What are Thermal Burns?
If your cat has suffered from a thermal burn, the first step is to get your cat away from the source of the burn and examine it. Do not apply ice, ointments, or extreme temperatures to the affected area, such as ice or cold water; these may exacerbate tissue damage and cause your cat to go into shock. Thermal burns should always be treated as an emergency that warrants immediate veterinary attention.
Thermal burns are one of the most common types of burns in cats. Thermal burns occur when cats come into contact with sources of extreme heat – these may include fire, hot or boiling liquids, or other hot objects. Thermal burns are a traumatic type of injury and are usually accidental in nature.
Symptoms of Thermal Burns in Cats
Symptoms may vary depending on what caused the burn. Typically, there will be immediate evidence of a thermal burn. Take your cat to the vet as soon as possible if you notice any of the following symptoms:
- Signs of pain, such as yowling
- Red, swollen, inflamed skin
- Blackened skin
- Pus-filled or draining blisters
- Limping or lameness
Thermal burns range in severity. However, any and all thermal burns should be treated as an emergency as there is no way for an owner to know the extent of tissue damage resulting from a burn.
This the least severe type of burn in cats, and is commonly known as a first-degree burn. Superficial burns affect the surface of the skin, and are characterized by red, swollen blisters.
Partial Thickness Burn
The partial thickness burn extends into the dermis, the second layer of skin, and is commonly known as second-degree burn. These burns are similar in appearance to superficial burns and will bleed when pricked.
Deep Partial Thickness Burn
This type of burn, which is also classed as a second-degree burn, is characterized by a blotchy appearance with red and white blisters that are typically filled with fluid.
Full Thickness Burn
This is the most severe type of thermal burn. The skin turns black and feels like leather. Full thickness burns result in complete destruction of the nerves as well as the top two layers of skin.
Causes of Thermal Burns in Cats
The primary cause of thermal burns in cats is traumatic, and usually accidental, injury.
Diagnosis of Thermal Burns in Cats
Call the vet as soon as you can to let them know what happened and notify them that this will be an emergency case. Do not attempt to clean or wash the burn; your cat will be in pain, but you may make it worse by touching or otherwise irritating the affected area.
Your vet will be able to make a diagnosis based on presentation of symptoms and appearance of the burns. Be sure to tell your vet how your cat was burned and when. During the appointment, your vet will clean the skin, evaluate the type of burn, and assess the tissue damage as best they can. However, it should be noted that the full extent of tissue damage may take several days to manifest.
Treatment of Thermal Burns in Cats
Treating thermal burns will depend on the severity, location, and size of the burn. Burns involving less than fifteen percent of the cat’s body are typically treated with antibiotic topical treatments and pain management medication. Burns affecting more than fifteen percent of the body are treated more aggressively, through medication and/or surgery. If more than fifty percent of the body is burned, the prognosis is typically very poor. Your vet will be able to advise you on a treatment plan based on your cat’s specific needs.
During treatment, the vet will clean the affected skin and remove any dead tissue from the burn, as this is a breeding ground for bacteria. They will then apply the most suitable topical treatment and bandage the burn. Oral antibiotics are usually also prescribed. For severe burns, hospitalization, coupled with intravenous fluid and nutritional therapies, may be required.
Recovery of Thermal Burns in Cats
Recovery and prognosis will depend on the severity, location, and size of the burn. Always follow your vet’s post-treatment and/or post-operative instructions carefully. Never administer any burn ointments made for human use as these may worsen the condition. Administer all medications exactly as directed.
Superficial burns generally take a week to heal. Partial thickness and deep partial thickness burns may take two to four weeks to heal. Full thickness burns will take more than four weeks to heal.
Upon your cat’s return home, you may need to limit outdoor activity if they require an extensive recovery. Ensure they have a safe place to rest. You will likely need to apply topical antibiotic ointments and bandages every twenty-four hours, as directed by your vet.
If you have any questions, or if the burn does not seem to be healing with treatment, contact your vet immediately.