A newspaper headline reads, "Family pet singed but safe after house fire rescue." Flames from house fires, brush fires, or forest fires are just one type of burn that can affect animals.
"An animal's haircoat is very flammable," says Dr. Kinga Gortel, D.V.M., "and, unfortunately, animals do not know the all-important fire safety phrase, `stop, drop, and roll'."
Electrical burns can also destroy skin and deeper tissues. They are most often caused by curious pets, especially puppies and kittens, chewing on electrical cords. In large animals like horses or cattle, electrical burns are often caused by lighting strikes in open pastures or contact with live wires.
Thermal burns can result from scalding with hot liquids or oils or from contact with hot objects. Animals can also receive radiant heat burns or sunburns. She notes that the simple use of a heating pad to warm a new litter can result in problems. "If the heat is set too high, puppies or kittens can be burned," she says.
When treating animal burn patients, Dr. Gortel explains that veterinarians base prognosis on several factors: the percentage of skin surface affected; the depth of burn penetration (partial- or full-thickness); location of the burn; the animal's age; and overall health status of the animal.
A pet with burns involving smaller areas of the body surface usually can be treated successfully. Initial action would be to address shock, administer fluids, and maintain the animal's breathing. Cool the skin and minimize movement to reduce the animal's pain. Clean the burn to remove sloughing tissue and debris. Apply topical and systemic antibiotics to the burn to reduce infection. If necessary, provide nutritional support to counteract protein and fluid loss.
The prevalence of secondary injuries influences the animal's chances for recovery. Smoke inhalation and lung damage can result in immediate or delayed respiratory failure. Animals with extensive burns may go into shock due to diminished blood flow and loss of fluids through the burned skin surface. Other complications include blood or skin infections, edema in the lungs, impaired heart and liver function, and renal failure.
If burns are severe and involve more than 50 percent of an animal's skin surface, the prognosis is fair to poor. Euthanasia may have to be considered. Quality of life must be a priority when determining a plan of action. Treating an animal with severe burns can also be expensive. The extent of the burns and loss of skin may result in a lengthy hospital stay, often in intensive care.
Dr. Gortel encourages owners to contact a veterinarian immediately if they witness or suspect that their pet has suffered any type of burn. Even if the animal shows no signs of distress, which is typical of electrical burns, problems can occur up to 24 hours following contact with electricity. She also advises owners against treating animals with burns on their own.
By Kimberly Meenen