Experimental Fish Skin Graft Saves Life Of Dog With Severe Burns

Stella, a Rottweiler that underwent skin grafting surgery to repair severe burns on her body, is recovering well, according to Michigan veterinarians. The descaled cod skin used to replaced her damaged skin facilitated the growth of new tissue.  ( Michigan State University )

A 1-year-old dog, who received a revolutionary skin grafting procedure earlier this year, is now well on her way to recovery.

Stella the Rottweiler underwent surgery at Michigan State University in February to help repair severe burns on her body. She received the injuries after she was left alone in a burning house.

MSU vets operated on the poor dog to replace her damaged skin with those taken from fish. This allowed her wounds to heal properly. After several weeks of recovery, Stella is now back to being a relatively active pup.

"Stella's will to live was amazing; she never quit fighting," said Rose Wahl, a veterinary technician at MSU and one of those who helped the dog after she was brought to the university.

"Her resilience and strength have astounded everyone who has worked with her."

The Day Of The Accident

Stella's owners were away from their home in Lansing when the building suddenly caught fire. While she was able to escape their burning house, she sustained severe second- and three-degree burns on more than 10 percent of her body.

The incident also left the dog with scarred eyes and serious breathing problems after she inhaled too much smoke.

Stella was taken to MSU's Veterinary Medical Center, where she was given intravenous fluids and oxygen to help her breath.

After her condition stabilized, she underwent soft tissue surgery to address the severe burns on her body. Her scarred eyes were also treated by MSU ophthalmologists.

Brea Sandness, one of the vets who operated on Stella, explained that they had to be creative in how they treated the dog's wounds because of the trauma to her lungs. They could not give Stella anesthesia because of the injuries to her respiratory system.

Replacing Stella's Damaged Skin With Fish Skin

The MSU surgical team had to explore less traditional methods to help fix Stella's burned skin. They came up with a skin grafting procedure where they would replace her burned skin with a material made from descaled cod fish skins.

The fish-skin products were donated by Kerecis, an Iceland-based company that specializes in creating such products for treatment of skin injuries on humans and animals.

Cod skin made an ideal candidate as skin graft because of its tissue composition, as well as its high omega-3 fatty acid content. These helped give the material anti-inflammatory and antibiotic properties, which is crucial for healing and skin regeneration.

Applying cod skin grafts also do not require putting patients in heavy sedation during surgery.

Sandness said they were able to operate on Stella with minimal sedation. This helped her wounds heal properly without causing any additional stress to her damaged lungs.

The researchers believe the descaling of the cod skins was the key to making them into better skin grafts than others fish-based materials.

Sandness said descaled grafts have the ability to stimulate cell production and even become functional, living tissue later on. The material can be replaced as often as required for burn injuries.

In Stella's case, the fish-based grafts were absorbed by the dog's body and facilitated the growth of new tissue into the replacement skin.

The burns on Stella's body are healing well, according to the researchers. However, she is still having difficulties breathing because of her respiratory issues. She will have to be monitored closely and cared for throughout her life.

"Stella is one of the bravest and strongest patients I've ever encountered," Wahl noted.

"Not only did she show incredible endurance and resilience, she has maintained a sweet and kind attitude throughout this whole ordeal."

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