September 22, 2011
Accidents happen, and pets can get burned for one reason or
another just like their owners can. When this happens, it is best
to have a hands-off policy and leave the treatments to the
"The best thing an owner can do in the case of a burn is get the
animal to a veterinarian as soon as possible; burns are considered
to be emergencies in just about all situations, and the sooner
they are brought in, the better," says Dr. Alison Diesel, lecturer
specializing in dermatology, at the Texas A&M College of
Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
Sometimes pet owners will not notice the burned area for days or
even weeks after the burn has occurred. One thing to keep in mind
with burns is that sometimes what is seen initially is only the tip
of the iceberg.
"What may look like only a red spot of skin on a pet's side
following a burn incident can quickly become devitalized, dead
tissue, which is not only painful but also more at risk for
infections over the next couple of days," explains Diesel.
Infection in the animal is a big concern when dealing with
burns, especially if the burn goes deeper into the lower layers of
"If the skin barrier is not intact and normal, bacteria can
quickly enter the wound causing not only local infection but also
potentially it can get into the blood stream. This puts the
animal at risk for serious illness and potentially death," says
Diesel explains that very serious burns require hospitalization
and care for several days to weeks at a time to monitor and control
for any side effects of the burn.
Cars are often one of the causes for accidents resulting in pet
burns. On a hot day, the shade underneath a car or truck might seem
very appealing to an animal outside. Even on a cold day, the
heat of a car engine can be comforting for a kitty out in the cold.
If the animal comes in contact with a hot muffler or catalytic
converter even for a split second, a serious burn can occur.
There are many other scenarios as well that could be the cause
of pet burns, such as: barbeque grills, space heaters,
spilling hot liquids or food when cooking, objects laying in the
yard that conduct heat such as hoses or tools, or puppies or cats
chewing on plugged in electrical cords.
"Different types of burns require a bit different treatments,"
"Chemical burns for example, might become much worse when water
is applied to them, so the nature of the burn helps the
veterinarian know how best to treat it."
Sometimes owners do not witness the animal getting burned, so it
is important to be able to try and distinguish if a mark that is
found on a pet is actually a burn.
"Burns have a variable appearance based on the extent and
severity on an animal," says Diesel, "Initially, it may start
as the skin itself just looks a little red or inflamed, while more
severe burns can cause burning or singeing of the coat."
Diesel explains that the pet's hair may become dry, brittle,
curled, or even lost completely.
"Severe burns may show up as large areas of exposed deeper skin;
this would look like a scraped knee for example, which could be
moist, oozing, and often very painful," says Diesel.
Even what looks like only a mild burn can become much worse over
time. This is particularly true for thermal burns, which may
be caused by heat lamps, water blankets, or even hot water from a
garden hose that was used for bathing.
"The skin may look red initially, but then may turn black,
crusty, and become quite painful with these burns," says
It is natural for an owner who witnesses a pet getting burned to
want to try to help the animal and ease their pain, but again, the
best thing to do is to get the animal to a veterinarian as soon as
"If it is not a chemical burn, removing some of the burning
material can be helpful," explains Diesel, "For example, if
the owner trips over a dog or cat and ends up spilling a hot
casserole on the pet, or spills candle wax on the pet,
then removing the hot material would be good in that
This is the extent to which an owner should try to help a pet
with a burn. A veterinarian will be best able to provide and
recommend pain control given the pet's other medical conditions and
extent of injuries.
Owners can sometimes unintentionally burn a pet when drying them
off with a hair dryer after a bath. Hair dryers can be helpful for
drying off a pet, however owners need to be careful so as the hair
dryer does not get too hot.
"If the owner wants to use a hair dryer, it should be done on a
cool setting ONLY," says Diesel.
Less harmful ways of drying off a pet would include thorough towel
drying or allowing the animal to dry outside in the sun when the
weather is not too warm. Diesel recommends this as a good
option to consider, especially during the milder seasons such as
fall. Long hours in the sun however can be too much for some
animals, particularly when it is still rather hot outside.
Sometimes more serious situations can occur such as house or
barn fires. In this case, the owner should closely monitor the pet
not only for burns but also for signs of smoke inhalation.
"Smoke inhalation can be a big problem for dogs and cats,
especially if that animal already has any sort of respiratory
condition such as asthma," says Diesel.
Signs of smoke inhalation can include coughing, sneezing, or
even turning blue, gasping for air, or losing consciousness.
"Smoke inhalation is often treated with oxygen and possibly
fluid supportive care," says Diesel, "Radiographs (x-rays) of the
chest may also be helpful to evaluate the lungs."
When it comes to pet burns, time becomes crucial. The best thing
an owner can do for their pet is to get them to a veterinarian as
soon as possible to be evaluated and monitored. This is the best
way to ensure getting fluffy friends back to their playful and
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