A Nile tilapia photographed at the Snake Park in central Nairobi by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen via Wikipedia
It has only been used to treat human burns for a few years, but tilapia skin is already in use by veterinary specialists to heal animal victims of burns. The skin of a tilapia fish is apparently very similar to human skin. According to an internationally published medical study on the use of tilapia: "Tilapia skin has non-infectious microbiota, high amounts of type I collagen, and similar morphological structure to human skin, so it has been suggested as a potential xenograft for the management of burn wounds." (via) This is true for humans and animals.
I learned this information just recently when I came across a call for donations to a nonprofit organization in Blaine, Minnesota, where a Jack Russell mix known as Petey was homed after being run over by a Bobcat skid-steer last December. Besides broken legs, Petey had no skin on his back from his neck to his hind hips.
Liz Gigler, director of RPAW, and Petey: Photo:Deanna Weniger / St. Paul Pioneer Press (photo used with permission od Deanna Weniger)
Petey has gone through tremendous physical and mental suffering, but probably as quickly as anyone could have done, through the sheer persistence, dedication, and determination of Liz Gigler, director of the nonprofit Rescued Pets Are Wonderful (RPAW), Petey received his body bandage of fresh tilapia skin within weeks of his arrival at RPAW. The surgery was performed by veterinarian Krista Steffenhagen at Blaine Family Veterinary Hospital in hopes that it willl enable Petey to grow back his own new skin. (You can read about Petey and Ms. Gigler's efforts here.)
UC Davis Pioneers Use of Tilapia In Burned Animals And Pets
UC Davis and CDFW veterinarians carefully suture tilapia fish skin bandages to bear paws. (Karin Higgins / UC Davis) (via)
Veterinarians at University of California, Davis were among the first veterinarians to use tilapia skins to repair animals burns. Jamie Peyton, chief of the Integrative Medicine Service at UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital first used tilapia skins to repair animal wounds early in 2018. After the fires that burned through Santa Barbara and Rancho Cordova, two brown bears and a mountain lion were turned into the California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW) in Chico for treatment and Dr. Peyton was called in to treat them, covering their wounds with tilapia skin. The animals received other forms of therapy as well, but they recuperated much faster with the tilapia skin, which falls off by itself (or it is eaten!)
A kitten who survived the Camp Fire in Butte County is photographed at the VCA Valley Oak Veterinary Center in Chico, where he received treatment by UC Davis veterinarian Jamie Peyton for burns on his paws. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis) via
In late 2018, and in response to the Camp Fire, Dr. Peyton began operating on cats and dogs who were burned, even making 'kitten mittens' out of tilapia skin, so she could avoid anesthetizing them. The kitten mittens are described as spongelike Band Aids.
"Just like we’ve seen in other species, we’re seeing increased pain relief. We’re seeing wound healing and an overall increased comfort,” said Peyton.
What a boon to veterinary medicine and to animal welfare!
sources: Duluth News Tribune, U.S. National Library of Medicine, UCDavis: Dogs, Cats Rescued From California Camp Fire Heal With Fish Skins, UCDavis: Bears Burned in California Wildfires Healed With Fish Skins, Released to Wild