Spa day in a canine hyperbaric oxygen chamber

rubyoxgthumb.jpg Ruby looks nervous. She sits upright on her bunny-like haunches, her fuzzy red ears point straight up in the air; her round black eyes stare straight at mine. The man in the black suit is cranking the dial on the adjacent control panel. 0.3...0.4... the numbers climb by the seconds as the atmospheric pressure inside the glass cylinder rises. The man tells me the optimal pressure for dogs is 1.2 atm, roughly what Ruby would have experienced as a fetus inside her mom's belly.

_MG_7447s.jpgPhoto courtesy of Tetsuya Miura

We're at Wag Style, a doggie day spa on the side street of a trendy Tokyo neighborhood. I've brought Ruby here to test out a canine hyperbaric oxygen chamber that I once blogged about. The technology is the same as that rumored to be used by athletes ranging from Lance Armstrong to Michael Vick — it sends concentrated amounts of oxygen to problem areas in higher atmospheric pressure, supposedly expediting the recovery process.

The science, predictably, is kind of fluffy. "Increasing oxygen tension above and beyond what is physiological can cause risks, like oxidative damage," says Dr. Richard Mailman, a pharmacology expert at Penn State. "The evidence that it works is totally anecdotal." Nonetheless, hyperbaric oxygen therapy centers are quite common these days, claiming to heal everything from skin tags to autism.

For dogs, hyperbaric oxygen chambers are supposed to have the aerobic benefit of two hours of exercise. Tsuyoshi Hirano, the man who owns Wag Style and invented the doggie oxygen chamber Ruby's sitting in, tells me stories of miracles that have happened under his watch — crippled dogs who recovered their youthful gait, wounds that healed within minutes, visible reversal of aging.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is used to heal animals in America, too. "We thought we were drinking our own bathwater for awhile," says Kristen Johnson of Equine Hyperbarics, an organization that specializes in treating horses and other animals. "You can watch a horrible wound on a dog change in a few treatments. It's insane." Equine Hyperbarics has distributed 14 chambers nationwide that provide daily treatments to race horses at about $300-400 a session.

Wag Style has daycare, massages, haircuts, even hair extensions for those needing a little extra something. It sounds ridiculous, but pampering pets has become a pretty popular pastime in Japan. Judging from the look on Ruby's face, this is the last place she wants to be on this cold Monday afternoon. As I later discover from my own half hour session of oxgen therapy (at Wag Style, humans and dogs can get treated side by side), the first few minutes are quite uncomfortable — my ears are popping as if I was on an airplane, and the machine makes a whirring noise that would no doubt irritate a dog's keen sense of hearing. After a while, I enter a meditative state, though I'm not sure if it's due to the atmospheric pressure or the fact that I'm lying face up in a zipped-up compression tube with nothing else to do.

When Ruby and I emerge from our respective oxygen cells, she greets me happily and we prance out of Wag Style together. We both feel energized and happy, but I think that might have been more from relief than from the oxygen.


  1. The 1.2 atm pressure is unrelated to the 1.2 atm of pressure as a fetus. One is inhaled gas pressure, the other systemic pressure. In the hyperbaric chamber t 1.2 atm, dissolved gas in the blood will increase 20% over normal. As a fetus, the oxygen is coming from mom’s lungs, which are at 1 atm*. The heart then pressurizes that blood to 1.2 atm doesn’t dissolve more O2, since it’s not being exposed to air anymore.

    * we’re ignoring the pressure differential between blood and air. Since it happens to both mom and adult dog, the effect is the same.

    1. This is really trash science. Human hyperbaric therapy is done with the patient beating 100% Oxygen or mixed gasses. The chamber is pressurized with normal air and can range from normal to 3 ATM. This is done to increase the partial pressure of dissolved oxygen on the blood. There are also Schedule 7 chambers that can go to 5 to 7 ATM that are used for gas embolisms. Taking a dog to 1.2 ATA is like bringing the dog down in a deep cave for a while. A lot cheaper and the walk would be less freaky than pressurizing your pooch.

  2. Huh. I’d’ve thunk optimal pressure for dogs would be 1.0 atm only because that’s what they evolved and adapted to over a million years or so.

    1. Oh no, the optimal anything is whatever you were at when you were in your mother’s womb. That’s why the very best relaxation spas also drown you in amniotic fluid, trap you in a giant sack, and then, when it’s time to release you, throw buckets of blood all over you and slap you hard on the back several times.

      1. The optimal life environment may in fact be related to the OPTIMAL mother’s womb (or not), but the article is about healing, and the mother’s womb may or may not be related to the optimal HEALING environment, as injuries and illnesses rarely occur there. Since there is little research on this subject area, all discussion is just that – talk.

        And the optimal healing environment will definitely vary substantially for different diseases. Cancer versus bacterial skin infections, for instance.

        Unfortunately, there is little or no research on what would comprise an optimal mother’s womb, either (for fetal development). This sounds like a very interesting and good research subject,but fraught with moral and ethical hazards, not to speak of religious issues.

        Hyperbaric chambers have been used in some surface wound healing tests (gangrene?).

        Actually, lower atmospheric pressures (high altitude) are the cause of some catastrophic illnesses.

        There are illnesses related to excessive atmospheric pressure (deep sea diving issues), but those are extreme depth cases (very high pressure).

        And humidity of the air is also a huge variable (lung problems, or skin problems).

        1. “but the article is about healing”

          The article is about a place that puts dogs (and people) into really high ppO2 environments and the owner claims it reverses the effects of aging and other extremely dubious claims.

          Aside from this, it doesn’t take long for (taking the article at face value) oxygen to cause siezures at the partial pressures the article indicates. Oxygen is pretty toxic. We survive well enough at a 1atm 21% concentration, but when you increase the partial pressure you can really, really hurt or even kill someone.

  3. The science is beyond fluffy; it’s wrong. The oxygen tension inside the body (or in utero) is actually quite a bit lower than it is in the atmosphere — around 3% internally, vs. 20% out in the outside world. When we grow cells at atmospheric oxygen tensions, they’re different in a bad way than when they’re grown at physiological (lower) pressure.

    Oxygen is involved in a lot of age-related damage at the cellular level. Over the long term, these treatments will probably accelerate aging.

    I think Lisa’s article is suitably skeptical; I just hope people read the fine print.

  4. They’re going to kill someone’s pet. I hope the people running these things have in-depth knowledge of oxygen toxicity and how it works with each species they treat.

  5. For dogs, hyperbaric oxygen chambers are supposed to have the aerobic benefit of two hours of exercise.

    Then why not that?

  6. Unfortunately, the article is weak and the comments weaker. Nothing “fluffy” about HBOT. FDA approved therapy for 15 ailments including hard to heal wounds, crush injuries, burns and the bends. It is often used “off-label” many neurological problems including stroke, autism and cerebral palsy.
    Most impressive and easiest for anyone to understand are videos on you tube etc. showing progress of individuals. For cerebral palsy story see: Home licensed units are apparently just as effective, use room air (24% oxygen +/-) at 1.3ATA and can be purchased for 6 to 16 thousand dollars. Best study on autism and “home” or mild style chambers here:

  7. O2 doping is fun. I live in a greenhouse and benefits are numerous. I encourage everyone to live to a greater degree in symbiosis with their environment. The only downside to living in a greenhouse or a house with many plants is that I find it difficult to leave such an oxygen rich environment. It is amazing. Olympic athletes live high and train low to obtain benefits of changes in 02 and pressure.

  8. Without going into one long post about how ATAs and ATMs are measured, I’ll just say this…

    From a SCUBA divers perspective –

    Breathing pure O2 at 1.6ATM’s (roughly 20 feet under water), can be a deadly mistake – seeing as at 1.6ATM’s a diver can experience what is called Oxygen Toxicity.

    That said, in a recompression chamber (aka: hyperbaric chamber), human patients regularly breath pure O2 at pressures greater than 1.6ATM’s without suffering major consequences. In fact some patients, depending on their ailment/injury, breath pure O2 at a p.p. (partial pressure) up to 4ATM’s (which is equivalent to roughly 99 feet of water).

    Not being a veterinarian, I cannot tell you what is safe for a dog/cat/animal in regards to breathing pure O2 under pressures greater than our normal 1ATM, however … I doubt that dogs are at any risk of dying from Oxygen Toxicity at 1.2ATMs. And by the way, 1.2ATMs is equivalent to hanging out at roughly 6.6FSW (Feet of Sea Water), and breathing pure O2.

    Also, for those of you interested in the science behind the hyperbaric chamber, and how it affects the body – here is a website for you to check out:

    This one is based on the animal aspect of it.

  9. Is this only for dogs? How about other animals like cats? They should also have some like this.

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