West white highland terrier at the vet

If your dog is electrocuted, here is what you should do.

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What to do if my dog is electrocuted

By Dr. Liz Barton MA, VetMB, MRCVS Veterinarian

Updated on the

Electrocution can be fatal for a dog, so it's important that you know what to do if it occurs and how to avoid it happening in the first place.

What happens if your dog gets shocked?

If a dog is electrocuted, the effect will depend on the current, voltage and duration of electrical contact. There may be initial symptoms of collapse, a rigid body and coma. Electricity can travel throughout the body and damage internal organs, including the heart and brain. Some symptoms may be delayed by minutes or days. Burns can become apparent, especially in the mouth if an electrical cable is chewed. Fluid can build up in the lungs causing difficulty breathing. Dogs can even become brain damaged after electrocution. A severe shock (such as a lightning bolt) can cause sudden death.

Can a dog die from chewing an electrical cord?

Dogs can die from chewing on a cord that has a high current, voltage and if the shock is prolonged. A dog’s jaws may clamp shut on a live cable, so they are unable to let go. It’s not safe to touch your dog, or any fluid around them, until the electrical supply has been switched off. If you are unable to do this safely, contact your electricity supplier. If the current is high enough for long enough, the resultant burns and damage to internal organs can result in delayed severe illness, which may also lead to death. Brain damage and heart arrhythmias may result, both of can be are life-threatening. 

How do vets treat shock?

Vets will give supportive treatment depending on the injuries received after a shock. Many animals will require a drip to treat low blood pressure (cardiovascular shock). If the heart is affected a vet may run an ECG and give anti-arrhythmic medication. Burns are treated with painkillers, wound dressing where appropriate and sometimes fluid therapy (fluid and protein can be lost through burns). Pets with fluid build-up on the lungs can need oxygen and other treatments. Unfortunately, animals in a prolonged coma have a very poor prognosis for recovery.

Can an electric fence harm a dog?

Invisible fences are designed to startle a dog more than harm them. However, dogs have different pain thresholds – just as humans do – so what may startle one dog may be painful for another. It’s also important to check the metal prongs on the collar that contact the skin. These can rub over time, leading to sores under the collar. Remove the collar when it is not needed, and if your dog is averse to having it put back on, it suggests the collar is causing discomfort or pain.

Electric fencing used for livestock (cattle and horses) is usually higher voltage and can cause painful shocks. However, it should not cause severe effects unless exposure is prolonged, for example if your dog became tangled in the fence wire. If in doubt, take your dog to the vet to be checked.

How old does a dog have to be for an electric fence?

Invisible fences can – in theory – be put up for dogs of any age, but you need to purchase the appropriate collar size. For younger large breed dogs you may have to buy a series of collars as your puppy grows. You need to be able to train your pet to use the fence. General guidance is that puppies should be around six months old, and have already learned to be lead-trained. They should be able to respond to commands such as sit, stay, come etc. Older dogs can suffer from cognitive dysfunction (senility) and may not be able to learn the layout of the fence or the cues to avoid a shock.

How long does it take to train a dog with an invisible fence?

This depends on the individual dog and how consistent and regular you are with training. High intelligence breeds can learn very quickly, in a matter of days. Some individual dogs may never learn, especially if the reward of leaving the fence area is higher value for them than the shock deterrent (e.g. playing with other dogs outside the area).

Can a dog run through an invisible fence?

Unfortunately, yes. The shock is momentary and this deterrent is not sufficient to prevent some dogs from leaving the area. Some fences are designed to shock a dog on the way out, but not on the way back in. However, some shock whenever the dog crosses the fence, so once it has escaped it’s less likely to come back.

How do you train a dog with an invisible fence?

Your dog needs to learn three things: firstly, where the invisible fence is; secondly that staying in the zone results in treats and praise (positive reinforcement); and thirdly, that crossing the line is not pleasant (negative reinforcement). It’s important your dog learns in this order to avoid confusion, stress and training failure.

Step 1: It’s important to start with lead training and the collar set to the lowest avoidance setting (usually a beep or vibration). Mark out your zone with flags and walk your dog on the lead around the perimeter. Every time they step out, pull them back in with a verbal warning (e.g. ‘Fence!’), then give them lots of praise and a treat. Repeat this process little by little and often over a few days, so your dog learns the ‘safe’ zone.

Step 2: Once your dog understands this, move to enticing them beyond the boundary e.g. by throwing a ball or walking across yourself. Do NOT call your dog to ‘fetch’ or ‘come’, as you want them always to trust your commands. If they cross the fence line, pick up the lead and walk them back into the containment area, then give them praise and a treat. Then gradually increase the stimulus level of the collar until they are no longer crossing the invisible fence line, even when enticed to do so. Repeat this training process in short, frequent sessions with ever greater enticements for a further few days.

Step 3: When your dog no longer crosses the fence line when they hear the initial warning beep, even with enticement, you’re ready for off-lead training. Supervise your dog, entice them out of the area, and every time they avoid crossing the fence line give them praise and a treat. Continue to do this for several days until they are fully trained. If they do cross the fence line, go back to step 2.

What do I do if my dog runs through an invisible fence?

If your dog escapes from your invisible fence, it’s important to continue their training. If it happens often, despite training, it may be this method of containment is not suitable for them. 

What to do if your dog has been shocked or electrocuted

If your dog has been electrocuted, you must first turn off any live electrical supply they are contacting before you touch them. Also avoid any fluid contacting them if the supply is live. Once it is safe to do so, wrap your dog in a blanket and take them to the vets. Even if there are no symptoms and your dog seems well, it’s important that a vet checks their heart and lungs for any hidden problems, and check for burns e.g. inside the mouth. They can also advise what to watch out for – remember some of the symptoms can be delayed for hours or days.

Does shocking a dog hurt them?

Electric shocks are painful, which is why electric shock collars are banned in the UK. Positive reinforcement training is both more effective and much better for your dog’s welfare.

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