It occurred to me that Christmas is a good time to discuss this topic because, due to all the activity that Christmas brings (both to cats and people) and the extra electrical wiring for lights etc., the chances of a domestic cat receiving an electric shock and subsequent burns are probably slightly increased.
Of course, kittens are at a greater risk because of their inquisitive nature, their love of play-hunting and their tendency to chew on almost anything. I know that on several occasions I have had to stop my cat, Gabriel, chewing on cables. In fact, he loves iPhone cables and power cables to computers. It is a constant hazard of which I am acutely aware and which hampers writing articles like this one 😉 .
The Effect of an Electric Shock
When a cat receives an electric shock it can cause the jaw muscles to contract involuntarily which may stop the cat from releasing himself from the electrical connection. The advice, therefore, when this happens, is not to touch your cat which is counter-intuitive but you may receive an electric shock yourself. The electrical supply to the cable needs to be disconnected. Unplugging the cable will probably be the obvious choice. If the cat is not breathing and/or unconscious the cat owner should administer artificial respiration + heart massage – (CPR)
Receiving an electric shock by biting a cable can cause the following:
- Burns on the lips
- An irregular heartbeat and circulatory collapse
- General Collapse
- Vomiting and defecation
- Damage to the capillaries of the lungs leading to pulmonary oedema. Pulmonary edema is an accumulation of fluid in the air sacs of the lungs. It causes difficulty in breathing. The cat’s head may be extended. There may be extreme anxiety, weakness and loss of consciousness. Pulmonary edema can take 2 to 3 hours and up to several days to develop.
- There may be drooling and ulcers on the lips
- There may be coughing due to lung damage
- Neurological disorders
- Inflammation of the lips
Clearly after this initial activity the cat should be taken to a veterinarian as an emergency. Any treatments discussed here are emergency treatments that the cat’s caretaker can attempt especially if the burns are minor but, of course, they cannot substitute veterinarian treatment.
Burns due to electric shock can cause shock and possible infection and also fluid loss and therefore can be life-threatening. The advice is not to put butter or any greasy ointment on the burns. The burns should be covered with damp gauze. For minor burns a cool compress can be applied to the damaged areas for 30 minutes to relieve pain. When the compress becomes warmer it should be replaced. The hair should be clipped away in the area wash gently with surgical soap. It should be dried by blotting. A topical application of antibiotic ointment can be applied. Then a loose fitting gauze dressing can be applied to protect the area. The bandage should be changed daily so the wound can be cleaned and treated. Cats should be prevented from grooming the burned areas and therefore may have to wear an Elizabethan collar.
Electrical burns of the mouth caused by chewing on an electrical cord can obviously be painful but most of them, we are advised1, heal without medical intervention. Sometimes a grey membrane appears on the burned area and an ulcer may develop. There may be a need to surgically remove dead tissue.
Precautions to Prevent an Electric Shock
This is largely common sense but vital – prevention is something we can do whereas cure is something we will struggle with or panic about. Kittens should be monitored when playing and electric cords should be sleeved (a protective sleeve applied to loose cabling) but quite clearly this is not always possible so at the end of the day common sense precautions combined with adequate supervision must minimize the risk.
- Appliances should be unplugged when not in use.
- Furniture can be used to make it difficult for a cat to obtain access to live wires.
- Paint electrical cords with something that cats hate the smell of.
- Give your cat a substitute to chew on.
Note: 1 Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook 3rd edition.
If anyone can add some advice please do. It is always welcome.