What is Chemical Cautery?

Cautery or cauterization is defined as the intentional scarring or burning to alter tissues. Chemical cautery is a form of modern surgical intervention, which involves the application of acids and chemical substances to produce a chemical-based burn. Veterinarians use this form of cautery during surgery to seal a stubborn blood vessel, to surgically separate tissue, or to destroy unwanted cells. Due to the fact that chemical cautery uses chemicals to complete the procedure, a trained veterinary professional is the only individual that can use this surgical technique. 

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Chemical Cautery Procedure in Dogs

Chemical cautery is a procedure performed in a non-sedated, conscious dog following topical anesthesia. Topical anesthesia is applied to the skin in a cream form. Veterinarians commonly use topical anesthetic cream proxymetacaine hydrochloride 0.5% for a canine chemical cautery procedure. Before applying the topical cream, all hair will be shaved from the affected area and cleansed with an antiseptic solution. Chemical cauterants are variable depending on the area affected. The following step-by-step procedure is for a canine chemical cautery used to treat a canine orbital ulceration. Chemical cauterants used in this example include; 6% aqueous iodine solution, pure trichloroacetic acid and liquefied phenol 80% with 20% water dilution. 

  1. Hair around the affected area will be shaved.
  2. Skin will be cleansed with an aseptic solution. 
  3. Topical anesthetic cream proxymetacaine hydrochloride 0.5% will be applied to the prepped area. 
  4. Chemical cauterants (6% aqueous iodine solution, pure trichloracetic acid and liquefied phenol 80% with 20% water dilution) will be carefully poured into a small container.
  5. A tiny pledget of cotton is grasped using a Halstead’s mosquito forceps. Tightly wound around the closed jaw forceps, the vet will dip the forceps into the cauterant solution. 
  6. The cauterizing agent is carefully applied to the rim of the epithelium tissue and work towards the outward edge of the erosion. 
  7. The cauterized area will become grey as the phenol precipitates proteins. 
  8. After the cautery is complete, the eye is flushed with saline or sterile water. 

Efficacy of Chemical Cautery in Dogs

Chemical cautery using phenol is a simple, inexpensive, and effective way to cauterize a wound or condition. This form of wound care will resolve a problem within only a few days after initial treatment if performed properly. 

Chemical Cautery Recovery in Dogs

In addition to the cauterizing action of chemical cautery, phenol holds antiseptic and bactericidal properties, as well as a local anesthetic. There is no need, therefore, for the veterinarian to provide any further form of treatment after the cautery procedure.

Cost of Chemical Cautery in Dogs

The cost of chemical cautery in dogs is variable depending on the chemicals used in the procedure and the area being treated. A dog owner can expect to pay a range of $50 to several hundred dollars to have a chemical cautery procedure performed on their dog.

Dog Chemical Cautery Considerations

Chemical cautery may cause a mild inflammatory response associated with healing. Inadequate cautery or a misdiagnosis can cause the canine’s problem to return, not resolving within the next few days after initial treatment. The cautery may not have extended to the region of normal epithelial adhesions, therefore, the procedure will need to be repeated. 

Chemical Cautery Prevention in Dogs

Chemical cautery in dogs can be prevented if the condition your dog is presenting is a wound, such as a bite or laceration. However, chemical cautery is used for several types of conditions and during surgical procedures, so the need for its use it cannot always be prevented.