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Electrocution in Cats
Electrocution from chewing on an electrical cord is the single most common type of electrical injury in household pets. Electrical injuries can result in burns to the surrounding area (e.g., the mouth, hair), or in alterations to the electrical conduction in the heart, muscles, and other tissues. The possible complications that follow an electric cord bite injury are fluid accumulation in the lungs (pulmonary edema), and high blood pressure in the arteries near the lungs (pulmonary hypertension). Additionally, there have been reports of animals developing cataracts – an eye abnormality - after such injuries.
Symptoms and Types
The most obvious sign of an electrical injury is burns in or around your cat's mouth. Singed whiskers, or singed hair surrounding the mouth are both indications that your cat has been burned at some point. The majority of serious symptoms are related to your cat's breathing, shortness of breath being the most common. Non-respiratory indicators are rapid heart rate (tachycardia), muscle tremors, seizures, and physical collapse. Some of the most common signs of serious electrical injury are:
- Abnormally fast breathing (tachypnea)
- Needing to stay upright to breathe properly (orthopnea)
- Crackling sounds in the lungs (rales)
- Difficulty breathing (dyspnea)
- Bluish-tinged skin (cyanosis)
Most injuries of this type are seen in animals younger than two years old. Whether it is because of teething, with the urge to chew as the new teeth grow in, or because your cat has a natural proclivity to chew on things, it is during these younger years that injury due to biting into an electrical cord is most likely to happen.
Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam on your cat, taking into account the background history of symptoms and possible incidents that might have precipitated this condition.
The symptoms listed above can be due to an electrical cord injury, but there are other possibilities for these conditions as well. Issues with the heart, such as an irregular heart rate, could be due to an existing heart disease. Electrocardiogram (ECG, or EKG) recording can be used to examine the electrical currents in the heart muscles, and may reveal any abnormalities in cardiac electrical conduction (which underlies the heart’s ability to contract/beat). This will enable your veterinarian to confirm or rule out heart disease. Heart problems can also occur if your cat has ingested rodent poison, which may have come from food that had been laced with poison, or from eating a rodent that has ingested the poison. The poison used to kill rodents contains anticoagulants, which block the production of vitamin K -- necessary for the blood to clot normally. This possibility can be ruled out or confirmed through blood coagulation testing.
Generally, electrical cord injuries will cause the lungs to be filled with a pink, foamy fluid. There are often tan or gray wounds in the mouth, and areas with red spots inside the heart lining.
If you are a witness to the electrocution, make sure the electricity is turned off before moving your cat. If your cat has lost consciousness, clear its airway as best as you can, and if necessary, provide breathing assistance and/or oxygen.
If your cat is suffering from decreased blood or platelet supply, it will need to be treated intravenously with special fluids (crystalloids or colloids). Fluid in the lungs can be treated with diuretics (furosemide). Therapy for an irregular heart rhythm may be necessary as well. Your doctor will perform various tests prior to releasing your cat into home care. Sufficient medical care can normally be performed within a day, but it may take longer if complications occur. In the case of burns, your veterinarian will consult with you on the best course of action.
Living And Management
If your cat has been injured, it will need to be closely monitored until its condition stabilizes. Your cat may not feel comfortable eating its regular food because of the pain associated with wounds in the mouth. Using soft foods, or liquefying foods for your cat to eat until the wounds have healed will ensure that your cat does not become malnourished. Your veterinarian can help you to make a diet plan until your cat can comfortably eat regular food again.
At home, monitor the burn wounds for signs of infection. Another possible complication of a mouth injury is the development of an opening between your cat's mouth and nose, which would require surgical repair.
The most important step in preventing electrical injury is to keep your pet away from electrical cords. Additionally, inspect all cords in your home and throw out any that are damaged, since even minimal contact with a bare wire can cause serious harm to your cat (making contact with the feet, nose, or tongue, for example). Using baby-proof measures in the home is one way that many pet owners find also works for protecting their pets against injury. Most hardware and full service department stores carry household child-protection tools.