Burns in Cats

Key Takeaways

Burns can be caused by heat (thermal), friction (mechanical), or chemical reactions. 

• First degree burns are usually superficial, and do not usually require veterinary assistance

• Second and third degree burns reach deeper through the layers of skin, and in extreme cases may be life-threatening

• A cat affected by a second or third degree burn requires veterinary assistance immediately

• Bloodwork helps guide treatment, which varies depending on the degree and depth of the burn

• Prognosis depends on the severity of the burn according to the depth and extent of tissue damage

A Closer Look: What are Burns in Cats?

A cat suffering a burn may also exhibit the following symptoms

• Reduced socializing • Irritability • Pain responses/unwillingness to move • Loss of fur • Reduced appetite

Loss of weight

These symptoms are usually more prominent with more severe burns. A cat with a first degree burn may only express reduced sociability, or pain responses upon contact with the burned skin. With a severe burn, the same cat may lose fur, weight, and present with aggression.

Risk Factors

Small first degree burns are not critical, and affected cats typically recover naturally without external assistance.

Second and third degree burns can lead to excessive dehydration, pain, and blood loss. Secondary infections are common. Blistering, painful skin, charred skin, bleeding, or white and deadened skin are symptoms of a second or third degree burn. Second and third degree burns require immediate emergency veterinary attention.

Possible Causes

Most burns are caused in one of three different ways:

Thermal burns are caused by heat, such as by fire, steam, or electricity. Chemical burns are caused by exposure to harsh chemicals. Examples include lye, acids, household cleaners, and gasoline.  Mechanical burns are caused by friction, such as by a rug-burn.

Main Symptoms

The symptoms vary depending on the degree of burn.

First degree burns only affect the surface level of skin. The skin  typically turns red, similar to a sunburn, and does not blister. Second degree burns usually blister, and may be moist and painful.  Third degree burns are deep, and the most severe. The fur may be charred, and the skin beneath may appear white, leathery, and dry. The affected area usually loses sensation and a thick layer of dead skin (eschar) develops.

Testing and Diagnosis

Burns are typically self-evident, with diagnostics guiding treatment and determining prognosis.

Diagnostics to assess burns include:

• Physical examination • Bloodwork • Diagnostic imaging • Urinalysis

Steps to Recovery

Treatments vary depending on the degree and extent of the burn. Topical creams, antibiotics, and nutraceutical therapies are common, as is aggressive use of pain medication. For more severe burns, wound management, fluid therapy, and surgical procedures (including skin grafts) may be required.

Recovery time varies depending on the cause and intensity of burn. A cat is expected to recover from small, first-degree burns without any specific treatment within a week or two. Second degree burns generally have a positive prognosis with proper veterinary care. Third degree burns are far more taxing and have a more guarded prognosis.

Prevention

Burns are not contagious, however proper hygienic care is important to prevent infection.

Do not use topical products to treat a burn without veterinary direction, including soaps or neutralizing agents. Many topical treatments are toxic to cats.

Thermal burns can be prevented by restricting access to sources of heat such as running hot water faucets and stove tops. Electrical burns can be prevented by restricting access to electric cables, especially when household pets have a known history of chewing cables. Chemical burns can be prevented by keeping household chemicals, including cleaning agents and gasoline, stored securely out of reach of pets. Indoor cats are also less likely to experience chemical burns caused by exposure to solvents outdoors, such as in gutter runoff.

Are Burns Common in Cats?

Burns are not common in cats.

Typical Treatment

• Pain medication • Topical creams • Antibiotics • Nutraceutical therapy • Fluid therapy • Surgery

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