Equine facilities claim positive results with hyperbaric-oxygen therapy - DVM
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Equine facilities claim positive results with hyperbaric-oxygen therapy


Winstar is treating a foal suffering from an abdominal abscess with antibiotics and hyperbarics. The abscess is shrinking quickly, and the foal is improving more rapidly than expected.

For about three years, Winstar has been putting all of its newborn foals in the chamber about eight to 12 hours post-foaling. It has about 80 foals per year and has not had a septic joint in three years, nor a septic foal or a bad case of neonatal asphyxia.

Even foals that are a little weak and wander around the stall prior to treatment come out of the chamber nursing and a lot stronger.

Because Winstar owns the chamber and the horses, it has few limitations on what horses it can treat. This year it has used the chamber for all the mares to be bred on foal-heat, every other day, during the post-foaling period and reports a high percentage of in-foal mares off foal-heat.

In post-foaling, Winstar uses a 45-minute to one-hour treatment at 1.5 ATA. If there are problems with high white-cell count, or the foal is a potential "dummy" foal or has low IgG count, Winstar will order further treatments for three to five successive days for up to an hour and raise the pressure about 0.5 ATA a day, with a "normal" treatment at 2.5-3 ATA for one hour.

"Horses just feel better after a treatment," says Nieman. "They come out of the chamber prancing and feeling good for the first couple of hours. If they were really lame going in, they'll come out of the chamber more sound and feeling better for a short period.

"It's also amazing how horses bounce back after colic surgery," adds Nieman. "It's probably saved a number of horses' lives – those with infections that would not otherwise have been treated, such as bone infections."

At Bluegrass, the chamber is used mainly to reduce tissue swelling, for neurologic injuries (neck, back), pre-operatively to reduce swelling around the spinal chord, for wound management, bone infections and osteomyelitis. The owners would like to use it more for dogs suffering crush injuries after being hit by vehicles – wounds that otherwise would easily become necrotic – and for gastric dilitation volvulus to preserve tissue until the animal's vascular supply of oxygen improves.

Bluegrass also uses the chamber frequently after GI surgery to assist resections and anastamosis, to speed tissue growth and for fungal disease — all with good results.

"While before the patient would have a guarded or poor prognosis, we now do a lot of wound care (with the HBOT) and treat neurologic disease, and they are turning around so quickly," Johnson says.

History and potential uses

The Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society (UHMS) formed the Hyperbaric Oxygen Committee (HOC) in 1976 to research clinical data and offer recommendations on clinical efficacy and safety of the therapy.

The committee, made up of practitioners and researchers in several fields of medicine, meets yearly to consider new indications for HBOT, makes recommendations, after which the UHMS executive committee votes final approval.

So far in equine medicine, data from hyperbaric therapy are not from controlled studies, but mainly from anecdotal, client-driven, case-based information.

Lacking scientific data, equine practitioners tend to be skeptical about HBOT.

Groups that work with HBOT have formed the Veterinary Hyperbaric Medicine Society and created a Web site in conjunction with UHMS. They are gathering case data on HBOT with horses, and beginning to write up some of the results.

Some equine practitioners want to perform controlled research, as more university veterinary facilities obtain HBOT chambers. They expect to disseminate papers on the subject to the veterinary community, to enlist veterinarians to help promote the benefits of HBOT for horses and to interest more DVMs to obtain chambers for their practices.

There is now a cased-based registry, where facilities that have chambers for horses are collecting information into a central database, to disseminate the cased-based results. Controlled studies will take longer.


Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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