Many dogs eat their food too fast, so it’s not surprising that food aspiration can be a potential problem for the average household pet. Aspiration is generally the result of materials such as food or gastrointestinal contents being inhaled into the animal’s lungs, causing the lungs to become inflamed or irritated. Breathing difficulties can result from this inhalation or irritation, causing an excessive amount of fluid and mucus to accumulate in the pet’s lower airway. This potentially life-threatening problem has led us to study the benefits of using HBOT for pets (or “hyperbaric oxygen therapy”) as a solution. HBOT has shown it can significantly improve the condition of animals who are suffering from food aspiration associated issues.

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How HBOT can help

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for PetsWhile HBOT may often be automatically associated with humans, it’s important to bear in mind there are many potential applications for pets, including in the improvement of food aspiration symptoms. HBOT uses pure oxygen, maintaining an ambient temperature exceeding standard atmospheric pressure. Generally speaking, the air will rise up to three times that of normal air pressure boosting the amount of oxygen carried by the blood. This increase in blood oxygen level helps to fight infections, promotes healing and restores blood gases to normal levels.

How HBOT is implemented

While it is easier to encourage a human to inhale pure oxygen, it can be more challenging to do so with an animal. Therefore a clinics staff ensures their safety by making sure to follow certain precautions. Before any animal HBOT treatment takes place the animal is tested, ensuring a normal body temperature. Any increase can result in an excessive amount of oxygen which can prove to be toxic. Next, is the removing of any metal touching the animal and reducing the risk of static shock by placing them in the chamber wet. Once in a chamber, therapy begins, and the animal naturally breathes in purified and pressurized air from their surroundings.

A Practical Case of HBOT in the management of food aspiration associated issues

Oxygen Therapy X-rayWhile HBOT for pets is a relatively new therapy, it has seen proven success as an adjunctive medicine. Take the following case study as an example. A 5-week-old female puppy was presented after it was discovered in respiratory arrest immediately after accidental ingestion of a large piece of dry dog food kibble. The owner cleared the oral cavity with her finger then performed chest compressions until the puppy began spontaneous respirations. The puppy was dyspneic, tachypneic, and cyanotic on presentation, and had increased pulmonary bronchovesicular sounds in all lung fields. Admitting radiographs revealed non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema.

The puppy was placed in the Sechrist SV500 HBOT Chamber, and Hyperbaric Assisted Oxygen resuscitation was initiated. The puppy was initially treated with one hour of HBOT at 2.0 ATA, then transitioned to 50% oxygen at sea level pressure (“free flow”). After a 4-hour period in free flow, the puppy was given another HBOT session at 2.0 ATA for one hour. The puppy’s respiratory rate and effort gradually normalized, and follow up thoracic radiographs revealed marked improvement in the pulmonary infiltrates.

Oxygen Therapy X-ray resultsOver the following 24 hours, the puppy was treated with two more HBOT sessions, and transitioned back to room air, 21%, free flow at sea level pressure.

Sechrist Veterinary chambers allow for the treatment of patients in both HBOT and free flow mode. Therefore, Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy under pressure and Hyperbaric Assisted Oxygen Resuscitation can be achieved in a single unit, with IV infusion access through door ports.

In China, HBOT is approved for use in acute respiratory distress syndrome in human medicine.
(Reference: Jain, KK, Textbook of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, 6th Edition, 611-613)

Alternative uses for HBOT

As you can see, hyperbaric medicine as an adjunctive medicine for pets can prove extremely useful, and it’s not all too surprising that its popularity is on the rise. It can promote recovery in a wide variety of conditions, including the treatment of infected wounds, snake bites, many forms of inflammation, joint pain, arthritis, etc. With relatively few risks it can also be a preferable alternative to invasive surgery for pet owners and veterinarians alike. Since the study of HBOT is expanding and people have become more familiar with its benefits, it has the opportunity to grow increasingly prevalent in veterinary medicine!

Alex, is a super sweet Golden Retriever that presented to South Paws for acute paresis in his pelvic limbs. The owner reports that the signs were very sudden and that they did not witness any type of trauma or accident. On presentation, he was a nonambulatory, upper motor neuron, paraparetic and had no movement in his back legs. Pain sensation in both the lateral and medial dermatomes was present, but severely diminished, indicating a serious cord injury. After talking with the owners, I explained that he had suffered a significant spinal cord injury and that he would require a CT examination. Interestingly, on his CT exam, he showed evidence of a large, compressive, intervertebral disc at T8-10. Golden Retrievers as a breed do not commonly suffer from intervertebral disc disease. Additionally, intervertebral disc disease at this location is considered rare even in breeds that are predisposed to IVDD.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatments for Animals

Dog inside Hyperbaric Chamber

Alex was more than 110 pounds. I prepared the owner for a long and difficult recovery. It was explained that he would require both surgical decompression of the disc material, preconditioning and postoperative hyperbaric oxygen treatments, and finally physical therapy. This would be a complete approach to his treatment plan and give him the best chance of being able to walk again. I explained that this would be a long, hard journey for him to undergo, but that I thought with his strong will, he would be able to recover in time.

Preoperatively, Alex underwent 3, preconditioning hyperbaric oxygen treatments. He was taken to surgery and a hemilaminectomy procedure was performed to remove the extruded disc material in his spinal canal. At the time of surgery, there was significant bruising and swelling of the cord. After surgery, Alex still remained unable to move his legs but did have improved sensation to his pelvic limbs. Postoperatively, we continued with a series of 7 hyperbaric oxygen treatments. At the end of 7 days, he was able to stand up and began to take a few steps with assistance. He has continued in physical rehabilitation and is now able to walk on his own unassisted by 10 days postop. (See the video)

Hyperbaric Animal Treatment

Intervertebral disc disease is a condition in which a degenerated disc is able to extrude material into the vertebral canal. In most cases there are 2 parts to this injury. The first part of the injury is caused by the concussive effects of the disc hitting the spinal cord. This leads to severe compromise of the blood supply to the cord, severe bruising, and edema. The second part of the injury includes the large amount of compressive material that pushes on the spinal cord and nerve roots causing pain, disruption of blood supply, and neuronal death. Surgery is aimed at removing the compressive disc material from the spinal canal. Hyperbaric oxygen is indicated to address the bruising, edema, and swelling associated with the spinal cord. HBOT treatments given preoperatively and postoperatively, also help prevent and address any reperfusion injury after decompression of the cord. The addition of hyperbaric oxygen shortens our patient’s hospital stay, leads to a faster recovery of motor function and voluntary urination, and increases the prognosis for return to ambulation.

Dog Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatments