A closer look: Burns in Cats
Burns refer to skin damage caused by an external source of energy, including heat, electricity, chemical reactions, and friction. Burns are classified on a scale of increasing severity from 1 to 3 according to the depth of skin damage associated with the burn.
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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.
All cats are at some risk of burns. Routine household activities such as cooking, cleaning, and use of electricity present some risk of burns to curious cats.
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.
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.
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.
Testing and diagnosis
Burns are typically self-evident, with diagnostics guiding treatment and determining prognosis.
Diagnostics to assess burns include:
- Physical examination
- Diagnostic imaging
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.
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 in Cats common?
Burns are not common in cats.
- Pain medication
- Topical creams
- Nutraceutical therapy
- Fluid therapy