Like human infants, rabbits are very oral creatures, meaning they like to put anything and everything into their mouths to check things out. Unfortunately, also like babies, they put inappropriate (and sometimes dangerous!) things in their mouths that can potentially hurt or even kill them. One of the most inappropriate objects rabbits sometimes chew on? Electric cords.
If the cord isn’t live (plugged in and carrying current), the main risk to the rabbit is whether she has ingested any of the plastic or electrical wire, which may contain toxic metals, cause lacerations in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, and potentially GI upset or obstruction. If the cord is plugged in, the rabbit could suffer anything from a mild burn in her mouth to heart damage, fluid in the lungs, and death.
If you witness your rabbit chewing on a live cord, do not reach out and touch your rabbit or the cord, or you risk electrocution as well. Keep calm and turn off the main electrical breaker, safely unplug the wire, or push your rabbit away from the live cord using a piece of dry wood like a broom. Once the rabbit is free of the cord, have her examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible. Perform CPR on the way if your rabbit is not breathing and does not have a heartbeat.
Signs Your Bunny May Show After an Electric Cord Bite
The injury a rabbit experiences after biting an electric cord depends on the type and intensity of the electrical current, and the length of time the rabbit is exposed to it.
If a rabbit bites a live electrical cord, she may have burns inside and around her mouth, lips, gums, and tongue. The fur around her mouth may appear singed.
Cardiac and Respiratory Issues
Because the electric current runs from the point of contact in the mouth throughout the body to critical organs such as the heart and lungs, cardiac and respiratory signs can ensue.
Significantly affected rabbits may:
Have trouble breathing
Demonstrate excessive salivation and difficulty swallowing
Exhibit wheezing or crackling sounds as they breathe
Some rabbits may appear restless and agitated, having difficulty getting comfortable and refusing to sit or lie down. More significantly affected rabbits may develop heart rhythm problems or have such trouble breathing that they collapse or die suddenly. Some effects associated with electric cord bite, such as fluid accumulation in the lungs, may not appear for up to two days after contact with the cord.
All rabbits who may have been electrocuted after chewing on an electric cord should be checked out by a veterinarian.
How Vets Diagnose Electrocution in Rabbits
As soon as you arrive at the vet’s office, your vet will likely ask questions such as:
When the electric cord bite occurred
Whether the cord was live with electrical current
How long the pet was exposed to the current
Whether the animal appears to have ingested any of the cord
How the pet has been acting since the bite happened
If your rabbit is having trouble breathing or has pink frothy fluid around her mouth—a sign that may indicate pulmonary edema, or excess fluid in the lungs—she will likely be given oxygen to help her breathe even before your vet examines her.
If your pet appears relatively stable when you arrive, the veterinarian will perform a full physical examination on your bunny, checking inside of and around her mouth for burns and listening to her heart and lungs for arrhythmias or crackling sounds suggestive of pulmonary edema. They may take x-rays of the chest and/or an electrocardiogram (a printout showing how the heart beats) to further assess heart and lung function. They also may draw blood to monitor major organs, such as the kidneys and liver.
Pulmonary edema can take several hours to develop after electrocution, so pets showing any cardiac or respiratory difficulty will likely be admitted to the hospital for monitoring and any additional diagnostic tests and treatments that may be needed.
Treating Electrocution in Rabbits
The extent of your rabbit’s injuries will determine the treatment the vet gives and if and how long the animal needs to be hospitalized.
Rabbits with extreme difficulty breathing and fluid in their lungs will be placed in an oxygen cage and may be given diuretics to help eliminate the fluid and ease breathing.
To treat signs of shock and collapse, the rabbit may be given intravenous fluids containing essential electrolytes, many of which leak out through oozing burns.
Heart medications to manage arrhythmias may be necessary.
Antibiotics will likely be administered to try to prevent infection of burned, ulcerated tissue, and a pain reliever and/or anti-inflammatory agent will be given to lessen painful discomfort.
If the rabbit’s eyes have been burned or ulcerated, a topical ointment or eye drop may be administered.
As proper nutrition is critical to helping burned tissues heal, if the rabbit’s mouth is too uncomfortable for the pet to eat on her own, she will likely be syringe-fed a slurry of liquid food several times per day.
Questions to Ask Your Vet About Rabbit Electrocution
Once your veterinarian assesses your bunny’s injuries, go over the findings and treatment options together. Questions to ask include:
What types of medications will be administered
Which tests will be done
How long the vet expects your pet to stay in the hospital
How much the vet estimates care will cost
What the long-term prognosis is
What, if any, potential future complications the bunny may develop
Your vet may not be able to give you definitive answers to all of these questions until they see how your pet responds to initial treatment. But you should be able to have an ongoing dialogue with your vet over the first 24-48 hours your bunny is admitted to the hospital to see how the treatment, prognosis, and estimated costs evolve.
Recovery After Rabbit Electrocution
Once your rabbit is stable enough to be released from the hospital, you may be asked to continue medical treatment at home. Depending on the extent of your pet’s injuries, you may have to continue to administer oral and/or topical antibiotics, pain relievers, and anti-inflammatory drugs.
If the bunny isn’t eating well on her own, you may have to syringe-feed her several times a day until her appetite returns and any oral injuries have healed. Rabbits with heart damage or pulmonary edema may go home on cardiac medications or diuretics with instructions to rest them in their cages at home.
Most veterinarians will want to recheck a bunny within a week or so after an electric cord bite to ensure no further complications have popped up. Rabbits with severe burns will need to be examined again after their burns start to heal to ensure that infection hasn’t developed and that no additional treatment (such as skin graft or wound debridement surgery) is necessary.
Monitoring for Complications
When your rabbit comes home from the hospital, you should carefully monitor her appetite to ensure she’s getting the critical nutrients it needs to heal—especially if she’s receiving antibiotics that can throw off the delicate balance of bacteria in her intestinal tract. If your rabbit isn’t eating well, you should alert your vet, who may then prescribe supplemental syringe feeding.
In addition, monitor burns or wounds for discharge or foul smells, which indicate an infection is present. If these signs occur, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Rabbits recovering from electric cord bite should gradually regain their energy and appetite. If your rabbit appears more lethargic or weak after returning from the hospital, she should be rechecked by your vet as soon as possible.
How to Prevent Electric Cord Bite Injuries in Rabbits
The best way to prevent rabbits from chewing on electric cords is to make the cords inaccessible. Cords should be taped up, out of the rabbit’s reach.
Any cords that can’t be made completely unreachable should be covered with cord covers (often called spiral cable wrap), which are available at electronic stores. Most bunnies cannot chew through this wrap, but a few persistent ones have—so it's always best to remove cords completely from their reach, if possible.
Once the cords are no longer a temptation, give your rabbit something good to chew on, like hay and wooden toys. And above all: Rabbits should never be left unsupervised in rooms that haven’t been “bunny-proofed.” Their curiosity could prove deadly.
Featured Image: iStock/MarianVejcik
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