Burns and Smoke Inhalation (with special reference to Waterfowl, Hedgehogs, Elephants, Bears, Lagomorphs and Ferrets)
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Summary Information

Diseases / List of Physical / Traumatic Diseases / Disease summary
Alternative Names
  • Chemical burns
  • Friction burns
  • Sunburn
  • Scalds (caused by moist heat)

See also:

Disease Agents
  • Extreme heat (e.g. fire, boiling water). Also various chemicals (acidic and alkaline), friction, ultraviolet light (e.g. sunlight) and electricity (B20.14.w11, P4.1990.w2).
In lagomorphs:
  • iatrogenic thermal injury to the mouth may occur if prolonged dental burring is carried out without appropriate cooling of the teeth. (B600.7.w7)
  • Electrical burns to the mouth from chewing electrical cables are not uncommon. (V.w121)

In Ferrets:

Infectious Agent(s) --
Non-infectious Agent(s) --
Physical Agent(s)
General Description
In waterfowl
  • May see singed feathers, ocular irritation, mild erythema of exposed skin such as feet;
  • More serious burns may include skin sloughing, destruction of toes or feet, melting of bill. 
  • Dehydration, lethargy and depression may be seen. 
  • May be fatal.
(B13.24.w17, B20.14.w11, P4.1990.w2).
In Hedgehogs
  • Spines may be singed, charred or melted in patches (spines fused together) at the time of presentation.
  • The skin may or may not be obviously burnt at the time of presentation.
    • In mild cases the skin may be reddened. (B259.w10)
  • Blistering or sloughing of skin may occur several days later.
    • Animals must be kept for observation for several days even if damage appears to be to spines only.
  • May also be signs of respiratory distress, associated with smoke inhalation.
(J15.21.w1, B284.6.w6, B337.3.w3, B337.5.w5)
In Elephants
  • Sunburns in elephants usually affect the head and forehead; the skin of the affected area is erythematous and peeling. (B10.49.w21, B64.27.w4)
    • Five cases in elephants in Kerala, India, all occurred over the head dome and back bone. (P64.1.w3)
  • Severe burn wounds may be seen in elephants which have run into a fire. (D301.3.w3)
    • Partial-thickness burns may be seen on the feet when elephants have escaped from an encircling fire. (J62.64.w2)
  • Burns may range from just scorching to destruction of the skin and underlying tissues. (B212.w23)
    • Severe burns may be fatal. (B212.w23)
  • Large or small areas of skin burns may also occur due to lightning strike. (B212.w31)
  • See also Elephants and their Diseases- A Treatise on Elephants - Part IV - Chapter V - Ulceration. Sinuses and FistulŠ. Burns and Scalds. Full text included.
In Bears
  • --
In Lagomorphs
  • Burns to the face/mouth may be noted with electrical burns after a rabbit has chewed electrical wires. (B601.8.w8, B603.1.w1, V.w121)
  • Hypersalivation may be noted. (B603.1.w1)
  • Following thermal damage due to excessive use of a dental burr without proper cooling, failure to eat or drink, development of generalised periodontal infection, with pus visible around the teeth after a few days. Usually fatal. (if prolonged burring is carried out without appropriate cooling of the teeth. (B600.7.w7)
In Ferrets
  • Burns will occur at the site of contact. (J213.7.w5)
  • Burns are likely to be noted to the face and mouth, if they are electrical. (J213.7.w5)
Further Information
  • Burns are usually classified as:
  • first degree (affecting outer layer of epidermis only; affected area hot, oedematous, painful),
  • second degree (affecting whole of epidermis, usually see vesicles),
  • third degree (affecting dermis and epidermis, with severe tissue damage, dehydration, hypovolaemic shock). Secondary bacterial infection may occur, e.g. with Pseudomonas spp. 


In Hedgehogs
  • Burns occur most commonly in hedgehogs caught in garden bonfires. (J15.21.w1, B259.w10)
  • Chemical burns occur commonly from tins of chemicals and old car batteries left in garages.

Note: take care when dealing with situations involving electrical burns; do not risk electrical burns while rescuing a casualty. (B337.5.w5)

In Elephants
  • Sunburns have been reported in elephants exposed to direct strong sunlight for hours. These usually affect the head and forehead. (B10.49.w21, B64.27.w4)
    • Five cases in male Elephas maximus - Asian Elephant in Kerala, India were noted all to have occurred following administration of acepromazine together with xylazine and were considered associated with photosensitization due to the acepromazine. (P64.1.w3)
      • Acepromazine is a derivative of phenothiazine, which is a known photodynamic agent. However, there are no reports of photosensitization from acepromazine either domestic or wild animals. (B455.w2)
  • Young elephants can panic and may run into veld fires, which can cause severe burn wounds. (D301.3.w3)
  • Elephants in captivity may be accidentally burned. (B212.w23)
In Bears
  • Bears may get burned in forest fires.
In Lagomorphs
  • Burns due to chewing electrical wires are most likely in house rabbits which have access to such wires. (B601.8.w8, B603.1.w1)
  • Thermal damage to the teeth and associated tissues is associated with use of dental burrs without sufficient cooling (iatrogenic damage). (B600.7.w7)
  • Treatment and good recovery is possible.
  • Affected areas should be cooled and rinsed thoroughly, e.g. with sterile saline, debrided as necessary and topical cream applied. DMSO may be used for acute inflammation, or 1% silver sulfadiazine water-soluble cream. Systemic antibiotic treatment is also suggested. Asepsis is essential to avoid secondary infection.
  • Fluids may be required (if dehydrated); the use of corticosteroids and analgesics should be considered.
  • Chemical burns should be washed thoroughly and the chemical agent neutralised, using dilute vinegar for alkalis, sodium bicarbonate solution for acids.
    • For alkaline burns, vinegar and water should be used, mixed in equal parts.
    • For acid burns, use three tablespoons of baking soda in 2.25 litres of warm water.
    • If not sure whether a chemical burn is acid or alkaline, use plenty of distilled or cooled boiled water. (B337.A6.w12)

(B11.3.w17, B13.24.w17, B20.14.w11, P4.1990.w2, B337.A6.w12)

In Hedgehogs
  • If presented soon (e.g. within ten minutes) of a physical (fire) burn occurring, application of a towel which has been soaked in cold water and rung out may be helpful to assist in heat dissipation. (B259.w10, D66); sterile saline or cold running water may be used to rinse a burn, continuing for about 10 minutes. (B337.5.w5)
  • For chemical burns, wash the affected area with cool water for five minutes using a shower head. (B259.w10, D66)
  • If possible check the chemical container to determine its contents.
    • For alkaline burns such as lime, wash with vinegar and water, mixed in equal parts. (B259.w10, B337.A6.w12, D66)
    • For acid burns, use three tablespoons of baking soda in 2.25 litres of warm water. (B259.w10, B337.A6.w12, D66)
    • If not sure whether a chemical burn is acid or alkaline, use plenty of distilled or cooled boiled water. (B337.A6.w12)
  • Silver sulphadiazine cream can be applied topically. (B284.6.w6)
  • Clean linen or a sterile dressing is recommended to cover the wound and prevent infection. (B337.5.w5)
  • Oxygen therapy initially for hedgehogs caught in fires. (B284.6.w6)
  • Fluids initially, both oral and subcutaneous. (B284.6.w6, B259.w10, D66) (See: Fluid Therapy for Hedgehogs)
  • Broad-spectrum antibiotic therapy, parenterally. (B284.6.w6, B259.w10, D66)
  • Keep warm. (B259.w10)
In Elephants:
  • Application of ice to the affected areas. (B10.49.w21, B64.27.w4)
  • Apply a soothing and protective topical ointment designed for the treatment of burns. (B10.49.w21, B64.27.w4)
    • The ointment should be antiseptic. (P64.1.w3)
  • Systemic antibiotics may be given. (P64.1.w3)
In Lagomorphs
  • Silver sulfadiazine
    • Wide spectrum with antifungal properties; it is also painless and stimulates reepithelialisation. However, it may delay eschar separation (it impedes contraction) and it possibly causes bone marrow suppression if applied to large areas. (J213.7.w1)
  • Aloe vera cream
    • Has the advantage of preventing vasoconstriction, ischaemia and progression of necrosis. However, it is expensive for wounds with large areas and it has no analgesic properties. (J213.7.w1)
  • Hydrogel wound dressing with acemannan
    • Stimulates angiogenesis and epithelialisation, and is non toxic. It has been reported to enhance healing of burn wounds in guinea pigs. A freeze dried form of this product will apparently reduce tissue oedema by absorbing fluid from the wound as it converts to a gel. Daily application of this freeze-dried form is reported to stimulate the formation of granulation tissue over exposed bone and therefore enhancing wound contraction. However, it has no direct antimicrobial effects. (J213.7.w1)
  • Povidone iodine (2.5%) dry powder spray (Betadine Dry Powder Spray, CCL Pharmaceuticals)
    • Can be sprayed onto a burn; can be covered by a dressing. (B601.3.w3)
In Ferrets:
  • Wound management:
    • Lavage if contaminated. (J213.7.w5)
    • Remove dead tissue, this will control infection and increase the blood vessel activity. (J213.7.w5)
    • If the blood supply is not good, the wound should not be surgically closed. (J213.7.w5)
  • Larger wounds may need to be grafted. They can also heal by contraction or regrowth of epithelial cells. (J213.7.w5)
    • Scars may develop in left to heal by secondary intension. (J213.7.w5)
    • Secondary infection may occur, if healed in this manor. (J213.7.w5)
  • Silver sulfadiazene1% cream (good for treating burns). (J213.7.w5)
  • Aloe vera has been used as an antibacterial cream. (J213.7.w5)
In Hedgehogs
  • To avoid burning hedgehogs or other animals in bonfires, the wood should be kept in a pile a short distance form the intended site of the bonfire and stacked for burning immediately before the fire is lit; it should not be lit after being left overnight without the wood being moved. (B259.w9)
  • To prevent chemical burns it is necessary to ensure all chemicals are kept in containers with properly sealed lids and are disposed of appropriately. (V.w5)
In Elephants
  • Access to shade areas. (B10.49.w21, B64.27.w4)
  • Application of clay and/or dirt to the head and forehead. (B10.49.w21, B64.27.w4)
  • Providing the elephant with a sun pad for the top of its head. (B10.49.w21)
In Ferrets:
  • Keep ferrets away from electrical wires, which they may chew, resulting in an electrical burn.  (J213.7.w5)
  • Keep ferrets away from sources of hot water. (J213.7.w5)
Techniques linked to this disease
Host taxa groups /species

[N.B. Miscellaneous / Traumatic Diseases tend to be under-reported and the majority are likely to affect all species, given exposure to the related disease agents/factors.]

Disease Author Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5); Bridget Fry BSc, RVN (V.w143)
Referees Molly Varga BVetMed DZooMed MRCVS (V.w125)

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