the puppy’s chest just behind the left elbow. If you don’t feel any heartbeats, you’ll also need to give CPR.
  3. Address seizures. Since the brain functions using electrical impulses, a shock could disrupt normal brain function and cause a seizure. This usually only lasts two or three minutes and isn’t nearly as serious as it looks. The dog shakes or trembles, may paddle with its paws and urinate or defecate. Light and sound may stimulate seizures to continue so just put a dark cloth over the puppy’s face and sit quietly without touching it until the seizure stops.
  4. Keep your puppy calm. When stressed, puppies need more oxygen. Damaged lungs from the shock mean stress can be dangerous. So don’t let your puppy move around, and avoid holding it because that also increases stress. Instead, put your puppy in a dark carrier or box in the car, and get to the emergency veterinarian.
  5. Offer ice. Mouth burns hurt, and licking ice can numb the pain like a natural anesthetic. Don’t offer ice unless your puppy is alert.

Veterinary and After Care

Electrical shock victims must be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible. Drugs are often used to stabilize an irregular heartbeat, and fluid therapy combats circulation problems and shock. Diuretic drugs help eliminate water in the lungs, and bronchodilatory drugs and oxygen therapy help the puppy breathe.

short-coated tan and black puppy close-up photography
short-coated tan and black puppy close-up photography
short-coated brown dog facing sideways
short-coated brown dog facing sideways
brown and white short coated dog on snow covered ground during daytime
brown and white short coated dog on snow covered ground during daytime

Mouth burns from electrical shock take a long time to heal because they’re wet, exposed to food or anything the puppy mouths, and tend to get infected. Some mouth burns need surgery to remove the damaged tissue. Antibiotics fight possible infections, and when mouth burns are severe, a feeding tube may need to be passed through the nose to bypass the damaged oral cavity.

A painful mouth can make puppies reluctant to eat. Until his mouth heals, try running the regular food through the blender with low-fat no-salt chicken broth to create a soup he can lap up. Also, ask your veterinarian about compounded medications from specialty pharmacies. A frozen ‘pup-cicle’ can combine antibiotics, local anesthetic, and cold to ease the discomfort of eating.

It's easier to prevent electrical shock than deal with the consequences. Puppies that are teething and chewing everything are at particularly high risk, but dogs of all ages investigate their world with their mouths.

Unplug appliances that aren't in use, and tape down computer cords to make them less tempting. Pet-proof your Christmas tree to keep puppies away from dangerous and tempting lights or other decorations. Use a dog repellent like Bitter Apple on dangerous items to keep them out of your dog's mouth. Watch your dog to prevent her from dangerous contact with electrical cords.