Watching your pet struggle with a health condition that does not seem to be improving, no matter which treatments are performed, can make you feel helpless.
Fortunately, more and more veterinarians are gaining access to a treatment that appears to speed the healing process in pets with certain chronic and acute conditions—hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Although many animal hospitals are not yet equipped to administer hyperbaric oxygen therapy to pets, the trend is spreading quickly and will likely reach a veterinary clinic near you in the future.
So what exactly is hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and how can it potentially help your pet?
The basics of hyperbaric oxygen therapy
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a treatment in which the human or animal patient is placed inside a hyperbaric chamber, where they inhale 100 percent oxygen, compared to the 21 percent normally present in the air we breathe. In addition, the air pressure in the chamber is about one-and-a-half to three times that of the normal atmosphere.
During a typical session of hyperbaric oxygen therapy, the patient spends anywhere from 3 minutes to 2 hours inside the hyperbaric chamber. Breathing the highly oxygenated air is believed to reduce swelling, speed wound healing, control infections more effectively, and reduce the pressure caused by injuries to the head or spinal cord.
This medical intervention has been around for humans since the 17th century, but began to be more widely used in the mid-19th century. Some physicians performed surgeries inside hyperbaric chambers, and others used the chambers to treat conditions such as carbon monoxide poisoning, decompression sickness, and stroke. Since then, thousands of hospitals have acquired hyperbaric chambers to treat a variety of medical issues.
Finally, those health benefits are being passed on to animals with more and more veterinary schools and animal hospitals treating patients using hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
Adopting hyperbaric oxygen therapy for veterinary use
Because of hyperbaric chambers’ ability to reduce swelling and expedite wound healing, more veterinarians are installing the chambers in their practices. Even the renowned University of Florida Small Animal Hospital has installed a hyperbaric chamber and used it to treat animals, including dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits, and a monkey.
According to the University of Florida, its veterinarians use hyperbaric oxygen therapy to treat a variety of chronic and acute conditions including:
- Swelling—post-operative, crush injuries, snake bite, burns
- Trauma—internal, head, spinal cord
- Non-healing wounds
- Smoke inhalation
- Carbon monoxide toxicity
Universities are not the only places to use hyperbarics for animal patients. In October 2011, Dr. Andrew Turkell’s AAHA-accredited Calusa Veterinary Center became one of fewer than approximately two dozen American veterinary hospitals to install a hyperbaric chamber.
Turkell shared the story of a dog that came in with a problematic wound that had not healed in almost a year. After 10 sessions in the chamber, Turkell’s staff sent the dog home, fully healed, he said.
“A month later, he (the dog’s owner) came back and said, ‘I want the dog to go back in the chamber for another 10 treatments, because when he came home his arthritis seemed to be so much better,’” Turkell said.
Veterinary hyperbaric chambers still rare, but spreading quickly
Hyperbaric chambers are still rarely found in veterinary hospitals, but the popularity of the treatment will increase when more hospitals integrate chambers into their practices because of reported health benefits. Some pet insurance providers are even beginning to cover hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
While there might not be an animal hospital near you that is equipped with a hyperbaric chamber, keep hyperbaric oxygen therapy in mind as something that could potentially benefit your pet’s health in the future.