A wheezy otter has made breezy work of learning how to use an inhaler. Aaaw.
Named Mishka, the 1-year-old Seattle Aquarium resident is reportedly the first sea otter to be diagnosed with the respiratory disease asthma. So needless to say, it’s an understudied area, and there doesn’t seem to be a great amount of literature on the condition in non-human, non-domesticated animals (cats, dogs and horses can all get asthma).
We still don’t know exactly what causes asthma in humans, but the general consensus is that it’s likely the result of both genetic and environmental factors, with triggers varying from person to person. And while it’s tough to point the finger at a potential driver in this case, a similar combination of genes and environment is plausible.
Mishka began experiencing breathing difficulties after smoke – a common respiratory irritant – from wildfires seeped into the area in August of this year. That could explain the trigger, but it’s also possible that reduced genetic diversity had a role to play in its development. Washington sea otters were actually driven to extinction in the early 1900s due to exploitation for their highly desirable fur.
The trade in this product was banned, but efforts to reintroduce the animals to the area were not made for some 60 years. Fifty-nine sea otters were then shipped over from Alaska, but unfortunately most of them died shortly afterward, meaning the population we see today is derived from only a small number of individuals. This limited gene pool could mean that Mishka, and others in the area, is susceptible to disease.
After a vet noticed she wasn’t breathing well, she was subjected to a barrage of tests, including X-rays and blood work, which led to the diagnosis of asthma. To help relieve the poor thing from her symptoms, she was administered asthma medication in the form of an inhaler. As a pretty unnatural act for the otter, it required some friendly encouragement in the form of a fishy reward. After training, she now knows to press her nose against the inhaler and take a breath. The trooper is reportedly doing well.