Burns may occur from exposure to heat or flames (called thermal burns), caustic chemicals, or electrical currents. The severity of the burn is determined by the depth and extent of the injury. Superficial (first degree) burns only affect the skin and fur. Partial-thickness burns (second degree) involve the skin, glands, and superficial tissue. Full-thickness (third degree) burns destroy all the layers of the skin and nearby tissues.
Superficial burns cause redness, swelling, and ulceration of the skin, along with singeing or loss of fur. Partial-thickness burns cause these signs plus blistering and swelling of the skin. Deeper partial-thickness burns may be yellow or whitish in color, dry and less sensitive to the touch. Full thickness burns may be charred and have a leathery texture, with no recognizable normal skin. Depending on the source of the burn, other serious signs may be present as a result of smoke inhalation, electrical current exposure, shock, and damage to other organs.
Proper wound care is important to prevent infections and decrease the amount of bodily fluid lost to evaporation. Wound care often involves applications of ointments and frequent bandaging. Burned tissue changes a lot over the first several days, and areas that are not going to survive become more obvious over time. Dead skin and tissue must be softened and removed. After this, wounds may be closed surgically using skin grafts. With severe burns, intensive monitoring and repeated laboratory testing is often necessary. Prognosis is inversely proportional to the severity of the burn. Other organs are likely to be affected with burns that involve more than 20% of the total body surface area. Animals rarely survive if more than 50% of the total body surface area is burned. Healing of severe burn wounds may take up to six months and multiple surgeries may be needed.
Dr. Karsten Fostvedt is a veterinarian at St. Francis Pet Clinic in Ketchum.