This may seem left of field, as rabbits are not particularly prone to lightning strikes, unlike large animals.

However this is a cautionary tale to remind clients that rabbits like to chew things.

I had a young rabbit come in, lovely friendly little guy (who was originally thought to be a girl!), he had the ideal owners – great diet, great space and he was fully vaccinated. All seemed to be going well for this little guy (definitely a guy!)
Two weeks after being castrated he came in to the clinic again after getting curious with an electrical cable, and unfortunately things didn’t end well for the little fella.

So whilst seemingly odd, it’s important to warn clients that rabbits like to chew things and can get into trouble quickly.

Steps to take

  1. Try to protect cables with barriers, cord protectors and keep them out of reach as much as possible from bunny height.
  2. Confine your rabbit when unsupervised to safe cordless areas.
  3. Supervised play time is the best playtime!
  4. In case of electrocutions, urge your client to seek care immediately! Switch off the source unplug safely and remove your bunny from the electrical source.

Electrifying facts
Unfortunately electrocution is a serious injury, and while there are plenty of stories of people surviving lightning strikes, rabbits may not be so lucky. If your rabbit survives the initial electrocution, there is a good prognosis IF the injuries are reversible. That’s a big if.

When exposed to the electrical current, the degree of injury depends on the source (voltage intensity and characteristics) and resistance of the exposed tissue (dry skin has high resistance, wet skin and mucous membranes have low resistance). Which is unfortunate as the mucous membranes will be first exposed.

In small animals direct thermal injury can cause burns, as does the current that is converted into heat energy. This heats cellular fluids, cause coagulation, thrombosis and tissue necrosis.

Electrocution injury can be broken down into superficial injuries and systemic effects.

  • Superficial – ranges from hyperaemia to severe burns. The shock can also cause local bone and dental damage including fractures
  • Systemic injury can include every body system – complicated by the fact that for rabbits pain and GI stasis can be fatal in their own right.

Cardiac arrhythmia 
Ranging from tachycardia, to ventricular fibrillation and of course asystole

Respiratory distress
Due to muscular tetany and oedema, both local and neurogenic pulmonary oedema, from increased pulmonary vasculature pressure and caudodorsal thoracic fluid accumulation. The good news is this particular oedema can resolve within 24 hours of injury, if supportive care can get your patient through the first 24 hours.

Neurological and Muscular
Tremors, contraction, seizures and loss of bowel control, in addition to vomiting and possibly death.

Ileus is common with electrical injuries in dogs and cats, in rabbits this is exacerbated by pain and stress. It is important to provide excellent pain relief such as opioids, and if the kidneys and GI integrity is superb, then add in NSAIDs.


If needed CPR may be required.

  • Pain relief (opioids and if appropriate, NSAIDs)
  • Oxygen until pulmonary oedema resolved
  • Intravenous fluids – to maximize blood volume, ideally low volume as oedema is present
  • Bronchodilators – if airways obstructed
  • Supportive feeding (Oxbow Critical Care) +/- Nasogastric feeding tube
  • Treat any burns topically
  • +/- Anticonvulsants
  • +/- Antiarrhythmia agents

And these are just the primary effects. Remind your client again that rabbits like to chew, you need to be vigilant to avoid these emergencies!

Hop to it!

Silverstein, DC, Hopper, K. Small Animal Critical Care Medicine. 2nd Edition. Elsevier, St Louis, Missouri.