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208 Breeds, 422 Health Conditions  |  Find a Vet

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Burns From Heat View In Dogs

First Aid Condition

First aid health condition




Condition Overview

Dogs don't get burned very often because they instinctively shy away from heat. Cats, on the other hand, love heat and will lounge on surfaces as hot as 126F. Cats only feel the comfort, they don't feel themselves getting burned. They are also attracted to candles and gas stove flames.


Burns are hard to see because fur tends to hide the damage. Mild burns, called first-degree burns, affect the top layer of skin and usually appear as angry red marks. Second-degree burns go deeper into the skin and may rise blisters. If they cover small areas of the body (less than 1%), you can easily treat them at home, although they are often slow to heal.

Large first and second degree burns (covering more than 2.5% of the body surface area - each limb represents about 10% of a pet's total) should be examined by a veterinarian. Third degree burns must always be treated by a veterinarian. These burns go through all the layers of skin and into the flesh underneath. The skin turns brown and leathery. They are less painful than other burns because they destroy nerve endings, but they are much more serious.


Cats seem to be drawn to heat. Dogs may have an accident and be burned.

Puppies and kittens sometimes get mouth burns when they chew through electrical cords. The burns may raise blisters, generally visible on the gums, lips, and tongue, and they can be painful. The real danger however, is what happens after the accident. Even minor electrical shocks can damage blood vessels in the lungs. This causes a slow leak of fluids that can interfere with breathing. The affects on the pet's heart are even more serious.

While severe shocks can stop the heart immediately, sometimes the damage is delayed for a few hours. Although pets will seem fine, their hearts may begin beating erratically. It could take several hours before the symptoms appear. Symptoms include shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, loss of appetite, and lethargy.

Don't assume that electrical burns will get better, even if they seem to be minor. Call your veterinarian right away, even if there are no visible symptoms. Bite marks on an electrical cord and a burning odor in the room or from the pet are also signs that he may have gotten a burn or shock.


Diagnosis is made by examining symptoms.


  1. Flush the burn with cool water for 5 - 10 minutes - Cool water acts as a temporary anesthetic and cleans the burn. Burns continue to "cook" even without heat. The flow of cool water reduces temperatures below the surface and helps to prevent further damage. You can wash small burns with a garden hose, although a spray bottle or handheld showerhead also works. For cats and small dogs, it may be easiest to hold them under the faucet in the tub or sink.

    NOTE: Large burns may cause shock, and cold water would make things worse, so don't use it if the burn covers more than 2.5% of the body.

  2. Trim the fur surrounding the burn - Use blunt scissors to cut your pet's fur short enough to let you see the whole burn, but not short enough to see the skin.

  3. Cleanse the burn - Burns get infected easily, so wash the area well with mild soap and cool water. If you have it, an antiseptic solution like Betadine Solution is better. Add it to a few cups of distilled water until the solution is the color of weak tea, then flush the burn.

  4. Take off his collar - If your pet has been burned on the head or neck, remove his collar immediately. Burns cause tissues to swell, and this can make a collar tight enough to cause choking.

  5. Watch for shock - Burns covering more than 25% of a pet's body can cause the body to lose large amounts of fluid. This can lead to shock, a dangerous condition in which the body's circulation shuts down. Signs include fast breathing, weakness, pale gums, and ultimately, loss of consciousness. Pets who are going into shock need to see a veterinarian immediately.

    If you suspect shock, don't wash the burn because this can slow circulation. Instead, put ice in a plastic bag or wrap it in a washcloth and hold it against the burn. Wrap your pet in a blanket or towel to keep him warm, then get to help right away. You can also put a drop or two of Karo syrup or honey on your pet's gums to help keep him conscious.


Keeps pets away from hot objects that can cause burns.


After cleaning up mild burns, pat the area dry with a soft cloth. Don't use cotton balls - the fibers will stick to the wound.

Apply an aloe vera ointment 3 - 5 times a day. This can dramatically shorten healing time. Most aloe vera ointments also contain vitamin E, which can also speed healing.

Very mild first degree burns don't need to be covered with a bandage. Apply the aloe vera or antibiotic ointment like Neosporin several times a day until a scab forms. At that point, the burn is almost healed, and you can leave it alone.

Since second-degree burns get infected so easily, and because pets tend to lick them non-stop, veterinarians usually recommend covering them with a non-stick bandage. A good choice is a Telfa pas, although a sterile gauze pad or a clean, white cloth is also fine. If a second degree burn is really blistered and oozing a lot - to the point where the dressing becomes stuck and difficult to remove - contact your veterinarian to examine it. In the meantime, continue to use non-stick dressings. If the bandage still sticks, you may want to soften it with a bit of sterile saline contact lens solution before removing it - so that you do not start new bleeding.

Spread a thin coat of antibiotic ointment (like Neosporin) on the pad. This will prevent infection and keep the pad from sticking to the burn. Don't use ointments containing hydrocortisone, because steroids make burns heal more slowly. Hold the pad in place by wrapping it with roll gauze or an elastic bandage like an Ace bandage.

Burns take a long time to heal and generally need different bandages at various stages. For the first several days, check with your vet to see if you can use a wet-to-dry bandage. These are applied wet and allowed to dry which creates a tight seal over the burn. Soak a sterile gauze pad in distilled water or saline solution, then press it over the wound. Cover this with a larger dry pad and hold everything in place with a strip of roll gauze.

For the first few days, change the wet-to-dry bandage 4 - 5 times a day. This allows you to inspect the burn for signs of infection, and removing the bandage also removes dead tissue that can contaminate the burn.

After a few days, switch to a dry non-stick bandage like a Telfa pad. Continue coating the bandage with antibiotic ointment. Telfa pads protect the burn while allowing liquids to drain out. If you don't have them, you can substitute a sanitary napkin or a disposable diaper. Change the bandage whenever it feels damp on the outside. This should be once a day at first. If the bandage needs changing more frequently, consult your vet. later, you'll need to change it only every few days.

To keep bandages dry when your pet goes outside, cover them with a plastic bag or plastic wrap like Saran Wrap. Burns need air to heal, so remove the plastic when he comes inside.

Dogs and cats instinctively lick their wounds, which can add to the healing time. A pet who won't leave the area alone or is licking or chewing at the bandage will need to be fitted with a cone shaped collar called an Elizabethan Collar to keep him from reaching the burn.

Show Sources & Contributors +


The First Aid Companion for Dogs And Cats

Publisher: Rodale Inc, 2001

Website: http://www.rodalebooks.com/

Authors: Amy D. Shojai, Shane Bateman DVM

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