Vets use fish skins as grafts, putting burned Rottweiler on road to recovery
The collagen-rich properties of fish skin have seen it gain some serious utility as a tool for treating burns, with tilapia grafts in particular coming to the aid of animals badly injured in last year's California wildfires. Veterinarians have now used a new form of this approach to bring a severely burned Rottweiler back from the brink of death, an outcome they hope will lead to new and improved treatments for other burn victims of the animal kingdom.
Bears, ponies, mountain lions,cats and dogs are a few of the animals to have severe burns treated with tilapia grafts. These fish skins when applied to a burn can transfer healing collagen into the skin and provide pain relief, acting as a kind of biological bandage while the wound underneath heals.
But when Stella, a one-year-old Rottweiler, was rushed to Michigan State University (MSU) Veterinary Medical Center earlier in the year following a house fire, the team was presented with a unique challenge. Stella had second and third degree burns covering 10 percent of her body, but most significantly, had injured her trachea and lungs meaning she also had serious respiratory problems.
"We had to get creative with her burns because of the significant trauma to Stella's lungs," said Brea Sandness, a veterinarian and surgical resident at MSU. "She wasn't a great candidate for anesthesia because of her respiratory injuries."
This led the team to descaled cod skins, which it says were well suited to the task at hand due to their anti-inflammatory and antibiotic properties, along with a high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids. Importantly, they could be applied to the animal without heavy sedation, and the descaled form was known to help stimulate the production of cells and actively grow into functional tissue.
"We were able to place them on her with minimal sedation, which not only allowed us to heal her without additional stress to her lungs, but improved the way her burns healed," Sandness said.
Stella spent her first two weeks at MSU fighting for her life, but today her wounds are healing well and she is leading a "relatively active" lifestyle. She does, however, continue to have respiratory problems that will require careful monitoring moving forward, but her remarkable recovery is hoped to act as inspiration for further advances into treatment of burned animals.
"Stella's case is an inspiration, and her grafts have the potential to be a new and highly effective treatment tool in the veterinary profession," Sandness said. "She's a living example that the fire within her burned stronger than the fire that injured her."
The team is set to present Stella's case at the Society of Veterinary Soft Tissue Surgery convention in June, in hope of fostering new ideas around using fish skin as grafts for burned animals. The video below provides an overview of Stella's story.
Source: Michigan State University
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