Burns and scalds in dogs

Burns and scalds in dogs are most commonly caused by heat, chemicals and electricity.

If you suspect your dog has been burnt or scalded then veterinary attention should be sought immediately from your local vet or, out of hours, your nearest Vets Now.

Causes and Symptoms
image of a dog near a fire for vets now article on burns and scalds in dogs
Burns or scalds should be treated by a vet

What can cause burns and scalds in dogs?

The most common sources of dogs burns include:

  • Hot liquids – kettles, saucepans full of hot water, hot drinks
  • Flames and smoke – flames will obviously damage the skin, but what is often far more dangerous is the heat that is contained in the air which is taken into the lungs to damage the very delicate linings within the lungs
  • Radiators and heated pads.  If your pet is unable to move away from the heat source (the very young and elderly pets are most at risk), severe burns can be seen.
  • Electrical Injuries – most commonly occur in the home where an electrical flex has been chewed
  • Caustic materials – strong acids or alkalis can cause severe damage, for example, bleach and other household disinfectants

Dogs, like us, are protected from the environment by the skin and specialised cells that line the trachea, oesophagus and stomach, and it is these structures that if damaged can cause great harm to the organs lying underneath. For example, if a lot of skin is burnt away, the body will lose lots of water which will lead to shock, and if there is a great deal of damage then in rare cases death can occur.


What are the signs of burns and scalds in dogs?

Electrical injuries nearly always affect the mouth, and will show as burns on the lips and across the roof of the mouth, so don’t forget to open the mouth and have a look inside if you find a damaged electrical cable within your dog’s reach. If there are lesions on the back or top of the head then hot liquids are possible. Caustic substances may well most commonly affect the feet and mouth/tongue (from licking to clean themselves) and heat pads and hot water bottles will affect the tummy.

What should I do if I think my dog has been burnt?

You need to stop further damage and this will again depend on the cause of the burn/scald, but you should primarily be aware of your own safety. The best example is an electrical lead as you might be there when your dog has its teeth clamped round the cable. Do not touch your dog until you have turned off the power otherwise you may receive a shock yourself.

In the case of hot liquids, you need to cool the area off with cold water or wet, cold and clean towels, but this only applies if the wound is fresh. If the skin is cold then you need to be really careful as the skin is compromised. As a result, bacteria can easily colonise the damaged area, so use clean and preferable sterile dressings.

What is the treatment for dog burns and scalds?

If you suspect your dog has been burnt or scalded then veterinary attention should be sought immediately. As the skin has been damaged bacteria can enter and so cleaning and antibiotics may be required for smaller lesions.

In larger lesions, much more aggressive therapy is required. In most cases intravenous fluid therapy will be needed as well as pain relief, antibiotics and often frequent dressing changes (which your dog may need to be sedated for).

The prognosis depends on the extent of the burn but in most cases is good.