Many new therapies and medical treatments that are developed for use in humans are rapidly adapted for use in horses. A number of veterinarians across the United States have adopted one of these, hyperbaric oxygen therapy (or HBOT), for treating everything from chronic wounds in horses to infertility. Scientists originally developed this modality to treat scuba divers with decompression sickness ("the bends") and have studied HBOT use for many human conditions for more than 20 years. Its use in animals, however, is often controversial. In this article we’ll discuss the theories behind HBOT and evidence both for and against its use in equine medicine.
What it is and How it Works
During hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatments the equine patient is placed in a large metal chamber that is then pressurized up to two or sometimes three times the normal atmospheric pressure. The air is replaced with high concentrations of pure oxygen, and the patient remains in this environment for an hour or more before the chamber operator depressurizes the unit. Depending on the reason for treatment, physicians or veterinarians usually prescribe multiple treatment sessions, with human patients undergoing anywhere from 10 to 14 treatments for minor conditions to more than 50 HBOT treatments for severe conditions such as bone infections.1 Horses suffering from serious conditions might undergo anywhere from two to 30 treatments, depending on the condition. Horses being treated as part of a health maintenance program generally need fewer sessions overall. For instance, some veterinarians believe racehorses will have a shorter recovery time after a racing effort if HBOT is integrated into their training and racing programs.
Steve Adair, MS, D