Treating your pet’s painful burns
FEW injuries in pets are as traumatic, painful and disfiguring as a burn. Burns are injuries that result from exposure to flames or extreme heat, chemical or electrical trauma, and inhalation of smoke or noxious fumes.
Most burns that pets receive come from a hot surface; an appliance or substance found in and around the home. Often it takes time for the extent of the damage to be fully realised. Burns produce syndromes ranging from self-limiting injuries to devastating longterm incapacitation and potentially death.
Both the temperature and the duration of exposure contribute to the degree of thermal injury.
Burns are generally placed into one of three categories:
First degree. This is a superficial burn with partial thickness wounds involving only the top layer of the skin. The symptoms are generally limited to minor pain and redness. An example would be mild sunburn. These burns heal quickly and generally don’t require extra care.
Second degree. These burns are deep partial thickness wounds involving the deep layers of the skin. These burns are more painful, introduce a risk of infection, take longer to heal and require veterinary attention.
Third degree. The most severe burns are full thickness wounds involving complete destruction of all skin layers. These burns are the most dangerous and life-threatening and require immediate and extensive veterinary care.
Sunburn develops in pets that are exposed to sunlight for an extended period of time. It typically occurs on naturally hairless areas such as the tips of the ears and nose, or if the pet’s coat has been trimmed too short, exposing the skin to the sun.
This type of burn is usually first degree. It is painful but generally not life-threatening and resolves quickly. Chronic exposure to the sun can lead to various types of skin cancer so must be avoided or sunscreen must be applied to exposed skin regularly.
Electrical burns are most commonly found in the mouth as a result of the animal chewing on an electric cord. The lips, gums, tongue and palate may be involved. These burns are usually second degree and do result in tissue erosion and necrosis. Dogs are more often affected. Diagnosing this type of burn is usually straightforward if the event is observed.
Burns that are not observed or are malicious in nature are more difficult to diagnose, as most burns develop over time as tissue damage sets in and the lesions spread. In almost every case, a pet that has suffered a burn should be evaluated by your veterinarian.
It is critically important that the effect the burn has on the animal’s overall health be assessed. Besides the burn itself, the pet may develop an electrolyte imbalance, kidney failure, anaemia and a systemic infection. The extent, location and percentage of the pet’s body involved in the burn all play a role in assessing and evaluating the long-term outlook for the pet.
Prevention is always better than treatment so, as far as possible, limit your pet’s exposure to direct sunlight, flames, household appliances and electrical cords, chemicals and smoke. If exposure occurs:
Extinguish all flames. If electricity is involved, make sure the power is turned off.
Avoid being bitten. Even the most loving of pets will bite when in pain or afraid. You may have to muzzle your pet.
Make sure the area is well ventilated.
Apply cool water compresses with a clean cloth. Change the compress frequently and keep the site cool and wet; it can also be submerged in cool water to prevent the burn from penetrating deeper.
If the burn is from a dry chemical, brush away