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Caring for a Dog's Burn Wounds, What You Need to Know
By Amy Caldwell
Published: 09/25/2017, edited: 08/10/2021
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Dogs can receive burn wounds a number of different ways. Ignition sources in the home or outdoors, such as fires, candles, irons, and stoves, or hot pavement, sunburn, or boiling water can cause thermal burns to a dog. Chemical burns can occur from caustic substances either acidic or alkaline typical household products and cleaning agents that they come into contact with or are ingested. Electrical burns, which may occur from chewing on electrical wires of household appliances are another source of burns dogs can experience. If your dog receives a burn wound, they will need special care to ensure their recovery, as burns are serious wounds and subject to complications. Read on for more information on caring for burn wounds in dogs.
Burn Wound Severity
Because animals have fur-covered skin, the classification of burn tyres is not exactly the same as for humans.
- Superficial, partial thickness burns, in dogs, are similar to 1st degree burns in humans. Only the top layer of skin is affected, skin appears red, no blisters are present, and hair may still be intact.
- Deep, partial thickness burns, similar to 2nd degree burns in humans, occur when layers below the surface layer of skin are also affected. Blisters are usually not present, skin is red, and sub layers of skin may be exposed.
- Full thickness burns are comparable to 3rd degree burns. These burns affect all skin layers, and even tissues below the skin. Skin may appear white or leathery.
Where fur is present, burns tend to be less severe, as fur acts as an insulator, however, areas without fur or hair, like the belly, face, or genitals may be more severely affected.
When your dog experiences a burn, pet owners can provide emergency first aid care for their dog while transporting or waiting to obtain veterinary care.
For thermal burns, pet owners need to cool the area burned as soon as possible with cool water, not ice cold water, which can damage tissues and contribute to shock. Continue applying cool water for 30 to 40 minutes after the thermal burn is received.
For electrical burns, ensure that the source of electricity is unplugged, or a breaker turned off and left off if damage to the electrical cord has occurred, before touching your dog. Check for breathing, heartbeat, and pulse. If your dog is not breathing, initiate CPR on the way to the veterinarian.
For chemical burns, rinse with water. If you know the chemical is alkaline, you can rinse with vinegar and water. If it is acidic you can rinse with baking soda and water. Check product packaging if available to see if there is an antidote if ingestion has occurred.
Burns in the mouth should be flushed with water.
If your dog experiences burns, veterinary care should be obtained to assess the severity of the burn and receive medical treatment as soon as possible.
For superficial, partial thickness burns, your veterinarian will carefully remove any remaining hair, clean the burn wound, and apply a topical cream, such as silver sulfadiazine, that can be applied by pet owners at home for several days. The wound should be monitored to ensure healing progresses and any concerns should be addressed with your veterinarian.
For deep, partial thickness burns, or full thickness burns, hospitalization is often necessary. Supportive care with intravenous fluids and electrolytes, and other medications to support organ functioning will be administered as required. The wound will be cleaned and topical burn cream applied, along with dressing if required. Dogs with burns may need to be treated for shock if burns are significant. Depending on the type of burn, your veterinarian may need to determine if internal skin and mucous membranes are affected. If the dog inhaled superheated air, the inside of their mouth, and airways may be compromised, which will require additional medical attention.
Blood and urine testing to monitor organ function will be performed and medication provided as required. Anemia can occur from destruction of red blood cells, and if severe, a blood transfusion may be required. If smoke inhalation was a factor, chest x rays may be required to determine if damage to lungs occurred and if fluid is accumulating, which can result in pneumonia. Antibiotics may be necessary for significant burns to prevent infections from occurring, as burn wounds are particularly susceptible to infections. Burn wounds are extremely painful and painkillers will be provided your dog to ease discomfort. If burns affect 20% or more of the dog's body, metabolic illness can result and organ damage is a very real possibility. If a significant portion of a dog's body is burned, with deep partial or full thickness burns, over 50% of the body, euthanasia may need to be considered. Your veterinary hospital will monitor healing and ensure that infection does not occur. Follow-up procedures to repair burned tissues may be required.
Internal burns from electrical or chemical sources may damage mouth, esophagus, stomach, and airways. Initially, the mouth is flushed with water. If only the mouth is affected, an agent to clean oral burns can be used to reduce the chance of infection, and remove dead tissue. Medication to promote healing of mucous membranes, such as sucralfate, may be prescribed for oral cavities, and esophageal healing. Tube feeding is often necessary until healing has sufficiently occurred for oral ingestion of food.
During recovery, pet owners will need to carefully administer any medications prescribed, including antibiotics and painkillers, dress wounds as instructed, and monitor wounds for signs of complications or infections and to ensure healing occurs. A rich diet will be required to increase metabolic functioning. Dogs recovering from burns have higher caloric and nutritional needs to facilitate healing. If a dog has experienced burns to the inside of their mouth, tube feeding may be necessary to ensure they get adequate nutritional support.
Wounds usually need to be cleaned regularly and antibiotic ointments and other topical medications applied and bandaged if recommended. Burn wounds that are bandaged will require non-stick telfa pads against the wound to prevent the bandage sticking to the tissues. Follow up with your veterinarian to remove dead tissue and provide skin graft surgeries if necessary will be required.
Appropriate, Thorough Care
Burns are very serious and veterinary care for all but the most superficial of burn wounds is required. Emergency first aid treatment of burns focuses on cooling the area and rinsing with water. Your veterinarian will assess burn wounds and determine severity and appropriate treatment. Dogs with serious burns require supportive care, medication, and monitoring during hospitalization immediately following a burn wound. Subsequent home care will involve monitoring the wound, providing prescription medications, both oral and topical, and cleaning, applying and changing wound dressings several times daily, as instructed. Follow-up care with your veterinarian will be required to assess healing, remove dead tissue, and possibly apply skin grafts.
Dogs with burns will need a lot of supportive, nursing and medical care to recover. It is well worth it to minimize hazards in your home and yard that could cause burns and prevent them from occurring.