First Aid for Dogs – Burns

Burns occur when heat is applied faster than the tissue can absorb and spread it. A dog can receive burns from a number of sources. These include:

  • Direct or Thermal Heat including flames – dogs may burn themselves on open fireplaces, campfires or other naked flames where their access is not restricted.
  • Radiated heat including sunburn, feet burns from very hot paths and road surfaces, touching a radiator or other home heating source.
  • Hot Liquids causing scalding for example knocking over a hot drink, pulling a kettle or saucepan onto themselves or cooking oil.
  • Chemical Burns can occur from many household cleaners and detergents – for example, cleaning bleach and disinfectants.
  • Electrical Burns most often occur where a dog has chewed through an electrical cord.

The degree of burn that a dog receives is dependent on the burn type, the temperature of the source, time of exposure and tissue at the site of exposure. Mild burns that affect only the superficial layer of the skin are known as superficial or first degree burns and show on your dog as an angry red mark. When damage penetrates the underlying skins layers, it is known as a second degree burn. If it has damaged all layers of the skin then is it known as a third degree burn.

In all but very superficial burns on a small area of your dog and where the skin is still intact, you are going to want to seek veterinary attention – they will determine the degree of the burn (some burns will damage blood supply to the skin which if left unattended will turn the skin a dark colour). Bacterial infections of the exposed skin can often result from even minor burns and a vet will be able to advise on creams and dressings appropriate for your dogs after care.

Wherever possible ascertain the source of the burn so that the first aid to apply is accurate and your vet can administer the correct treatment. Also remember that burns can be difficult to see as a result of

First Aid to Apply for Direct, Radiated & Liquid Burns

  1. Burns, especially if they affect a large surface area of your dog, can be life threatening. Dead tissue that results from burns tends to draw fluid from the body into the burnt tissue, creating loss of blood volume and potential hypovolemic shock. Burns should never be underestimated.If you encounter a dog that has been burned, do not apply anything to the burn, for example butter, grease or any ointments – they can trap the heat into the burn making it worse.
  2. Do not apply anything to the burn, for example butter, grease or any ointments – they can trap the heat into the burn making it worse!
  3. If it is possible to do so, apply cool water for at least 10 minutes.
  4. If the burns are severe however, then cover the burnt areas with a clean, cool, wet towel and take the pet immediately to the vet for treatment.
  5. Call the vet on your way so they can prepare for your arrival.
  6. A general rule is to keep the burn cool but the pet warm, so cover the rest of the patient with a blanket if possible.

First Aid to Apply for Electrical Burns

These are most commonly caused by your dog chewing on an electrical cord. Depending on the voltage, injury can be extensive and occasionally instant death can result. Burns often occur primarily on the lips, gums, palate and tongue and the extent of the damage may only be seen after 2-3 weeks as tissue slowly dies and sloughs off.

The first thing you must do is turn the electricity off at the source, then remove the cord from your dog’s mouth. Dogs that survive may be weak and wobbly initially when you find them. You can apply the principles of above, but all dogs that have sustained an electrical shock should be taken to the vet immediately.

First Aid to Apply for Chemical Burns

Some substances can cause burning by chemically reacting with the skin. There are many examples of such chemicals including some oven cleaners, disinfectants, drain cleaners, acid, petrol, cement and tar to name a few.

The best thing to do in a situation where you suspect a chemical may burn, is to flush the chemical off with copious amounts of water (if the chemical is dry then dust it off first).

DO NOT immerse your dog in water, use a hose or shower to flush the chemical off.

DO NOT attempt to neutralise an acid chemical with an alkaline substance or vice versa as this can lead to more damage. Your vet will be able to advise on a suitable neutralising agent and this is best performed by the veterinarian.

DO prevent your dog from licking itself/the chemical.

DO take your dog immediately to the vet after flushing off as much chemical as you can.

Dr Abbie Tipler, BVSc, MACVS (Surgery) Tipler, BVSc, MACVS (Surgery)

Dr Abbie is a Small Animal Veterinarian with 10 years full-time experience. Her passion is Small Animal Surgery and in 2011 she studied towards and obtained her Memberships in Small Animal Surgery from the Australian College of Veterinary Scientists. Although surgery is her special interest, she loves all aspects of General Practice, especially canine medicine. She lives with her family and two Ragdoll cats.