Electrical burn injury
Electrocution and associated burns are more common in rabbits than other pets kept within the household environment. This is due to the rabbit’s natural desire to chew on anything, wires included. Electrocution can prove dangerous and even fatal in some circumstances.
What are the hazards to my rabbit?
Rabbits love cables and wires. In the wild it is natural for rabbits to chew through something that may be in their way and rabbits’ teeth are designed to chew through wood, so an electrical cable is no match for them. Rabbits will quickly bite through a wire in their way but will have no understanding of the potential dangers involved.
How will I know if my rabbit has chewed through a wire?
Unfortunately, sometimes it can prove fatal and the electrical current may kill the rabbit instantly. If this doesn’t happen firstly you may notice some redness, ulceration, swelling and burns on the inside of your rabbit’s mouth and around their lips, gums and tongue. The fur around their mouth, nose and whiskers may be singed and the teeth may discolour (although this will not be immediate). Your rabbit may appear quiet, off colour and off their food (if their mouth is sore). You may also be able to locate the wire they have chewed through.
What should I do?
If you see your rabbit about to chew on a wire, and it is safe to do so, you must stop them (but never put yourself or someone else at risk); turn off the current, rather than attempting to remove the wire from the rabbit’s mouth. If you know your rabbit has chewed through an electrical cable you should take your rabbit to your vet straight away.
The electrical current runs from the point that’s in contact with the rabbit, throughout the body, so will pass through organs such as the heart and lungs; this is why it can cause sudden death. If this doesn’t happen, breathing problems may become apparent although these may not become obvious for a couple of days. Even mild burns in the mouth after chewing on an electric cord should be checked out by a vet. They may need pain relief, antibiotics and supportive treatment such as syringe feeding and fluid therapy if they are unable to eat and drink properly.
Can it be prevented?
All electrical cables must be out of the reach of rabbits. More care must be taken with house rabbits than those kept outside as they are more likely to be exposed to them. Rabbits can stand several feet tall, especially larger breeds, when they stand on their hind legs, so cables need to be high enough or completely inaccessible to the rabbit. Rabbits will also attempt to squeeze behind TV’s, computers, etc so all gaps, even very small ones, must be blocked off.
A rabbit who has chewed on an electrical cable and survived will not avoid them in future, so don’t think they will associate the experience of an electric shock with chewing on a cable to avoid them, because they won’t! They must still be kept out of reach.
Do most rabbits recover?
Given time (which may be some weeks or even months), supportive treatment and care, if the burns aren’t too serious, then they are likely to recover. If the burns are extensive, become infected and the rabbits’ pain and/or infection can’t be controlled then euthanasia may be the only option.