What are Electrical Injuries?
While some shocks can be minor and merely cause discomfort for your cat, many electrical injuries are often very serious and even life-threatening. It is best to allow a veterinarian to assess the severity of a shock. If you have reason to believe that your cat has suffered an electrical injury, it is extremely important that you take your pet to your veterinarian or to a emergency veterinary hospital immediately.
When a cat comes in contact with an electrical current, depending upon the strength of the electrical current and the duration of the shock, the electricity can pass through the tissues of the cat, damaging nerves, muscles, organs, skin, and other tissues by generating dangerously excessive heat. Pulmonary edema, which is the leaking of fluid into the lungs, can occur as a result of the damage to blood vessels. Severe burns are also likely at the areas of the body where the electrical current entered the body and where it left the body. Common areas of burns are the paws, tail, lips, tongue, and mouth. The burned tissues are usually deeply damaged or deadened completely.
Symptoms of Electrical Injuries in Cats
The surest way to be certain that your cat has been electrocuted is to actually see the shock occur or to find evidence that this is what has happened to your cat. Whether or not you have seen the electric shock occur or found definitive evidence, if you see the following symptoms, it is important that your cat is examined immediately by a veterinarian:
- Singed fur
- Burns on paws, tail, or elsewhere on the body
- Chronic cough
- Crackling sound in lungs
- Lip, tongue, and/or mouth burns
- Blue tinge to the skin or gums
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Abnormal or difficult breathing
- Increased heart rate
- Seizures or convulsions
- Collapse and unconsciousness
- Cardiac arrest, which is commonly called a heart attack
Causes of Electrical Injuries in Cats
The underlying cause of electrical injury in cats is, of course, coming into contact with an electrical current. There are numerous ways, however, that this contact can occur, which include the following:
- Biting or chewing on electrical cords, which is the most common cause of shock in cats
- Coming in contact with faulty wiring in a house or other building
- Walking into or falling into water that is conducting electricity from an electrical source
- Lightning strike
- Coming in contact with live power lines
Diagnosis of Electrical Injuries in Cats
If you find your cat as it is being electrocuted, do not touch the cat or the source of electricity. If the source is a cord or wiring in your house, turn off the electrical breaker for that part of the building before attending to your cat so as not to injure yourself as well. Wearing rubber gloves may be advisable when you return to attend to your cat just in case there is still electricity present in the cord or in your cat’s body. Whether you find your cat while it is being shocked, afterward, or if you just suspect that your cat has sustained an electrical shock, it is imperative that you take your cat to the veterinarian immediately for diagnosis and treatment.
In a situation in which you know that your cat has been electrocuted, the vet will determine the extent of the damage to your pet’s health. In other cases, when it unsure what has happened to your cat, your vet may still be able to diagnose the cause of symptoms to be electrical shock. The following diagnostic tools may be utilized by your veterinarian:
- Listening to the symptoms or situation that you have observed
- Reviewing your cat’s medical history
- A thorough physical examination, paying special attention to listening to the heart and lungs
- Check for burns, especially on the paws and in the mouth
- Echocardiogram (ECG)
- Blood tests to check oxygen levels
- Ultrasound of the lungs
- CT Scan
Treatment of Electrical Injuries in Cats
How your vet determines to treat your cat is dependent upon the severity of the shock and the severity of the resulting burns and other injuries. The following treatments may be administered by your veterinarian:
- IV fluids
- Pain medication
- Medications to address heart, breathing, and fluid buildup problems
- Antibiotics to prevent infections
- Skin graft
- Surgical procedures to clean and repair damaged tissue and organs
- Defibrillation in an attempt to restore normal heart rate
- Hospitalization, including intensive care
Recovery of Electrical Injuries in Cats
Your cat’s ability to recover from an electrical shock is dependent upon at least three factors: the severity of the shock, how quickly the cat received veterinary treatment, and the overall health of your cat. If your cat experienced a mild shock, with proper treatment and follow-up appointments with your vet, the prognosis is likely good. In the case of a severe shock, however, the prognosis is usually poor as the cat has likely sustained serious, irreversible, and even life-threatening organ and tissue injuries, including brain damage. A cat that has experienced a powerful electrocution may die of the injuries or need to be humanely euthanized.
The best ways to prevent electrical shock from occurring to your cat is to maintain safe wiring, keeping a teething kitten or a cat with a habit of chewing away from cords, and keeping your cat inside during storms.