How Stem Cell Therapy Helps Pets
My own dog runs and jumps with less pain thanks to this cutting-edge treatment that uses adult stem cells rather than embryonic ones
When we think of arthritis, most of us picture an old dog who hobbles and is slow to get up. But not all of the roughly 20% of dogs who are affected by osteoarthritis are seniors. In fact, many younger dogs—including some barely past the puppy stage—suffer from painful hips, elbows, or shoulders due to arthritis.
Traditionally, many veterinarians use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as the treatment of choice for managing the joint inflammation associated with arthritis. While NSAIDs definitely have their place in decreasing inflammation-related pain in our pets, they also carry the risk of adverse side effects, including gastric ulceration and liver and kidney damage. Luckily, many other treatment options exist for managing joint pain in dogs and cats, including joint supplements, diet, surgical options, and, now, stem cell therapy. Your veterinarian will help you determine what’s best for your pet.
What Is Stem Cell Therapy?
Stem cell therapy, a form of regenerative medicine, is gaining attention as a safe and effective means of reducing the pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis in dogs and cats. Veterinarians who have completed a special course are able to perform the process, which involves collecting a pet’s own fat through a surgical procedure. A laboratory in California then isolates the adult stem cells from the fat. The veterinarian injects these adult stem cells back into the patient’s painful joints and, usually, gives an intravenous (IV) injection of the stem cells at the same time.
This procedure uses adult stem cells, as opposed to controversial embryonic stem cells. With adult cells, the pet’s body can tell them to become various types of connective tissue, including cartilage, muscle, and bone. The majority of their effectiveness, however, is derived from their unique and powerful ability to reduce inflammation. By reducing inflammation, adult stem cells have the potential to provide significant pain relief. In fact, about 70% of patients that receive stem cell therapy don’t need a repeat treatment in the first year.
My Dog’s Experience
I first learned of this procedure about a year ago, and I immediately wanted to try it for my own arthritic dog. Monty is a mixed breed of unknown age (though my guess is he’s at least 12 years old) who has hip dysplasia in his left hip. He had a hard time getting up after laying down, seemed to have a stiff gait, and hadn’t been able to jump into the back of my car for years. I didn’t feel he was uncomfortable enough to start him on NSAIDs, but I was giving him a variety of joint supplements. Although stem cell therapy is costly, I felt that it offered a reasonable chance at improving Monty’s overall quality of life, and that, to me, is worth everything. So I decided to give stem call therapy a try.
Day 1: Monty’s procedure began with the fat collection. He went under general anesthesia, and I performed a surgical procedure to collect fat from behind his left shoulder. (Due to some post-operative complications at the incision site, I now recommend collecting the fat from a rich fat pad called the falciform ligament found just inside the abdomen.) Then I overnighted the fat sample to the laboratory in California.
Day 2: Monty rested comfortably while the laboratory technicians in California began the process of isolating his adult stem cells. They prepared two syringes filled with his cells and shipped them back to us overnight.
Day 3: I sedated Monty for his injections. (Sedation is required because pets must hold completely still for the joint injection.) One injection went directly into his painful left hip. The other was administered intravenously. This way, the “homing instincts” of the adult stem cells can naturally migrate to other areas of inflammation in the body that may benefit from their assistance.
About 30 days later (it’s typical for results to take 30 to 60 days to become apparent), I began noticing Monty acting more excited at meal times. He began springing into the air on his hind legs. When I brought him into our hospital for his 30-day recheck, he effortlessly jumped into the back of my car without hesitation. I continued to see steady improvement over the next 30 days, and then we reached a plateau.
It’s now been more than seven months since Monty’s stem cell procedure, and although I’ve noticed his stiffness start to return, other benefits have remained: He’s still able to jump into the back of my car easily and without hesitation, and he’s more active outside. Before his procedure, he would run out the back door into our yard and then trot or walk for the remainder of his time outside. Now he’ll run all around the backyard, and then run some more. Stem cell therapy has improved Monty’s quality of life, and it can do the same for other pets. And for that, I’m thankful.
What Can Stem Cell Therapy Treat in Pets?
This therapy can be used in dogs and cats (and horses, too). Dogs lead a more active lifestyle and, therefore, are more likely to be treated with stem cell therapy, which provides the greatest benefit for dogs with:
- Stifle (knee) injuries
- Hip dysplasia
- Elbow dysplasia
- Tendon and ligament injuries
- Shoulder arthritis.
Is Your Dog a Candidate?
Stem cell therapy can help many dogs; speak with your veterinarian about whether your pet might benefit from it. However, there are several situations in which pets might not be candidates for stem cell therapy:
- If the pet has cancer
- If the pet has liver or kidney disease
- If surgery is more likely to provide the pet a more optimal, long-term solution, such as with ligament injuries. (However, stem cell therapy provided at the same time as surgery can improve the rate of healing.)