Your cat's skin is the largest organ of the body and is there to act as an armour from the outside world. It consists of several layers, the outermost is the epidermis, beneath that the dermis and deepest of all the hypodermis. Burns can affect just the outermost epidermis or can go through all three layers of skin and beyond.
There are three types of burns which cats can be exposed to:
- Thermal (from heat such as fire, sunburn, hot liquids),
- Electrical (chewing through cords is the most common electrical injury)
- Chemical. These burns may be external (on the skin) or internal (via ingestion).
This article will focus on chemical burns in cats.
Spillage of an acid or alkaline material on the coat can result in chemical burns. Petroleum, bleach, reed diffusers, chlorine, toilet cleaner, battery acid, caustic soda, ammonia, weed killers are all common household chemicals which can cause severe burns to cats. Sadly, not all chemical burns are accidental, with many publicized cases of cats being deliberately doused in chemicals to cause injury or death. In rare cases, chemical burns can occur in cats who have had topical flea products applied to the back of their necks.
Damage can also occur internally as your cat may lick the chemical off his coat, causing internal injury.
Any chemical burn, internal or external is life-threatening and must be treated by a veterinarian URGENTLY.
What are the symptoms of chemical burns?
Chemical burns may not show symptoms immediately, some can take several hours or even days to cause damage. Once symptoms do become apparent they generally include:
- Areas where the hair is falling out, which will progress to bright red, raw, blistered areas of skin which are extremely painful.
- Skin contracting.
- Sores may be found on the nose, face and inside the mouth, where he has licked the chemicals either directly (for example from the floor) or in an attempt to remove it from his fur.
- Shock. Signs of shock include pale gums, rapid and weak pulse, difficulty standing, panting, rapid but shallow breathing.
How are burns treated in cats?
- Remove his collar.
- Immediately wash the affected area with cool to lukewarm water for 20 minutes. Wear rubber gloves and goggles to avoid coming into contact with the chemical. Be careful not to spread the chemical to other parts of your cat's body as you are rinsing him. Do not apply any ointments or creams to the burn.
- If burns have occurred in the mouth, flush with water.
- Wrap him in a towel and get him to a veterinarian. Call ahead of time so he can be on standby.
- Debridement of severe wounds to remove dead or damaged tissue.
- Antibiotics will be prescribed to help prevent secondary bacterial infection.
- Painkillers may be prescribed, as chemical wounds can be extremely painful.
- Tube feeding: Initially, your cat may need to be tube fed if his mouth has been burned. Once he is sent home, he may need soft/moist foods until he has fully recovered.
- Supportive care such as IV fluids may be necessary as large areas of damage can result in fluid loss.
Avoiding chemical burns in cats:
Keep household chemicals away from your cat, they should be stored in a cupboard with a child lock.
Avoid letting your cat into the garage, where many chemicals are stored. Chemicals should be stored in a high up place which animals and children can't access.
Clean up any chemical spills immediately.
If the burn is a result of a topical flea product, report it to your veterinarian and don't use this type of product again. NEVER use dog flea products on your cat.