Sea Otter With Asthma Learns To Use Inhaler

A year-old sea otter is making waves online after doctors taught the young animal how to use an inhaler in order to treat the asthma from which she suffers.

Dubbed “Mishka” by handlers at the Seattle Aquarium, the sea otter was afflicted by smoke from wildfires that ravaged east Washington last month, blowing into the Puget Sound area. A veterinarian found that Mishka was having difficulty breathing, and after she was diagnosed with asthma, the staff decided that the sea otter needed her very own inhaler to fight the effects of the disease.

As ABC News points out, Seattle Aquarium biologist Sara Perry is working with the sea otter in order to get her comfortable with using the inhaler. The device is filled with the same medication used to treat asthma in humans, and like with most animals, Mishka is lured into trying it by way of food. Perry points out, however, that she goes out of her way to make sure the otter doesn’t have a negative experience using her inhaler.

“We try to make it as fun as possible. Anytime you’re training a medical behavior, you want to make it nice and positive.”

According to staff at the Seattle Aquarium, Mishka is the first sea otter that they’ve ever seen with a case of asthma, which is much more commonly found in humans. As the Telegraph points out, while the disease is rare in animals, other species have been known to suffer from asthma, including cats and horses.

Dr. Lesanna Lahner, who first diagnosed the sea otter with asthma, speculated that Mishka contracted the disease due to a combination of environmental and genetic factors. Sea otters became extinct in Washington due to the fur trade in 1910, and the region was without the species for 60 years. In 1969 and 1970, a population of otters from Alaska was moved to Washington in order to re-introduce the species. As a consequence, the local otter population exhibits a lowered genetic diversity, which impacts their immune system and makes it more difficult for them to fight off disease.

Since Mishka is only 1-year-old, doctors at the Seattle Aquarium say the sea otter will likely need her inhaler for the rest of her life.

[Photo via Seattle Aquarium]