Burns and Electric Shocks in Dogs

Burns are caused by heat, chemicals, electric shocks, or radiation. Hot liquids may scald a dog. Sunburn is an example of a radiation burn. It occurs on the noses of dogs with insufficient pigment and on the skin of white-coated dogs who are clipped short in summer.

The extent of skin damage depends upon the length of exposure.

A first-degree burn causes the skin to become red, slightly swollen, and painful. It usually heals in about five days.

A second-degree burn is deeper and there is blistering. These burns are extremely painful. If there is no infection, healing is usually complete in 21 days.

A third-degree burn involves the full thickness of skin and extends into the subcutaneous fat. These burns appear charred, dry, and leathery. The hair comes out easily when pulled. Deep burns, because they destroy nerve endings, usually are not as painful as second-degree burns.

If more than 50 percent of the dog's body surface is involved with second-degree burns, or if more than 30 percent is involved with third-degree burns, survival is unlikely.

Treatment: All but minor burns require professional attention. Protect the area from further injury by wrapping it with a loose-fitting damp gauze dressing and proceed at once to the veterinary clinic. Extensive burns require intensive care to treat shock, adjust fluid and electrolyte losses, and prevent secondary infection.

If your dog appears to be suffering from electrical shock, use a wooden implement to slide any cords away from him before you touch him. Alternatively, unplug all cords or turn off the circuit breakers so that you won't get a shock too.

Small superficial burns that involve less than 5 percent of the body surface can be treated at home. Apply cool compresses (not ice packs) for 20 minutes to relieve pain and lessen the depth of the injury. Clip the coat over the burn and wash the skin gently with a surgical antiseptic such as dilute chlorhexidine solution. Apply a topical antibiotic ointment such as triple antibiotic, and bandage the area. The bandage should be removed daily and the wound medicated and redressed.

When acid, alkali, gasoline, kerosene, or other chemicals have caused the burn, or even come in contact with the skin, immediately flush the area with large amounts of water for 10 minutes. Wear rubber or plastic gloves and bathe the dog with mild soap and water. Blot dry. If there are any signs of burning (such as redness or blistering), call your veterinarian for further instructions.

Electric Shock

Electric shock (electrocution) can occur when dogs bite electric cords or come into contact with downed wires. A lightning strike is a rare cause of electrocution, but a dog does not have to be struck to be seriously injured or killed. A tall tree with deep roots and spreading branches can act as a conduit for a bolt of lightning, conducting electricity through the ground to any animal in the immediate vicinity. Most lightning strikes are fatal. The singed hair and skin give evidence of the cause of death.

A dog who gets an electric shock may be burned. The electric shock may cause an irregular heartbeat with circulatory collapse, followed by cardiac arrest. Electric current also damages the capillaries of the lungs and leads to the accumulation of fluid in the air sacs, a condition called pulmonary edema.

A characteristic sign of electric shock injury is finding the unconscious dog on the floor near an electrical outlet. Electric shocks cause involuntary muscle contractions of the dog's jaw that may prevent him from releasing his hold on a live wire. Dogs who survive electric shock may cough, have difficulty breathing, drool, have an offensive mouth odor, and have burns in the mouth.

Treatment: If your dog is found in contact with an electric cord or appliance, do not touch the dog. First shut off the main power and pull the plug. If that's not possible, use a piece of wood to move the source of the electricity off the dog, or to move the dog away from the electricity. If the dog is unconscious and is not breathing, administer artificial respiration or CPR, if needed. Dogs who revive from electric shock should be seen by a veterinarian at once.

Prevention: Electric cord shocks can be prevented by placing cords in inaccessible locations, covering cords with plastic sleeves, unplugging cords when not in use, and providing appropriate chewing toys for puppies and dogs.

This article is excerpted from “Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook” with permission from Wiley Publishing, Inc.