By Colin MacGillivray
AUSTRALIA’S only purpose-built hyperbaric chamber for treating animals has put Whittlesea’s The Vet Practice on the national veterinary map.
A hyperbaric chamber is a machine that allows oxygen to be delivered to a subject at higher-than-normal atmospheric pressure, stimulating the body to recover more quickly.
Practice owner Dr Malcolm Ware said hyperbaric chambers were initially developed to treat divers with the bends and had become commonplace in human medicine, but were still comparatively rare in veterinary treatment.
“It’s becoming more common in the veterinary world – there are plenty of units in America for example – but ours is the first truly veterinary-produced hyperbaric chamber in Australia,” he said.
“As far as I know, there are only two veterinary clinics in Australia with hyperbaric machines; one is us and the other is in Queensland, which is a converted human machine.”
Dr Ware said the installation of the chamber at the practice six months ago had led to pet owners visiting from across Victoria.
“In that six months we’ve done in excess of 800 treatments,” he said.
“Just about everybody that has had their pet use it has seen positive results from it.
“We’ve already had some people come significant distances despite [COVID-19] lockdown because it has been a necessary treatment.
“Much the same as with human medicine, if there is a treatment that is urgently needed, people are allowed to travel from outside Melbourne, and I would expect that to grow as things become freer.”
Dr Ware said the hyperbaric chamber had many positive effects for most animals.
“It’s extremely useful for treating multi-resistant infections, which there are limited options for,” he said.
“It’s also useful for treating snake bites and spinal diseases. You get a much faster improvement of symptoms in spinal cases.
“We’re always looking for better ways to improve care, and the more natural ways you can improve care, all the better.
“It’s a non-invasive, drug-free way of stimulating healing, treating a lot of diseases and increasing the rate of healing.
“We can achieve better outcomes by a more natural method.”
Dr Ware said the science behind hyperbaric chambers was complex but fascinating.
“The idea of an oxygen chamber is that you increase the pressure with pure oxygen up to 2.2 times the normal atmospheric pressure,” he said.
“At normal atmospheric pressure, even with an oxygen facemask on, your blood cells can only carry four oxygen molecules per haemoglobin, which makes up the red blood cells.
“When you increase oxygen under pressure, it becomes free-floating in the plasma, so it doesn’t rely on what the red cells themselves can carry.
“When oxygen is in the plasma, you have a vast increase in the amount of oxygen being transported around the body. That makes much more oxygen available to all the tissues.
“Oxygen will naturally go from a high concentration gradient to an area of low concentration. Your tissues have low concentration, so the oxygen comes out of the plasma and goes into the tissues, and because there is more of it, it diffuses deeper into the tissue and speeds up the rate of healing.”