Thermal Burns in Cats

Overview of Thermal Burns in Cats

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:

What to Watch For

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 of Thermal Burns in Cats

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.

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

Treatment Thermal Burns in Cats

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:

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:

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.

In-depth Information on Thermal Burns in Cats

In human medicine, burns are divided into various degrees. This type of classification does not exactly fit with how animal skin reacts to burns so a different system is used.

Burns are divided based on the thickness of the burn.

In animals, the hair coat acts as an insulator and protects the skin. For this reason, areas of the body with less hair are prone to greater damage than areas with a thick hair coat.

In-depth Information on Diagnosis of Thermal Burns in Cats

A thorough physical examination is very important to determine the extent of the burns and to find any other injuries. Examination inside the mouth is essential. If soot is found in the mouth, inhalation burn injury as well as potential burning of the airways is to be suspected. This can make recovery even more difficult and prolonged.

The extent of the burn affects prognosis and can indicate the possibility of severe organ dysfunction. Burns that affect more than 20 percent of the body usually cause severe metabolic illness. Deep partial thickness and full thickness burns that cover over 50 percent of the body have a poor chance of recovery and euthanasia should be considered.

In addition to surface burns, shock can occur. In patients with over 20 percent of the body burned, shock can occur within 1 to 2 hours.

Blood work is frequently done throughout hospitalization, especially in cases of deep partial thickness and full thickness burns. Abnormalities associated with electrolytes and kidney values may occur. Various complications can occur and organs can fail. Blood tests can help determine if an organ is failing, if infection is occurring, if the pet is becoming anemic or if electrolyte disturbances are occurring.

Radiographs (x-rays) of the chest are done to determine the presence of associated smoke inhalation, fluid accumulation in the lungs, pneumonia or lung damage.

In-depth Information on Treatment of Thermal Burns in Cats

The treatment is based on the extent of the burn. Immediate cooling of the area is crucial. Use only cool water and slowly cool the area over 30 to 40 minutes. Do not use ice or ice packs. This may result in low body temperature or even frostbite.

Throughout treatment, various complications can occur which would make recovery difficult or may end the pet’s life. These include:

Home Care of a Cat with Thermal Burns

Burn patients require extensive and prolonged nursing care. Bandage changes and wound cleaning, as well as continuing nutritional support, are crucial. Some severe wounds can take months to completely heal. During the first 1 to 2 months of healing, the wounds must be monitored carefully. Scars can cause limitation of movement so daily physical therapy, including passive range of motion, exercise or swimming, is needed to prevent severe scabbing or tightness when the scars form.

Repeated veterinary visits are very important. Detecting and treating complications early will help hasten recovery.

Repeated blood tests are necessary to make sure the rest of the body is functioning normally.

Multiple surgeries may be required to completely heal the burn.

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