Lightning and Pet Safety
Today, I read a horrific report of over 300 reindeer killed by a lightning strike last Friday in southern Norway. As hot and humid weather continues to dominate weather patterns across large sections of the US, this is a good opportunity to review with pet parents the dangers that lightning strikes present to their pets.
"If the thunder don't get you then the lightning will." This post is not about pets with sound phobia. Instead, the subject is entirely the effects of lightning and what precautions pet parents must take to protect their pets.
A typical lightning strike arrives with a potential difference of 125 million volts and a current of 10,000 amps. While direct hits do happen, most serious injury from lightning is a result of the victim being in proximity to the location of the strike.
The current passed from a strike can vary based upon local geography and the water content of the ground and can be dangerous hundreds of feet away. Currents of up to 200,000 amps have been reported and one strike near an Apollo rocket readying for launch was measured at 100,000 amps.
In addition to causing a heart to stop from electrical overload, the current from a nearby lightning strike can quite literally cook internal organs. Not good!
Most adults and children know that the safest places to go during a storm are inside a car, home or other substantial structure. These, too, are the safest places for your pet. But what if your pet is outside on its own or worse?
There are a number of very dangerous places for pets during a storm:
- chained or otherwise tied up in close proximity to a shade tree,
- in a dog house,
- inside of a shed or portico
- in a dog kennel (or run) with metal fencing,
- underneath a vehicle
- open garages
Lightning strikes on large or isolated trees are common and the current from a strike can travel 100 feet or more. The current does not always flow completely down the tree trunk; it sometimes creates an electric arc off to the side that can directly hit a nearby pet or person. In addition, a tree can be split, blown over, or large limbs drop upon anyone or thing in the vicinity.
A dog house, shed or any other small structure provides no protection from lightning strikes as they are rarely grounded. Though they may serve to keep your pet dry, your pet remains at risk of the current traveling from a nearby strike or worse, one hitting the structure itself.
Metal fencing is an attractive conductor for a lightning strike. As the area inside an enclosed run is often very small, your pet is highly likely to be injured by the current flowing through the fence and into the nearby ground.
Even though the interior of a car is a safe place, hiding under a car can present significant risks to pets, especially cats. Cars and trucks, like metal fencing, are giant conductors. When hit, the current from the strike flows through the vehicle body and into the ground. Your pet who is sheltering under the vehicle is subject to significant injury or death because of their immediate proximity to this current flow.
Cats are even more risk prone than dogs as they will often jump into the underbody of the vehicle, thus becoming part of the circuit if the car is hit (directly or close by). Finally, please do check for your cat before starting the vehicle - many have been injured or killed because the pet parent does not realize their cat is still hiding inside the engine compartment.
An open garage is also not safe. A lightning bolt hitting nearby can arc and then strike a pet inside the open interior. This risk lessens the further away from the opening the petgoes, but do think of how often you have seen cats sitting near the edge of an open doorway. Safer, but not safe!
Pet parents are advised that the safest course of action is to never leave their pets unattended out of doors. However, if they must do so, pet parents need to be as cognizant of the chance of thunderstorms as they are of excessive heat. If storms are in the forecast, never leave your pet outside unless you are certain it can get inside your home.