Mishka the otter gets help to breathe easy

  • 18/09/2015
Mishka the otter (Seattle Aquarium)
Mishka the otter (Seattle Aquarium)

An asthmatic sea otter has been learning how to use an inhaler after becoming the first of its kind to be diagnosed with the disease.

One-year-old Mishka, which has been at the Seattle Aquarium since January, began having breathing difficulties when smoke from the eastern Washington wildfires drifted over the Puget Sound last month.

She was diagnosed by the aquarium's resident veterinarian Dr Lesanna Lahner because Mishka was showing signs of having difficulty breathing.

Like humans with the disease, Mishka now has to use an inhaler to help her breathe easier.

But because she's not used to it, staff have been training her with food.

Aquarium biologist Sara Perry uses treats to train Mishka to push her nose on the inhaler, the same ones used by humans, and take a breath.

"We try to make it as fun as possible. Anytime you’re training a medical behaviour, you want to make it nice and positive," she says.

In a blog post, the aquarium says they aren't sure what exactly has caused Mishka's asthma, but like humans there are many possible reasons ranging from genetics, the environment or irritating substances like smoke from wildfires.

It could also be because of a lack of genetic diversity in the Washington sea otter population – in 1910, they became extinct because of hunting and it wasn't until around 1970 where 59 Alaska otters were moved to the state's coast.

Many died shortly afterward, so the current population is estimated to have descended from a few as 10 otters.

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