protecting your dog from electric shock

Are you aware that your dog can get electric shock by walking around the block? Learn how to protect him by learning about this hidden hazard.

Kyla, her sister and a friend were walking down the street with Lucy, a border collie/whippet mix, one day in early winter. Suddenly, Lucy screamed and fell over. Kyla tried to help her up but felt an electric shock and was bitten on the thumb as the dog flailed and cried. Her friend wore gloves so was able to safely pick Lucy up.

“Lucy went limp and wasn’t breathing,” says Kyla’s sister, Rachel. “Her heart had stopped, but luckily, it restarted on its own. A good Samaritan offered to drive her and Kyla to a nearby veterinarian where Lucy was checked for neurological problems.”

It turned out that Lucy had been shocked by stray electrical voltage from under the sidewalk they were walking on. “I called the utility company to let them know what happened,” says Rachel. “They said it wasn’t possible and hung up on me. The police were much more responsive and came right away to blockade the sidewalk. After they called the electric company, workmen came to fix the problem.” Rachel later learned that the church they walked past had removed some floodlights from the grounds, but no one had turned off the electrical current.

In another case, a 110-pound bloodhound named Mickey was shocked by 120 volts of electricity when he stepped on a metal grate and was unable to move. A neighbor managed to grab him, but not before being shocked himself.

Although Lucy and Mickey’s accidents might seem like flukes, sidewalk electrocutions are more common than you might think. There have been reports of dogs being electrocuted on the streets and sidewalks of many cities, including New York, Seattle, Boston, Vancouver and Montreal (the website tracks shock alerts by city and country). In fact, both people and dogs have been injured and even killed by stray electrical voltage, although dogs are more vulnerable because they don’t wear shoes, have a shorter stride than we do and take four steps for every two a person takes.

Why is this happening?

Aging infrastructures, weather damage and general wear and tear mean electrical cables and wires running under sidewalks or streets sometimes get exposed and end up touching and charging metal objects such as sewer covers and grates, light posts, signs, fire hydrants or even newspaper machines and dumpsters. If a dog or person touches one of these objects, they get electrocuted. Some sidewalks have been found to have 100 volts of electricity running through them, which is equivalent to sticking a finger into a live electrical outlet.

You also need to be aware that leaking voltage is not just an urban problem. It can occur anywhere, most often during the winter, when snow and ice have been treated with de-icers. While salted sidewalks are certainly a hazard, metal signs or fencing on wet ground can also be electrified. Know that heavy summer rains can also damage underground cables, so this isn’t just a winter worry.

Aging infrastructures, weather damage and general wear and tear mean electrical cables and wires running under sidewalks or streets sometimes get exposed and end up touching and charging metal objects such as sewer covers and grates, light posts, signs, fire hydrants or even newspaper machines and dumpsters.

Prevention and protection

    While some urban centers, such as Oakland, California, have electrical crews regularly checking for wires that touch metal or have otherwise been damaged, it’s certainly not happening everywhere. This doesn’t mean you have to stop walking your dog, but it does mean you have to take steps to protect him, and yourself, especially since leaking voltage isn’t something you can see any evidence of until after a shock occurs.
  • Avoid touching or walking on metal objects on or near the street or sidewalk during or after rain, snow or ice, especially on salted streets. Melted snow mixed with de-icing salt is a particularly effective electrical conductor.
  • Don’t let your dog sniff or pee on or near anything metal, including trash cans or dumpsters, and especially light poles with missing covers or exposed wiring. • Never tie your dog to a lamp post or metal sign while getting coffee or a paper.
  • Put rubber dog boots on your pooch, but make sure they are watertight. If they’re not, they could do more harm than good. After each walk, check the boots for damage or holes.
  • Don’t use a metal leash. Keep metal on collars to a minimum.
  • Flickering street lamps should be reported to the utility company at once. Steer clear of them until they are repaired.
  • When walking, pay attention to your surroundings and your dog. Carry a charged cell phone, just in case you have to call for help, but don’t talk on the phone or listen to music while you’re walking – use this time to enjoy your dog’s company while keeping an eye on his safety.

Happily, both Lucy and Mickey recovered from their ordeals. Mickey’s vet diagnosed low oxygen levels and fluid in the lungs after electrocution, but the dog later made a full recovery. Lucy, however, had some lingering troubles.

“Although she didn’t have any neurological problems, she did have behavioral issues,” says Rachel. “She was more fearful, very sensitive to noise, and startled easily. She was hyper-aware of her surroundings. Agility and flyball became difficult for her. Since she was no longer comfortable with active sports, she became a therapy dog instead.

“We were lucky,” Rachel adds. “Lucy recovered. I have to say, though, that we never walked on that sidewalk again.”

In case of shock

A dog who has been shocked will yelp or scream, depending on the voltage involved. This will be followed by spasms or loss of consciousness. His paw pads may show signs of burns. Smaller dogs are hit hardest.

  1. If your dog shows signs of having been shocked, do not try to pick him up. Do an immediate about-face and go back. Voltage may be higher ahead. Use the leash to drag the dog away from danger. It may seem rough, but it’s the safest and fastest way to move him, for both of you. His leash and collar may have metal parts that also conduct electricity, so pulling the dog instead of picking him up prevents you from being shocked or bitten. It’s a case of “take care of yourself first so you can take care of your dog”.
  2. Stay calm but act quickly. Call for help and a ride to the vet’s office. A veterinary checkup is essential because your dog’s heartbeat may be irregular after a shock, and cardiac arrest or difficulty breathing due to pulmonary edema can happen days later. Your dog may need CPR. Burns to the paws need to be treated and bandaged to prevent infection.
  3. As soon as possible, also call the police and alert them to the problem. They can erect a barricade to prevent other dogs and people from being shocked until the utility company can find the cause.