Burns are a common emergency injury in pets. There are a number of ways your pet can be burned including a run-in with an open oven door, a too-hot dip in the bathtub, or an ill-advised sniff of a grease-splattering pan.
There are actually three kinds of burns:
- Thermal Burns – Caused by steam, heat, or fire
- Chemical Burns – Caused by chemicals or chemical fumes (acids, drain cleaners, gasolines, etc.)
- Mechanical Burns – Burns caused by friction such as from a rope or by being dragged
What you do immediately after your pet is burned depends almost entirely on how severe the burn is.
0-30 minutes in: Assess the Severity
There’s a difference in a small blister burn and a full-body burning. It goes without saying that if your pet was burned by coming into direct contact with fire, you should get them to the closest emergency veterinary clinic as quickly as possible. Fire burns are serious, impacting several layers of skin, and can easily become infected.
First-degree burns (superficial burns) are the least serious – these are the kind you get when you touch a hot pan. They may result in redness, light swelling, and some discomfort.
Second-degree burns (partial-thickness burns) are more serious and involve more than the top layer of skin. They also cause redness, swelling, and discomfort, usually accompanied by blistering.
Third- and fourth-degree burns (full thickness burns) involve several layers of skin. They result in white or even black skin, significant pain, and numbness – temporary or permanent – in the skin. They are especially prone to infection.
If you know or even suspect your pet has a third degree burn, get them to the closest veterinary clinic ASAP. First and second degree burns might be treatable at home, but you should always contact your vet for specific instructions.
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30-60 minutes in: Treat the Burn
Assuming your vet has given you the all-clear to provide at-home treatment to your pet’s burn, it’s time to get to work.
In cases of very minor burns, a wait-and-see approach is fine. If you can immediately tell a burn is going to swell and possibly blister, first-aid can be helpful. If you can do so relatively easily, use sharp scissors to clip your pet’s hair back on top of the burn area; do not shave the hair as this could remove the delicate top layer of skin.
Next, lightly rinse the area with cool water or saline solution. Apply a very thin layer of silver sulfadiazine ointment (keep this in your pet first aid kit!) and wrap loosely with sterile gauze wrap.
1 hour – 2 hours in: Watch for Infection
After initial treatment, be sure to change the ointment and wrapping every day. If your pet won’t stop gnawing at the burn area, it may be time for a cone collar!
A little blistering is to be expected; do not intentionally pop a pet’s blister, however. If you notice any pus, off-colors, or funky smells during the healing process, be sure to reach out to your vet immediately. Burns are notorious for their propensity to become infected and antibiotic treatment is the only option.