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The 12 Days of Christmas: Pet Hazards Series (Day 7 - Lights & Electrical Cords)

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Updated: March 5, 2016

DAY 7: Light Strands & Electrical Cords

Though strands of Christmas lights can really add a beautiful holiday glow to your tree or house decorations, its important to also appreciate that they can cause a curious pet quite a shock and some pretty significant resulting health problems, too. And if chewed on, these tree adornments can even lead to a house fire.

Be aware

Pets that chew on electric cords ,can sustain burns on their tongues and elsewhere in their mouth. These pets may also develop a buildup of fluid within their lungs, as a result of the electrical shock. This fluid buildup within the lungs, that results from a cause other than heart failure, is known as non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema, it can lead to breathing problems, and it can be fatal, too.

The oral cavity burns these pets suffer from can result in significant pain and can cause them to go off their food. This scorched tissue is also at risk of becoming infected. If your pet chews through an electric cord and their burns are bad enough that they won't take food, they will need to be hospitalized for care and they may need to have a temporary feeding tube placed. These tubes can be lifesaving interventions, but they can be fairly costly too - with hospitalization for tube placement and the necessary nursing care often costing in the range of $1,000-3,000 (depending on the severity of their injuries and how well and quickly they respond to treatment).Not only can chewing on electric cords be dangerous for them, but if the chewing exposes the wire and leads to a short, it can also cause a tree or house fire that puts the rest of the family in danger as well. Read this article about the frequency and danger of tree fires cause by pets.

What to do if your pet is being shocked by an electrical cord

If your pet is actively getting a shock from chewing on a strand of Christmas lights or any other electrical cord you can try to safely unplug the cord from the outlet by using a non-conducting object (such as a wooden broomstick) or by wearing thick, non-conducting gloves. It is of course vitally important, for many reasons (all of which should be fairly obvious), that you exercise extreme caution when trying to unplug a cord that is actively shorting. Similarly, you should not touch your pet when they are being shocked. As tough as it would be to avoid the impulse to grab them, you really should avoid it as you could wind up getting a serious shock, too. Once the setting is secured and your pet is safely extricated from the electric cord, they must be brought immediately for veterinary evaluation and treatment.

Signs that your pet may have suffered an electric shock can include...

  • Acting abnormally
  • Hiding
  • Excessive drooling
  • Refusal to eat or drink
  • Random and abnormal urination or defecation near an electric cord
  • Evidence of a chewed electric cord

Even if you don't actively see your pet getting shocked, if you suspect it for any reason, or you notice any of the signs listed above, your pet should be brought immediately to the veterinarian for evaluation and care. Though it can take a few days for the signs of non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema to fully manifest, or for evidence of infected burns to be fully appreciated, immediate veterinary evaluation and treatment is still very important.

How to prevent injury from electrical cords and light strands

  • Recognize that puppies and kittens are the most likely pets to chew on electric cords, though by no means only. As such, use extra care with puppies and kittens in the house and be particularly careful not to have any electric cords near a puppy's crate.

  • Be sure to unplug all strands of lights when you leave the house or before you go to bed at night. If you want the lights to be on when you wake up in the morning, plug them into a reliable timer.

  • For the long 'tail' of the cord on the light strand (the portion without lights), consider using a protective covering such as The Chewsafe cord protector or the CritterCord to prevent the teeth of curious or mischievous pets from sinking in.

  • To prevent fires, always check your cords for evidence of chew damage before plugging them in.

  • If you have a pet that you're certain will attack the strands of lights, either don't use such lights in your home, wrap only the top portion of your tree, or consider using rope type lighting instead. The rope lighting can more easily be rubbed with a deterrent spray, such as Bitter Apple, to help decrease the chances that your pets will chew on it. (Do not spray the deterrent product directly onto the lighting, rather spray it on a cloth and then wipe the strand with the dampened cloth.)

  • Opt for the lower voltage LED lights (rather than the traditional higher voltage incandescent type) to decrease the risk associated with a nibble on the cord. These bulbs are also often made of plastic rather than glass, and are therefore less likely to break and cause a laceration or cut-type injury.

Here's to a wonderful, joyous, and safe holiday season for you, your family, and your pets. And to your success in preventing your life from imitating the art that is National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation...

Lights & Electrical Cords are Day 7.
Just to be safe check out all the other "naughty" days in the 12 Days of Christmas Pet Hazards series.

 *Learn about Amazon links and Preventive Vet recommended products

Topics: Cat Health, Dog Safety, Dog Health, Cat Safety, pet safety tips, pet safety, holiday pet safety tips, Christmas pet hazards, Hiding, Electrical shock, Electrical Cords, Burns, Excessive drooling, Scorched tissue

Please do not ask emergency or other specific medical questions about your pets in the blog comments. As an online informational resource, Preventive Vet is unable to and does not provide specific medical advice or counseling. A thorough physical exam, patient history, and an established veterinary-patient-client relationship is required to provide specific medical advice. If you are worried that your pet is having an emergency or if you have specific medical questions related to your pet’s current or chronic medical conditions, please contact or visit your veterinarian, an animal-specific poison control hotline, or your local emergency veterinary care center.

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