Electric Cord Bite Injury in Dogs

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Key takeaways

Injuries caused by biting electric cords occur when a dog chews through the protective sheath and the electricity either burns its mouth or enters its body. 

  • In some cases, the injuries are mild and local with symptoms including burns and singed hair around the mouth
  • In others they are more severe, causing damage to internal organs with symptoms including vomiting, seizures, unconsciousness, and pink foam from the mouth or nostrils
  • Signs of internal damage take up to 36 hours to develop
  • Dogs suspected of electric injury require immediate veterinary attention; dogs with severe symptoms require emergency care
  • Diagnostic tools include physical examination, X-rays, and ECGs
  • Treatments range from pain relief and antibiotics to hospitalization and ventilation
  • Prognosis is variable depending on whether internal damage, especially to the lungs or heart, occurs
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A closer look: Electric Cord Bite Injury in Dogs


Injury as a result of biting an electric cord is a painful, potentially life-threatening condition. Two types of injuries result: thermal burns in the mouth and internal injuries from electrocution. Dogs showing signs of thermal burns to the mouth require prompt veterinary attention. In cases where severe symptoms from electrocution develop, emergency veterinary attention is warranted.

Some symptoms of electric cord bite injuries develop slowly. Close monitoring of heartbeat and respiratory rates for the first 36 hours after the incident is essential.

In the case that a pet parent comes upon a pet that is actively being electrocuted, it is vital that they do not touch the pet or the electric cord due to the risk of shock and electrocution. Cutting off the electricity to the wire by shutting off the socket or main supply is necessary in order to safely touch the pet or exposed wiring. If it is not possible to shut off the electricity, a pole made of wood or other non-conducting material may be used to safely move the pet away from the wire. In cases where the main electric supply cannot be switched off, and there is no way to move the dog away from the electric cord safely, calling emergency services is recommended.

Risk factors


Young dogs who are more curious and more intent on chewing are more at risk than older dogs although all dogs are at risk of biting electric cords. Dogs in houses with lots of visible wires are also at risk.

The severity of an injury from biting an electric cord depends on the amount of current delivered.

In mild cases, the dog bites through the protective sheath but releases the wire before significant damage is done. Mild injuries also occur when the wire itself is not conducting a lot of power. In these cases, the injury is local to the mouth and is limited to burns on the gums, lips, tongue, or cheeks. The severity of mild burns increases in cases where the lesions become infected.

In more severe cases, the dog bites through the protective sheath and then is unable to release the wire. This is typically because the electricity causes the muscles in the jaw to spasm, clamping them closed on the cord. This might happen with a cord that is conducting a little or a lot of electricity. In either case, the electric current travels deeper into the body, affecting various internal organs.

The most severe cases of injury caused by biting an electric cord are those where the current enters the body and affects the heart or the lungs. These conditions are very serious, and are potentially life threatening, either immediately or in the days following the incident.

In cases where the electrical current affects the lungs, it is possible for respiratory distress to develop. The lungs fill with fluid over the hours following the injury, making it difficult to breathe.

In cases where the electrical current affects the heart, it can damage the heart muscle causing rapid, slowed, or irregular heartbeat. The onset of these symptoms is sometimes immediate and resolves quickly on its own. In some cases onset is delayed, evolving over hours or even days.

Possible causes


When a dog bites through the protective sheath of a live electrical cord, the electricity enters the body in two ways: as heat at the site of contact between the dog’s tissue and the electricity, and as current passing through the body, damaging internal organs.

Heat at the site of contact with the cord leads to thermal burns of varying severity, depending on amount of current running through the wire.

Main symptoms


The main symptoms of thermal burns from electric cord bite injury include burn marks around the mouth, lips, gums, or tongue. These marks are pale yellow, tan, gray, or dark red.

Testing and diagnosis


Immediate veterinary attention is recommended for dogs showing symptoms of electrocution.

Diagnosis of this type of injury is based on:

  • History of a damaged cord
  • Physical examination
  • X-rays
  • Electrocardiogram
  • Bloodwork

Steps to Recovery


The treatment for this type of injury varies widely depending on the symptoms and severity. In cases where symptoms are mild, pain relief and antibiotics for open wounds are administered. Even in these cases, ongoing monitoring for the first 36 hours is necessary in case symptoms of further damage evolve.

In cases where symptoms are severe, especially where the heart or lungs have been damaged, hospitalization is necessary. Hospital treatments include:

  • Oxygen therapy, possibly with mechanical ventilation
  • IV fluids
  • Intense monitoring
  • CPR

Once the dog is discharged from the hospital, it is necessary to feed soft foods, keep activity restricted, and monitor closely for signs of further injury for a minimum of two weeks. Follow up appointments to monitor recovery are also necessary.

The prognosis for electrical injuries depends on the severity of the damage.

Dogs with mild injuries such as small burns in and around the mouth have a good prognosis.

Dogs with damage to internal organs have a more guarded prognosis.

Dogs with damage to the lungs or heart have a poor to grave prognosis.

Prevention


Prevention of electrocution injury requires eliminating access to electrical cords. Strategies include:

  • Keeping all electric cords hidden, out of the reach, behind barriers, or in cord covers
  • Coating electric cords with spray-on deterrents
  • Switching off the power to outlets, power bars, and unplugging cords when not in use
  • Offering plenty of chew toys and mental stimulation
  • Distracting attention from cords with other activities

Is Electric Cord Bite Injury in Dogs common?


Electric cord bite injuries are the most common source of electrocution in dogs. They are more common in puppies than older dogs, and more common overall in dogs than cats.

Typical Treatment


  • Pain relief
  • Antibiotics
  • Iv fluids
  • Oxygen therapy

References


Roger Gfeller, DVM, DACVECC; Michael Thomas, DVM; Isaac Mayo; The VIN Emergency Medicine Consultants - Writing for Veterinary Partner
Jordana Fetto, DVM - Writing for MSPCA Angell
Dr. Stephanie Austin - Writing for Preventive Vet
Jennifer Good, DVM, DACVECC - Writing for Clinician's Brief

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