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Understanding the approach to animals with thermal burns

02 November 2022
10 mins read
Volume 13 · Issue 9
Figure 1. Thermal burn to the ventrum of a dog caused by jumping into a hot bath, showing a superficial partial-thickness burn. The dog's head is to the top of the image.
Table 1. Classification of burns by tissue injury


Thermal burn injuries represent a spectrum of superficial to deep epidermal and dermal injury sustained after exposure to a liquid, solid or gaseous heat source. Severe thermal burns result in both local damage and systemic effects. In systemically compromised animals, managing major body system abnormalities takes priority over surgically managing the thermal burn. General principles of wound management are relevant to animals with thermal burns. The surgical approach will vary according to individual wound and patient factors. Adjunctive therapies, such as negative pressure wound therapy, are touched on. Further research into thermal burns in veterinary cases is warranted.

Burn injuries are infrequently seen in small animal practice and can represent a challenge to nurse and treat. Burns can be sustained from heat, cold, chemical, electrical, and radiation sources. A thermal burn is defined as skin damage through contact exposure to extremes of temperature from a liquid, solid, or gaseous heat source. This includes excessively hot and cold temperatures. In practice, thermal burns are most commonly encountered because of injury from open flames, hot liquids and inappropriate use of heat pads (Jenkins, 2018).

Direct thermal damage causes immediate cell death, evident in the central portion of the burn wound (Vaughn and Beckel, 2012). Surrounding this portion is a zone of ischaemia, which can be preserved if managed appropriately. Finally, the outermost zone is characterised by vasodilation and an increased blood supply and inflammatory response (Jeschke et al, 2020). Burns are classified according to the depth of tissue injury (Table 1, Figures 13).

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