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208 Breeds, 422 Health Conditions  |  Find a Vet

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Burns From Chemicals View In Cats

First Aid Condition

First aid health condition




Condition Overview

Chemical burns tend to be more serious than simple heat burns because chemicals continue damaging the skin and flesh for as long as they make contact. No matter how painful and serious they are at first, they usually get worse within a day or two.


Information needed.


Many chemicals including toilet cleaners, chlorine, swimming pool cleaners, weed killers, and more cause burns. A heavy coat of fur doesn't protect dogs and cats from chemicals. In fact, it often makes the burns worse because the fur holds onto liquids and powders and keeps them in contact with the skin longer.


Diagnosis is made by examining symptoms.


  1. Protect your skin and eyes - first, put on disposable medical gloves (available in drug stores) and make sure your eyes and skin are covered. Also ensure everyone nearby is covered. If your pet begins to shake his coat and tail, the chemical will go everywhere.

  2. Remove your pet's collar - leather collars absorb moisture and will hold chemicals against the skin, even metal and nylon collars can trap liquids. In addition, chemical burns can swell quickly, making collars or harnesses so tight they interfere with breathing.

  3. Use a muzzle - Don't let your pet lick the area. Licking will spread chemicals from outside the body inside, causing all new problems. The fastest way to stop licking is to tie his mouth closed. Don't waste time looking for materials, however. Chemicals can do a lot of damage very quickly, especially on the tongue or the inside of the mouth. You may be better off holding your pet to keep him from licking while someone else looks for panty hose, a neck tie, or a flat leash to tie his mouth. If you have a short nosed breed of dog (like a pug) or a cat, use a pillowcase over the pet's head. Don't use a muzzle if your pet is having a hard time breathing. Have a large, needle-less syringe filled with water readily available in case you need to gently rinse your pet's mouth.

  4. Remove the chemical - If the chemical is a powder, brush off your pet thoroughly with a stiff-bristled brush. Next, rinse off his coat with water as described below. Before brushing your pet, put on a mask or wrap a bandanna around your nose and mouth so that you don't inhale potentially dangerous chemical powder.

    Flood the areas with a lot of cool to luke warm water (water that is too hot may speed up the absorption of the chemical through the skin, while water that is too cold may cause hypothermia). Keep rinsing for at least 20 minutes. Try to direct the stream of water away from the rest of the body to prevent spreading the chemical. Water is the best first aid there is, so continue flushing even if the water appears to be making the damage worse. Don't use antibiotic or other ointments because they'll trap residues of the chemical next to the skin.

  5. Look for symptoms of shock - Pets who have been exposed to large amounts of chemicals sometimes go into shock. A pet in shock acts weak or woozy. His eyelids droop, and he may have a pale tongue or gums. Shock can kill a pet in as little as 10 - 20 minutes, and he will need immediate veterinary care to survive.
    • If signs of shock are present, wrap the dog in a blanket to keep him warm - this can slow down the shock process
    • Drive directly to the animal clinic
    • You can also put a drop or two of Karo syrup or honey on your pet's gums to help keep him conscious.

  6. Help your pet breathe - You may need to give artificial respiration if your pet goes into shock. Check the nose for chemical residue, if none exists, put your mouth over his nose and blow 2 quick breaths - watching to see his chest rise. Continue breathing, giving 15 - 20 breaths per minute, until he starts breathing on his own or until you get to a vet.


Keep all dangerous chemicals out of reach of children and pets.


Chemical burns are often protected with bandages called wet-to-dry, available in drugstores and from vets. They're applied wet, then allowed to dry against the wound. When they are peeled off, they remove dead tissue at the same time. Wet-to-dry bandages need to be changed several times a day. Your vet will give you instructions.

Burns often cause sores that are wet and weepy. Once the burn starts healing, switch from wet-to-dry bandages to absorbent non-stick pads such as Telfa pads. They help keep wounds dry and allow air to circulate.

Change bandages according to your veterinarian's instructions. As the burns heal, you can start changing the bandages every 2nd or 3rd day. As soon as a bandage starts getting damp, it needs to be changed. Once a durable layer of new skin, called epithelium, has nearly covered the area, you may be able to remove the bandage altogether. Check with your vet to see how soon you can do this. For large wounds, your pet may have to keep the bandages on for weeks.

Even though it's dangerous to apply ointments right after pets have been burned by chemicals, you do want to use an antibiotic ointment like Neosporin as the burn heals. A good rule of thumb is if your pet is still wearing bandages at your vet's instruction, apply the ointment. Once the bandages have been removed and a healthy layer of new skin has formed, stop applying the ointment.

Its pretty obvious when chemical burns are healing properly. When there is a problem, the first sign is likely to be a bad sell. Every time you change the bandage, give it a sniff. An odor that is unusually bad probably means that an infection is beginning, and you will want to call your vet right. Other warning signs include sudden decrease in appetite, decreased activity level, pain, or fever. Also, if your pet is chewing at the burn site, it could indicate the beginning of an infection.

Check for swelling, warmth, pain, and the other warning signs within a few hours of applying any new bandage. These signs could signal that the bandage is too tight and needs to be loosened. You must also protect any bandaged area from becoming soiled or wet. Taping a thick plastic bag temporarily over the bandaged site before your pet goes out can help if it is wet (or raining) outside. Just be sure to remove the plastic bag when he comes back in the house.

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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