Teri Wilson
September 20, 2015 11:42 am

Today in amazing people doing amazing things, trainers at the Seattle Aquarium have taught a sea otter with asthma how to use an inhaler. TBH, it’s kind of blowing our minds. Who knew otters could even have asthma?

No one, apparently.

Dr. Lesanna Lahner, a veterinarian at the aquarium, diagnosed Mishka (that name! so cute!) and hers is the first case they’ve ever seen among sea otters. She became symptomatic and had trouble breathing when smoke blew into the Seattle area from wildfires in eastern Washington. Aww. Our hearts!

The good news is that Mishka can be treated with an inhaler that uses the exact same medication that helps human asthma sufferers. But um…how exactly do you get an otter to use an inhaler? With positive reinforcement in the form of food. (Think about it…if someone gave you a bite of pizza every time you did something they wanted you to do, you’d catch on pretty quickly. Just saying.)

Sara Perry, a marine biologist at the aquarium who works as Mishka’s trainer, told USA Today, “We want to make this as fun as possible. So any kind of medical behavior that you’re training, you just want to make sure it’s nice and positive.” To that end, Sara is using food treats (yum!) to teach Mishka to push her nose on the inhaler and take a deep breath.

So far Mishka is catching on like a pro!

Thank goodness. Having trouble breathing is a very frightening experience, as the 12 million humans in the US who have asthma can attest. Cases in people have actually increased by around 25 percent in the past ten years, which might possibly have something to do with Mishka’s diagnosis. Dr. Peter Rabinowitz, a professor at the University of Washington, explained to USA Today, “More and more, there starts to be this concept of what we’re calling One Health, which is really that there’s a connection between the health of people and the health of other species, and that sometimes those species can be telling us that there’s a problem in the environment.”

But hey, if we’re going to share our ailments with animals, the least we can do is share the remedy, too. Right? Right.

Good work, Mishka. And props to the Seattle Aquarium for taking care of this special little otter!

Learn more about Mishka in the video below:

[All images via YouTube video.]

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