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Thermal Burns in Cats

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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Despite our precautions, accidents can happen and our pets may suffer resultant burns. Some causes include your dog reaching up onto a hot stove, walking across hot pavement, too much sun or getting too close to the barbeque grill.

The skin is considered the largest organ in the body and can suffer serious illness if it is burned, even as little as 15 percent. Most information regarding burn care and healing is extrapolated from human medicine. In recent years, huge advances in burn care in human medicine have benefited our pets.

There are a variety of causes of thermal burns including:

  • Fire/flames
  • Hot liquid
  • Hot metals
  • Heating pads
  • Heat lamps
  • Hair dryers
  • Walking across a hot stove top
  • Scalding water
  • Radiation

    As in human medicine, burns are classified. However, the classification for animals relies on the depth and extent of the injury. The classification is as follows:

  • Superficial partial thickness (similar to first degree burn). There is reddening of the skin, pain and swelling.

  • Deep partial thickness (similar to second degree burn). Signs include blisters, redness, pain and swelling.

  • Full thickness (similar to third degree burn). There is swelling under the skin, loss of skin and an absence of pain.

    What to Watch For

  • Missing hair
  • Red skin
  • Blisters
  • Exposed skin

    All burns are serious and should be considered emergencies. Prompt veterinary attention is crucial to a positive outcome. If your pet has been burned, he is susceptible to infection, dehydration and shock.

    Diagnosis

    The diagnosis of a thermal burn is based primarily on a history of exposure to a hot item. If the actually burning is not witnessed, skin damage due to burning is characteristic and can be diagnosed by an experienced veterinarian.

    Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical examination as well as ask you several questions.

  • What caused the burn?
  • How long ago did the burn occur?
  • What treatments have you done at home?
  • How long was the pet exposed to the hot item?

    The primary goal of diagnosis is to determine the depth of the burn. Regardless of cause, thermal burns are treated similarly.

    Treatment

    Cooling is essential but the cooling must be done over a 30 to 40 minute period. It is very tempting to rapidly cool the burnt pet with ice or ice packs, but don't do it. Ice and ice packs can result in over-cooling, low body temperatures and, at worst, frostbite.

    The treatment of burns is based on the depth of the burn.

    Superficial partial thickness burns respond well to topical treatment with antibiotic creams and wound cleaning.

    Deep partial thickness burns over 15 percent of the body need more significant treatment including:

  • Hospitalization
  • Intravenous fluids
  • Wound cleaning
  • Daily bandage changes
  • Antibiotics

    Some deep partial thickness burns eventually require skin grafts.

    Full thickness burns require extensive prolonged treatment that can be quite expensive. Expect your veterinarian to discuss the severity of the situation and the long-term recovery as well as costs. Some owners of pets with extensive full thickness burns choose euthanasia.

    The treatment for full thickness burns may include:

  • Hospitalization for several days to weeks
  • Intravenous fluids
  • Plasma or blood transfusions
  • Antibiotics
  • Daily bandage changes
  • Pain medication
  • Feeding tubes
  • Extensive nursing care
  • Multiple skin graft surgeries

    Home Care and Prevention

    For very small superficial partial thickness burns, carefully apply cool water to stop additional burning. Topical antibiotic creams can help healing.

    For all other burns, immediate gentle cooling with cool water and then immediate treatment by a veterinarian is recommended. There is no home care for most burns. Do not use ice or ice packs. Do not apply butter or any product to the burn. Do not place any clothing or anything on the burn other than cool water.

    Many burns are true accidents and cannot be prevented. To help reduce risk, keep your cat indoors and keep your pet away from all hot items or potential burn situations.

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