I’ve been curious for a long time about how a hyperbaric chamber for dogs heals victims of stroke and spinal cord injuries. The concept of hyperbaric oxygen therapy where a sick dog is placed inside a box and comes out feeling better, has always seemed more like magic than science to me. So when the pet mom of a shepherd mixed dog named Mia credited a hyperbaric chamber for saving her pet’s life after a FCE stroke, I saw it as an opportunity to dig deeper and learn more about this treatment.
First, let me introduce you to Risa Lombardi and Mia. Risa adopted Mia from a Florida rescue group in August 2014 after she saw pictures of the puppy living on the streets in Miami. The adoption changed both of their lives forever. Risa got to know the people who run the rescue group and she now works full time saving homeless pets. Mia got a loving home with an attentive mom who was quick to take action when her dog was hit with a life-threatening stroke.
On June 6, 2015 Risa arrived home and let her dogs out in the yard like she always did. Mia ran outside with her housemate and then ran back to Risa and collapsed. The dog started to have a seizure and afterward her body went limp. She was unable to move and barely breathing. Risa got hold of a neighbor who held Mia in the car while Risa raced them to her veterinarian. At first the vet thought Mia might have been bitten by a poisonous frog that’s common in the area or that she might have ruptured a disc. Unable to come up with a proper diagnosis the veterinarian stabilized Mia and sent her to be examined by a specialist.
That veterinarian was familiar with strokes and diagnosed Mia as having a Fibrocartilaginous Embolism (FCE). FCE strokes are rare in dogs. They are sudden, life-threatening and can happen to any dog at any age. Mia had just turned 1 year-old.
FCE strokes occur when a small piece of disc material inside a dog’s spine breaks off and drifts into the spinal cord.
Mia’s stroke left her paralyzed and because it happened high in her spine, near her neck, it affected her breathing and stopped her vocal cords from allowing her to bark. All of that didn’t matter to Risa; she was just happy Mia was alive.
Hyperbaric chamber for dogs
Mia has been a pretty lucky girl throughout her ordeal. She was lucky that Risa was home when the FCE hit, lucky that her mom got her help immediately and extremely lucky that she lives close to the Calusa Veterinary Center which has one of only about two dozen hyperbaric oxygen chambers for pets in the USA.
Mia began hyperbaric oxygen therapy twice a day for a week. Patients lie on a soft blanket inside the hyperbaric chamber box, where they inhale 100 percent oxygen for 1 -2 hours at a time. The air pressure in the chamber is about 1 ½ to 3 times that of the normal atmosphere.
The oxygenated air is used to treat:
- Head and spinal cord injuries
- Post-operative swelling
- Wounds that won’t heal
- Smoke Inhalation
- Control infections
- Snake Bites
Mia’s condition gradually improved with the treatment and she was slowly weaned off the machine.
“I think the hyperbaric chamber is what saved Mia’s life and made her able to walk again,” said Risa. “It put oxygen everywhere in her body.”
From the first day of Mia’s treatment Risa started filming and documenting her dog’s recovery. Her goal was to show other pet parents what a FCE stroke looked like and to give them hope if it should happen to their dog. People can watch the videos and keep up with Mia’s progress on her Facebook page: Mia’s Journey to Walk Again –FCE Survivor
Mia continues to be a lucky girl and is doing very well. She went to live with Risa’s mother, Robin, where she doesn’t have to worry about being injured by an energetic pup at Risa’s home. Mia goes for physical therapy where she works on the treadmill to regain her strength and balance.
“Mia is learning to run again and has a little wobble in her walk,” said Risa. “She has to be lifted in and out of the car and on and off the couch so she doesn’t injure herself and she started wearing a harness instead of a collar so she doesn’t hurt her neck, but really she is a happy dog. She’s about 90 percent back to her old self and I can’t wait for her to come back home.”
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You can read about FCE in Nutmeg’s story: The Reality of A Dog with FCE