Treat­ing your pet’s painful burns

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - DR JUDITH BENJAFIELD

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

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