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Chemical Burns in Cats

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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Chemical burns are not as common as thermal burns. The typical chemical burn is due to a pet ingesting or licking a caustic or corrosive chemical such as bleach or disinfectants. The burns are usually isolated to the tongue and upper esophagus.

Chemical oral burns may not show up immediately. It may be several hours before you notice a problem.

What to Watch For

  • No interest in eating
  • Drooling
  • Swollen tongue
  • Excessive swallowing
  • Pawing at mouth

    Diagnosis

    Diagnosis is based on characteristic changes on the surface of the tongue and a high suspicion of chemical oral burn. There are no specific blood tests or other diagnostics to diagnose a chemical burn, although in severe cases, sedation and endoscopy may be required to determine the extent of the chemical burn.

    Chemical burns on the surface of the tongue usually cause a whitening of the surface skin tissue. The edges of the tongue may become red and raw. The white surface eventually sloughs and the surface of the tongue is raw and exposed tissue is visible.

    An endoscope is a thin flexible tube that can be inserted through the mouth and into the esophagus and stomach. The endoscope can help visualize the internal surfaces of the esophagus and stomach without the need for surgery. The extent of the burn can be determined and help decide appropriate treatment.

    Treatment

    The treatment for chemical burns depends on how much of the mouth, esophagus and stomach are involved. Initially, flushing the mouth with large amounts of water can help limit the damage. Frequently, by the time the pet is brought to the veterinarian, the damage has already been done.

    If the burn is isolated to the mouth, a topical cleaning agent such as Glyoxide® is used three times daily. This can help remove dead tissue and reduce the risk of infection.

    Medications such as sucralfate (Carafate®) are used when the esophagus and stomach are involved. Sucralfate is a medication that can coat the injured tissues and help hasten recovery.

    Some pets with severe chemical oral burns do not have the desire to eat. Maintaining nutrition is important in the healing process. Animals that will not eat on their own will require a temporary feeding tube. Most commonly, an esophagostomy tube or a gastrostomy (stomach) tube is placed. A slurry of food in then fed several times a day to ensure adequate calorie intake.

    Most chemical oral burns heal within 1-2 weeks.

    Home Care and Prevention

    If chemical ingestion is witnessed, immediately flush the mouth with large amounts of water. This can help reduce the amount of chemical in the mouth and may reduce the damage.

    In mild cases, Glyoxide® can be used to clean the mouth three times daily. This may be sufficient for healing. Make sure your pet continues to eat normally.

    In more severe cases, there is no home care. Keep all chemicals safely stored away from inquisitive pets.

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