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Veterinary emergency management of equine burn victims
As a first responder to a barn fire, would you know how to treat a burn-compromised horse?


6. Manage the pain and prevent infection

Treating the dermal burns is vital, as extensive damage can be life-threatening. "Burns are very painful, so doctors must provide medication for analgesia," says Sweeney. "One might have to add an opioid or ketamine for pain control."

Burned skin will eventually die and form what is called eschar, or dead tissue on the surface of the wound. "In many instances, this eschar should be left in place until it comes loose on its own, as it can act as a protective coating over what is hopefully new skin growing underneath," says Harris.

Harris says her team typically treats skin damage with generous amounts of silver sulfadiazine, a cream made specifically for human burn patients. The cream kills a wide variety of bacteria and fungi and keeps the damaged skin moist.

When it comes to preventing infection, there is debate whether doctors should administer antibiotics as a preventive. "It is probably indicated in horses, as horses—unlike humans—live in a barn with greater potential for infection," Sweeney says.

7. Think long term

Growing new skin and healing burns requires a huge amount of calories, so proper feeding is critical. In addition to pain and inflammation control, it is important to maintain a high plane of nutrition for these equine burn victims. "If they're not in pain, they will keep eating, which is extremely helpful during the healing process," Harris says.

In the short term it is important to control the pain and potential skin infection. In the long term, that skin is going to slough, so there may be need for surgical débridement and skin grafting.

Ed Kane, PhD, is a researcher and consultant in animal nutrition. He is an author and editor on nutrition, physiology and veterinary medicine with a background in horses, pets and livestock. Kane is based in Seattle.


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2. Barn fire safety: fact sheet for horse farms. Lexington, Ky: Equine Risk Management Group LLC, 2011. Available at

3. Adam EN. How to cope with barn fires, in Proceedings. Am Assoc Equine Pract 2012;58:189.

4. Morita N, Shimoda K, Traber MG, et al. Vitamin E attenuates acute lung injury in sheep with burn and smoke inhalation injury. Redox Rep 2006;11(2):61-70.


Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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