Pet owners don’t want to see their beloved animals in any sort of discomfort, especially if the pain is something the owner can relate to. Degenerative joint disease, better known as arthritis, affects more than 50 million people in the United States and veterinarians estimate that about 15 million dogs also suffer from this disease.
In an attempt to provide relief for their four legged friends, owners will turn to a variety of treatment options. Non-steroidal drugs, acupuncture, stem cell therapy or even different types of lasers are all current alternatives in a veterinarian’s arsenal to help these pets.
In recent years, a new type of treatment that has been borrowed from human sports medicine has increased in popularity. Several high profile athletes, like Tiger Woods and Troy Polamalu, have received remedies consisting of blood concentrates with high levels of platelets. Also seen in equine athletes, the use of platelet rich plasma could show promise for treating injuries and arthritis in dogs. Proponents quickly point out that this type of therapy is completely natural, since the only “treatment” comes from the animal’s own body (also known as autologous). Critics of this type of treatment say that the theory is certainly sound, but good scientific evidence is not here yet.
So, how can “Platelet Therapy” possibly help an arthritic pet?
Most people understand platelets are cells that help blood clot after injury. However, platelets are also important in injury repair, providing a wide variety of growth factors that attract specialized cells to help fix the problem. The theory behind platelet rich plasma is that the increased concentration of these essential growth factors helps speed the healing process.
For both dogs and horses, a small sample of blood is taken from the animal and then placed into a specialized filter that helps concentrate the number of platelets. Once the filtration is complete, this new platelet enriched plasma can be injected back into the affected joint of the pet. It’s really that simple!
New, “point of care” devices are now available, meaning veterinarians do not need any specialized equipment for this therapy. In fact, the whole procedure can be completed in about 15 minutes in the veterinary hospital, in the pet’s home or even at the horse’s barn.
Testimonials from pet owners seem to substantiate the success of these treatments. Many people describe how their pets have demonstrable beneficial changes in range of motion and overall movement and even an improved quality of life. Other owners express happiness with the “natural” quality of the treatment and the lack of known side effects.
Veterinarians are providing positive feedback as well. Using highly sophisticated scales to rate lameness, veterinarians report better mobility and even less pain in their patients receiving platelet rich plasma.
But not everyone is convinced that this treatment will be the answer to arthritis or other musculo-skeletal injuries. Reviews of the literature detailing studies in human medicine have all stated that the evidence for the success of these therapies is not conclusive and large scale studies are needed for more substantial proof.
Additionally, the effective dosage of the concentrated platelets, the appropriate timing and number of applications for effective therapy is not known. There is even a question as to which types of tissue responds best to platelet rich plasma.
Thankfully, your veterinarian does have a wide range of treatment modalities that can help provide relief for your pet. Owners can help evaluate the effectiveness of any therapy by keeping a log of the pet’s activity and communicating movement changes, pain or even different attitudes from their pet. Working together, you and your veterinarian could find the best ways to keep your pets and horses as pain free as possible!