December 13, 2018

Fish Skin Treatment Saves Animals Burned by Wildfires

A UC Davis veterinarian has pioneered the use of sterilized tilapia skins as a dermal substitute to treat badly burned animals.
By Amanda Carrozza
Cat Tilapia Skin BurnIn the wake of the devastating Camp Fire in northern California, dozens of dogs and cats with severe burns were brought to veterinary clinics by pet owners, rescue groups, and Good Samaritans. Upon learning about the many injured animals being treated at VCA Valley Oak Veterinary Center in Chico, Jamie Peyton, DVM, DACVECC, chief of the Integrative Medicine Service at the University of California, Davis, Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH), volunteered to help.

Her solution was one she had used before: Apply sterilized fish skins to treat the burns.

Dr. Peyton first made headlines last year when she and other veterinarians at UC Davis applied tilapia skins to the paws of bears and lions that had been burned in wildfires. The team found that fish skin could transfer collagen to the burned skin to speed the healing process.

Unlike gauze and other bandage material, fish skins are harmless if eaten by animals, and they can be left on for up to 2 weeks, avoiding painful bandage changes. The skins can be applied in 3 ways, depending on the location and stage of the burn:
  • As a homemade Band-Aid, with the gauze area replaced by the fish skin
  • Sutured or stapled to the burned animal
  • Adhered directly to the burned animal
cat paw burnThe idea, adapted from a Brazilian medical team using it on human burn patients, has been used in 8 animal species to date, all with resounding success.

“We’re trying to change burn care for animals,” she said. “Tilapia skins act as a dermal substitute that provides pain relief and protection and helps these wounds heal better.”

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One of the first dogs to be treated after the devastating fires this fall was Olivia, an 8-year-old Boston terrier mix that was found with second-degree burns on her side and legs. Upon arriving at VCA Valley Oak, veterinarians cleaned Olivia’s wounds and gave her traditional pain medications. Her owners agreed to treatment with tilapia skins.

Dog Camp Fire RescueNew skin grew on Olivia’s leg burn within 5 days—a process that normally takes weeks. Before the tilapia treatment, Olivia was clearly in pain, but she soon returned to her old self, said her owner, Curtis Stark. “It was a day and night difference.”

According to Dr. Peyton, there is no established standard of care for treating burns in animals. However, because of the success of using tilapia skins, a patent application has been filed on this technology with the long-term goal of being able to provide these techniques to other veterinarians.

“One of the most important things about being at UC Davis VMTH is that we are learning new techniques, but they don’t make much of a difference unless we can use them in the community,” Dr. Peyton said.
 

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