Stun guns and cattle prods are devices that, while used for different purposes, operate using similar principles. Both are hand-held devices capable of generating large amounts of electricity, which the wielder will usually discharge into living flesh. However, while cattle prods are designed to be used to motivate the movement of livestock, stun guns are intended to incapacitate humans.
According to the website Stun Gun Information, the first cattle prod was designed in the late 1800s by John Burton of Wichita, Kansas, who received a patent for his "Electric Prod Pole." Burton developed it with the goal of motivating the movement of cattle without scorching their hides. In the 1950s, the first modern stun gun--an early model of the Taser--was developed and law enforcement agencies slowly began to use them in the 1960s.
Often welded by farmers and ranchers, cattle prods are designed to make cattle and other large livestock move by delivering a painful electrical shock to the animals. After the cattle prod is used, the animal usually move to flee additional shocks. By contrast, stun guns are not designed to cause movement but to incapacitate. Used by law enforcement agencies and as a weapon of self-defense, stun guns can incapacitate a person by sending a large amount of electricity through his body.
Both stun guns and cattle prods deliver electricity by sending it across two electrodes. When a person or animal is placed between these electrodes, they receive a shock. However, cattle prods are shaped like long rods and built to deliver a short, localized shock, of between 1,500 and 10,000 volts. By contrast, stun guns are usually shaped like guns and are designed to deliver a much larger charge, one that can send electricity through the whole body. This confuses the person's nervous system, causing their muscles to temporarily cease functioning.
Although they can differ slightly in their design and features, most cattle prods are similar in form and function. However, the term "stun gun" can be applied to a number of different electroshock weapons, all of which perform the same basic task but vary significantly in design. The two most common types are the traditional stun gun, a gun-shaped device that delivers shocks on contact, and a device that fires electrical cables at a person, through which it delivers a charge.
Although cattle prods are designed to be used only on cattle, they have often had other purposes. According to "New Internationalist" magazine, cattle prods are sometimes used by torturers, while, according to the Stun Gun Information website, they were also used in the 1960s by law enforcement officials on rioters and protesters.