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Oxygen therapy speeds healing

Ellie, an older cat, suffered a serious blood clot that imperiled her back legs. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy sped healing and returned her to health. Her mom thinks it may even have made her more loving!

In April, Ellie, 13-year-old cat did her occasional night zoomies but, when she came back upstairs after flying around the house, her mom Margaret noticed she was walking on three legs. It wasn’t just a pulled muscle. It turned out Ellie had a blood clot in her right front leg. With blood thinners, Ellie recovered.

But in July, Margaret was 500 miles away visiting family when her husband called in the middle of the night. He had found Ellie appearing near death. Margaret had taken the car, so Mark took Ellie by cab to a 24-hour emergency veterinarian.

Ellie usually goes to the RAPS Animal Hospital for her medical needs. Currently, RAPS is planning to expand to 24-hour service, but Ellie needed attention immediately. The overnight hospital provided urgent care for what turned out to be another blood clot – this one affecting both back legs. After the first health scare, in April, Dr. Regan Schwartz, who had treated Ellie at the RAPS Animal Hospital, had given Margaret her cell number. The two spoke early in the morning and Dr. Schwartz raced to the emergency clinic and collected Ellie to bring her to RAPS. (The doctor also dropped Mark off at home on the way.)

“She didn’t have any use of her back legs at all,” Margaret recalls. “The clot was at an intersection of the artery that splits to the two legs.”

The condition was more serious than the earlier clot. Dr. Schwartz reviewed the academic literature and found there were no studies on how hyperbaric oxygen therapy might benefit a cat with this condition. RAPS Animal Hospital is home to Canada’s only hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) facility for cats and dogs. While HBOT has been used for decades in human healthcare, it is only gaining ground now among the most innovative veterinary hospitals. Despite the lack of published studies, Dr. Schwartz knew that the benefits of HBOT were a natural fit for this sort of condition.

A blood clot prevents blood, and therefore oxygen, from reaching affected parts of the body. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves placing the patient in a pressurized environment of pure oxygen. The higher ambient air pressure allows the body to absorb considerably more oxygen than under normal conditions. The ability for oxygen to travel or be transferred from the blood to the tissue in need is enhanced by hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

Over two weeks, Ellie underwent eight “dives” – the term for a session of HBOT treatment.

“I can honestly say that within that first week or so, she really started using her right back leg a lot, so she was getting movement back there and that means blood flow is going there and that’s all good,” says Margaret. “She still had problems with her left leg and she was dragging it behind her. She was walking, but obviously it was harder because she was only using three legs instead of four.”

There were other, more subtle changes. After the first clot, in April, Ellie spent her recovery time as a recluse. She didn’t want to be bothered by her people and she avoided her son, Sisko, who has been her lifelong roommate.

“This time she was – I’m not going to say active, because she’s not an active cat anymore – but she wanted to be around everyone. She wanted to come and get love, she wanted to play with you, whereas the first time she had it she just wanted to be alone.”

Ellie regained use of her back right leg quite quickly. The left one is more seriously affected.

“But I just noticed this week, even though it’s been a month that she’s had it, she’s actually starting to move the leg when she’s walking,” Margaret says. “She can obviously feel it now because she’s lifting it.”

Not only is she not avoiding Sisko, Margaret notes with a laugh, “Last night, she even fought with him like she normally does.”

“That was huge after only about a month.”

Her personality even seems to have changed, says Mom.

“I think it’s actually made her more loving after this,” she says.

If your pet has a condition you think might be aided by hyperbaric oxygen therapy, contact the RAPS Animal Hospital to discuss it.