Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) for animals is not science fiction. That’s a fact I had to convince myself of when I was first introduced to the treatment.
The idea of placing a sick pet inside a small pressurized cylinder, turning up the oxygen and then pulling them out cured and whole seemed a bit Star Trekkie to me. It seemed to good to be true.
Then I heard from a pet owner named Risa Lombardi about how her dog Mia learned to walk again after receiving HBOT for a life-threatening stroke. Risa filmed Mia’s amazing recovery and I turned from a skeptic to a believer. Since then I’ve wanted to learn more about this remarkable therapy.
My chance to learn about HBOT
The opportunity came a couple of months ago. Robert Hancock, DVM and founder of South Paws Veterinary Specialists in Louisiana offered a webinar about the benefits of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for animals.
Dr. Hancock was an expert in the field. His lecture was full of compassion for our pets and passion about all the ways HBOT has proven to be helpful. He spoke quickly and shared so much information that I had a hard typing all he had to say into my computer.
Sadly, Dr. Hancock passed away suddenly on June 16, 2019. His passing makes the information I am sharing in this post even more important. I’m grateful I was able to take part in the webinar and learn from this special veterinarian.
How Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy works – a technical look
First, I want to share some history about HBOT because it’s not a new treatment. It’s been used for hundreds of years to stop deep sea divers from getting “the bends.”
Divers used to get severe joint pain, suffer from confusion and even death when they rose to the surface. That’s because the nitrogen in their blood had increased while they were underwater. But when they were placed in an iron bell with high levels oxygen and pressure as they came up from the ocean floor, the problem went away. The divers stopped getting the bends.
The same practice is used in today’s modern version of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy.
HBOT needs 3 components to work:
- 100% oxygen
- Delivered in a pressurized chamber
- For a specific period of time
The principle is based on two laws of physics. One is Henry’s Law and the second is Boyle’s Law. Together they discovered that when a gas is dissolved in a liquid, the concentration of that gas becomes proportional to the pressure around it. (I hope that makes sense).
For instance, the normal air we breathe is 21% oxygen and 78% nitrogen. At sea level the pressure around us is 14.7 mm. And at sea level, the oxygen level in our (human) blood is 98%. This maintains normal-sized gas bubbles in our body.
When oxygen is used as a drug and increased to 100% with a higher than normal pressure around it; the gas bubbles shrink and become more concentrated. (This is a key point.)
The process turns these small bubbles in the bloodstream into high-powered healing machines. It gets oxygen into the body 4 times faster and literally speeds up the time it takes to heal.
Dr. Hancock tested the theory
Dr. Hancock explained that while he understood the theory, the surgeon in him was didn’t completely believe the concept. He needed proof that HBOT would heal his patients faster. So, he eased into it. He added the sessions in a Hyperbaric chamber as part of the normal treatment plan for the dogs and cats in his care.
“There was a huge improvement in the healing process of my patients,” said Dr. Hancock. “This was a big new piece of the puzzle to me. I saw enormous benefits. HBOT isn’t a silver bullet, but it is part of the total health approach.
Soon all of the owners of my surgical patients were asking for their dogs to have a session in the chamber.”
HBOT works best when it’s used in the early stages of a disease or recovery
Veterinarians and the pets they treat are lucky. They don’t have to wait for an insurance company to approve HBOT. So, Dr. Hancock offered the treatment readily to his patients and saw lots of dramatic improvements in dogs suffering from:
- FCE Stroke
- Head injury
- Spinal cord injuries
- IVDD – Intervertebral Disc Disease
Patients with orthopedic problems generally received 3-5 HBOT treatments. And dogs with neurological conditions were given 10-20 treatments.
How HBOT is changing the lives of dogs with spinal cord problems
Dr. Hancock was particularly proud of the success his patients with disc disease had after surgery. He said most of the spinal surgeries he performed were to relieve a compression on a dog’s spine. These were conditions like a ruptured or bulging disc.
But even when the surgery was successful in repairing the anatomical problem, many dogs were still unable to walk on their own. Dr. Hancock found this frustrating.
He concluded the problem was due to the constant pressure and swelling that had built up in the spine. It cut off the blood flow to the area and the cells in that part of the spine died off. So, he added HBOT to the dogs’ aftercare.
Dr. Hancock said, “Before we added HBOT, 50% of the dogs in my practice who underwent spine surgery for disc disease regained deep pain sensations (feeling in their legs).
But deep pain resumed for 78% of my patients once we started using HBOT.”
This is an amazing success rate if you’re the pet parent of a dog with a spinal cord problem.
At first Dr. Hancock said he didn’t fully understand why the treatment was working so well. But later he came up with two conclusions: HBOT was soaking up free radicals and turning cells on and off, as needed.
Here are other medical conditions where Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for animals is being tested:
- Prevent blood clots and infections after surgery
- Snake bites
- GI problems
- Lyme Disease
- Septic arthritis
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Cyanide poisoning
- Diabetic wounds
- Potentially useful for recurring Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)
Success stories from Dr. Hancock’s patients
Dr. Hancock shared two stories about his patients. The first was a 21-year-old cat who was brought to the clinic because of a severe UTI that included blood in her urine. She hadn’t responded to other treatments. The cat underwent 3 treatments and finally got relief for her infection.
The second patient was a dog who came in with a severe head tilt. The owner had been told nothing further could be done for him. Dr. Hancock placed the dog in the Hyperbaric chamber for one session and the problem was resolved.
Hope for the future
Dr. Hancock told webinar attendees that veterinarians around the world are leading the way in hyperbaric oxygen therapy. He shared that Israel was currently adding stem cells to HBOT.
He believed vets had better access to HBOT chambers because of their smaller size and lower cost than the chambers for people. He also worried it was due to a lack of interest from pharmaceutical companies in conducting clinical trials for people.
Dr. Hancock was a visionary about the future of the therapy. His next personal adventure was going to study how HBOT could increase the flow of stem cells in sick dogs.
I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to hear his lecture.
Has your dog been treated with Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy? If so, please share your story below. I’d love to know learn about your experience.