GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Hyperbaric chambers have been used for decades to treat divers with the bends, burn victims and people with traumatic injuries, but in Florida and a handful of other states, they’re increasingly being used on ailing pets.
Doctors at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine have 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 often ... 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. The school will begin clinical trials this summer to determine how or if the chamber 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.
“We want to make sure there’s really good science behind it,” said Dr. Diane Levitan, who owns Peace Love Pets Veterinary Care in Commack, N.Y. She has a hyperbaric chamber in her practice. Like Shmalberg, she has seen an improved rate of healing of some conditions.
In humans, insurance com- panies will pay for hyperbaric treatment for some condi-tions, including carbon mo- noxide poisoning, crush injuries and bone marrow infections. Some insurance won’t pay for the treatment for wounds or ulcers, saying it’s “unproven” therapy, but some people swear by the treatment and seek private clinics.
It’s the same with pet owners; veterinarians with oxygen chambers say people with sick pets often will 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 Boca Raton.
The devices used by UF, Levitan and Turkell are about the size of a loveseat and manufactured in Florida by Boca Raton-based Hyperbaric Veterinary Medicine.
Working with 100 percent oxygen can be dangerous, which is why pets going in the chamber are patted down with water before treatment so their fur doesn’t conduct static electricity and cause a fire.
Dr. Dorie Amour, director of Emory University’s wound care clinic, suggested that hyperbaric therapy in pets be a last-resort treatment.
AP reporter Johnny C. Clark contributed to this report.