Millions of dogs suffer the aches and discomfort of arthritis. Millions more may be hurting without any obvious signs. Now, a new science, using cells derived from the pet’s own fat, may bring relief to many painful pooches.
When your pet has arthritis, you can almost feel the pain he is suffering. You watch as he struggles to rise from his bed, cringe as he slowly ascends the stairs, and you can even hear the creaks and groans as he stretches out before his morning walk.
More than 15 million dogs in North America suffer some form of degenerative joint disease, better known as arthritis. Unfortunately, many dog owners are completely unaware of the pain their pet is experiencing, chalking up the slow movement to the effects of “old age”.
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Some dogs may receive daily doses of pain relievers and oral joint care supplements. Still others might find their way to physical therapy or rehabilitation. Some lucky pets even get ramps built in their homes, sparing them the need to climb the dreaded stairs!
But for some, any or all of these options are not enough to relieve the pain. Sadly, many owners decide to euthanize their faithful companion, because of the severity of the pain or the continued high cost of treatment.
But a potentially helpful treatment may be on the horizon – stem cell therapy! Vet-Stem, a company focused on bringing regenerative medicine technology to veterinarians, has developed a therapy to treat arthritis in dogs using the pet’s own fat tissue!
Stem cells are precursor cells that have the potential to develop into a variety of specialized cell types. Most people may equate this technology with the controversial use of embryonic stem cells. But this new technology uses adult stem cells derived from the fat of the pet. Since they are the pet’s own cells, there is no ethical debate!
Vet-Stem developed this technology from research and techniques used in equine medicine. Scientific and anecdotal evidence from more than 2,500 horses establishes that these fat derived stem cells are quite helpful for tendon and ligament injuries. Furthermore, no significant side effects were reported. Stem cells appear to moderate the inflammatory response and actually create a healthier healing environment in the joint.
Recently, a detailed study on the use of fat-derived stem cells in dogs showed that animals receiving the treatment demonstrated a significant improvement in lameness when compared to dogs in the control group. This news has excited scientists and pet owners alike and has many asking their veterinarians about the potential for a real world application.
According to Vet-Stem’s website (www.vet-stem.com), your veterinarian can harvest a small fat sample from your pet and then send the sample priority overnight to Vet-Stem’s laboratory in San Diego, California. Technicians then process the tissue to concentrate and purify the stem cells. The cells are returned to the veterinarian, ready to be injected into your pet just 48 hours after collection. Testimonials from owners and some veterinarians seem to confirm the success seen in the initial study.
All of this seems pretty miraculous and for some pets, the results are truly nothing short of a life-saving miracle. Many veterinarians are skeptical though and would like to see more controlled studies. It is also important to note several obstacles may stand in the way of your pet’s pain relief.
First, not all pets are considered good candidates for this therapy. Since anesthesia is involved in both the harvesting step and the reintroduction of the cells, this may not be ideal for patients at increased risk for anesthetics. Additionally, according to Dr. Bob Harman, CEO of Vet-Stem, any dog with serious systemic disease, such as cancer, might not benefit from these treatments.
Next, as this therapy is only available through specially trained veterinarians, finding a credentialed doctor may take a little time. . Vet-Stem reports that more than 700 veterinarians across the US and Canada are trained, but more than 17,000 are still waiting for their opportunity.
And even though we have great feedback from owners, this is not a one shot therapy. Some pets need to return regularly for follow-up treatments. Vet-Stem scientists report that over-exertion after treatment seems to lessen the benefits of the treatment, often leading to another trip to the veterinarian.
Finally, cost will certainly come into play as owners and veterinarians discuss this option. Prices will vary among veterinarians, but in general, plan on spending at least $1500-2500 for initial treatments.
Arthritis can be painful and even debilitating in any dog. If you suspect your dog suffers from this disease, talk with your veterinarian about testing to confirm arthritis and then discuss the many treatment options. Veterinarians will recommend a multi-modal approach, combining appropriate medications, controlled exercise, weight loss, and environmental changes to make your dog’s life easier. In some cases, new technology, like stem cell therapy, might be beneficial!
Debra Garrison, DVM