Veterinarians are using tilapia skin to help heal bears who survived the California wildfires with third degree burns on their paws.
There's something fishy about this new way to treat burns in animals. [Photo by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife/AP]
Late last year, the massive wildfire called the Thomas fire burned through almost 282,000 acres in southern California. There were 15 fatalities, and thousands of homes were lost. Over 100,000 residents were forced to evacuate, and it took up to 8,500 firefighters to fight the flames. By the time it ended, it was one of the largest wildfires in California’s history.
When the flames were finally extinguished, veterinarians managed to rescue two adult bears, one of which was pregnant, and a five-month-old cougar. The cougar cub suffered second-degree burns, while the bears suffered third-degree burns on their paws. One of the bears had it so bad that it was unable to stand.
To treat these injuries, veterinarians chose to forego traditional bandages and went with an interesting alternative: tilapia skin.
The bears suffered third-degree burns to their paws. [Photo by Karin Higgins/AP]
Treating animals such as bears and cougars isn’t easy. As much as veterinarians would like to help them, they are still wild animals and can be quite dangerous, even when injured. Thus, in certain situations, sedating these animals for treatment is necessary in the interest of safety. However, vets can only put the animals under for so many times, since frequent sedation can be harmful.
There’s also the matter of using cloth bandages. Injured animals will at some point chew on their bandages, especially when the bandages are on body parts that are easily accessible to their mouths. The cloth can create a blockage in the animals’ intestines, which can cause problems later on.
The collagen in tilapia skin is a vital component in healing burns. [Photo by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife]
Enter, tilapia skin. Tilapia skin is safe for the animals to consume, and it has already been used to treat burns in humans. Vets hoped that it would work just as well for wildlife, and it did.
UC Davis veterinarian Jamie Peyton used the cold sterilization protocol for human skin grafts as a model for sterilizing tilapia skin. The vets then cut the tilapia skin up into pieces to fit them over the animals’ paws. Each of the bear paws needed about one to two tilapia skins, though the amount of skin needed for the bandages varied.
The bear paws are almost all the way healed. [Photo by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife]
The tilapia skins are able to last for about 10 days, after which they start to turn leathery. They also lose the collagen necessary for skin repair, so the vets put on new skins after that time period.
Interestingly enough, tilapia skin wasn’t the only thing that the vets used to heal the animals’ injuries. They also used acupuncture, cold-laser therapy, and chiropraxis to help speed the animals’ recovery along. However, these treatments have already been proven to work on other animals. The tilapia skin, meanwhile, is groundbreaking treatment.
It seems that this regimen worked very well. The bears were released on January 17 with about 90 percent of their wounds already healed. The little cougar is also doing well, wreaking havoc just like how a healthy, happy kitten would.
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