The latest outbreak of devastating wildfires in California resulted in the mass destruction of personal property and the heartbreaking loss of life. Horse owners turned their equine loose as flames grew closer and closer. Pet owners tried desperately to find their beloved cats and dogs so they could flee together, but some animals were abandoned at the last minute.
Rescue workers and volunteers tried valiantly to retrieve all of the pets they could after the wildfires were squelched. Many were transported to area veterinarians for treatment from smoke inhalation and burns. The VCA Valley Oak Veterinary Center in Chico decided to try an unusual burn treatment to help the cats and dogs heal from their injuries - fish skin.
For the first time ever, sterilized tilapia skins are being applied to burns on cats and dogs with successful results, reports UC Davis. Jamie Peyton, chief of the Integrative Medicine Service with the University of California, Davis, Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital offered to help veterinarians with the fish skin treatment. She first attempted this treatment method when two bears and a mountain lion were burned in a different California wildfire in 2017. She also treated a bear cub burned in the Carr Fire this year.
"We're trying to change burn care for animals. Tilapia skins act as a dermal substitute that provides pain relief and protection and helps these wounds heal better," Peyton said.Tilapia skin is credited with transferring the healing protein collagen to the burned skin. It also reduces the need for frequent bandage changes, which can be arduous for animal patients.
Dusty Spencer, a veterinary surgeon at VCA Valley Oak Veterinary Center, said that most of the 500 animals saved from the wildfire that were transported to their clinic are cats with badly burned paws.
"Their whiskers are singed or gone. Some of them have had really bad burns on their eyelids and nose," he said.
One 4-month-old kitten not only had singed whiskers, but the pads of his feet had been burned off. He was treated with strips of tilapia skin that were then snugly adhered to his paws with bandages. Peyton refers to the amazing treatment as "little fish mittens."
"Just like we've seen in other species, we're seeing increased pain relief. We're seeing wound healing and an overall increased comfort," Peyton said.
Curtis and Mindy Stark were out of town when the Camp Fire swept through their neighborhood. They believed their 8-year-old Boston terrier mix Olivia had perished. Instead, thanks to her microchip, she eventually was reunited with the Starks but had sustained burns. She was treated with the tilapia skins and healed wonderfully, Curtis Stark said.
"It was a day and night difference. She got up on the bed and did a back flip. That is the first time we saw her acting like she was before," he said.