Hyperbaric Chambers and Pets…

excerpted from an Associated Press article of 2/26/2013…  

Hyperbaric chambers have been used for decades to treat divers with the bends, burn victims and people with traumatic injuries, but in the U.S. they’re increasingly being used on ailing pets.

Doctors at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine have recently used an oxygen chamber on dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits and one monkey.  Veterinarian and professor Justin Shmalberg said the capsule has been used to treat animals that have been bitten by rattlesnakes, hit by cars and those with infected wounds, among other things.

“Any place we have swelling of tissue, we oftentimes are thinking about the hyperbaric chamber as something we could do to decrease that,” he said.  Shmalberg said the chamber’s high-pressure atmosphere of pure oxygen appears to help reduce swelling and aid healing time. He added that the school will begin clinical trials this summer to determine how – or even if – the hyperbaric chamber really is effective in speeding recoveries and healing animals.

There is little research on hyperbaric treatments and pets, although veterinarians who use the chambers note that most of the research for human hyperbaric treatments comes from trials done on rabbits and rats.

In humans, insurance companies will pay for hyperbaric treatment for several conditions, including carbon monoxide poisoning, crush injuries and bone marrow infections, among other things. Some insurance companies won’t pay for hyperbaric treatment for wounds or ulcers, saying that it’s an “unproven” therapy — but some people swear by the treatment and seek out private clinics.

It’s the same with pet owners; veterinarians with oxygen chambers say that people with sick pets often will often research the treatment and request it after becoming familiar with it through human medicine.  “It is a very new modality for treatment in veterinary medicine,” said Dr. Andrew Turkell of Calusa Veterinary Center in Florida.

“I find that it’s really very effective for any kind of trauma,” he said, adding that he’s seen improvements in pets that have been hit by cars that have been subsequently treated in the chamber.

McCullough said that his employees deliver and train veterinarians on how to use the capsule. Working with 100 percent oxygen can be dangerous, which is why pets going inside the chamber are patted down with water before the treatment so their fur doesn’t conduct static electricity and cause a fire.

In 2012, the high-oxygen chamber of a Florida equine sports medicine center exploded and caused part of a building to collapse, killed a worker and the horse inside the chamber.  The machine that exploded wasn’t one of McCullough’s chambers; it was a larger contraption made for horses. The horse inside the chamber apparently struck the side of the machine with its foot, which caused the spark and fire. It underscored the potential danger of the capsules.

Dr. Dorie Amour, the director of Emory University’s wound care clinic, suggested that hyperbaric therapy in pets be a last-resort treatment. It “has to be a therapy used when there is no alternative. Or a therapy used for a very serious problem for which there hasn’t been a solution.”

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