Burns had been as strong as 10-1 on with bookies to win the bout at the Braehead Arena, but fell badly behind as he lost four of the opening five rounds.
He battled back into the bout against his Montenegrin opponent, but in the end the judges decided that Zlaticanin had done enough to earn victory 115-113, 115-113 and 113-115.
Burns lost his WBO lightweight title to American superstar Terence Crawford earlier this year, and this fight was supposed to mark the start of the comeback trail. His promoter Eddie Hearn said before Friday that Burns was targeting the WBC belt held by Omar Figeueroa, dubbed "the weakest champion" at the weight by Hearn.
But instead of a fast track back to a world title, Burns appears to have hit a career dead end.
Despite being just 31 is now widely expected to hang up his gloves after being outpointed by Zlaticanin, whose record moves to 19-0 with 13 knockouts.
Elsewhere, Curtis Woodhouse lost his British light-welterweight title to Commonwealth champion Willie Limond on points.
The judges’ scorecard read 116-111, 113-113, 117-109 in favour of Limond as Woodhouse relinquished his belt in his first defence.
Woodhouse was down at the end of the third courtesy of an upper-cut but responded well in round four as he worked the jab.
However, Limond continued to land more shots and the fight got away from Woodhouse as it progressed.
"I'm disappointed but I'm proud of what I achieved," said Woodhouse after the bout.
- Sports & Recreation
- Curtis Woodhouse