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What do I do if my dog or cat gets burned?

 

Burn wounds can be caused by heat, chemicals, or electricity.  Some common causes of burns in animals are a hot car engine or tailpipe, hot air dryers, spilled fluids and fire.  With dogs and cats caught in house fires, the first concern should be breathing.  Carbon monoxide and ash in smoke can be life-threatening and taking your pet to your veterinarian for assessment and oxygen treatment should happen quickly.

Skin burns can be obvious with full thickness (3rd degree) burns, but other burns can be harder to see because of the hair coat.  Some burns don’t become obvious until one to two weeks later.  The temperature of the source of the burn affects how long it takes to cause a burn: at 111º it would take 6 hours, at 124º it would take only 4 minutes, but at 158º, it takes less than one second to burn.  Immediately treatment of burned skin should include removal of the heat source and running room temperature water over the area.  Cold water can make the damage worse.  It is a good idea to shave the hair in the area for mild burns so the skin can be watched closely for any worsening.  Depending of the depth of the burn a topical antibiotic cream can be helpful.

With burns that are deep or that cover a large area of the body or that involve the mouth, eyes, or genitals, then treatment at your veterinarian is best.  The burns can be treated with surgical removal and closure of normal surrounding skin or they can be treated with bandaging to allow for the skin to heal on its own.  How long the burn takes to heal varies with how large and deep the burn was, but could take one to three months for complete healing to occur.  Excessive scarring, bacterial infections, and chronic pain are important factors that must be controlled during treatment.

Jonathan Miller, DVM, MS, Diplomate, ACVS (Surgery)

Dr. Miller received his DVM degree from the University of Illinois, completed a rotating internship at the Atlantic Veterinary College, a surgical internship in Houston, and completed a residency in surgery at Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Miller has interests in both general and orthopedic surgery with a special interest in laparoscopy and arthroscopy.