Early in my professional career, I was advised to avoid publicly discussing three controversial subject matters; politics, religion and money. Of late, the term “stem cells” could certainly be added to this short list of contentious topics. Weekly, we see news reports and read editorials on the uses of human embryonic stem cells and the moral-ethical questions surrounding the collection of these powerful cells. There are, however, new breakthroughs in the science of regenerative medicine that draw on the use of adult stem cells, harvested not from embryos but from an adult’s own body.
Research now teaches us that stem cells are an important part of a healthy body’s defense and regeneration process. Simply put, we could not thrive without these primitive repair cells. Just as embryonic stem cells have the ability to grow into a completely new human or animal, adult stem cells have the ability to change and differentiate into bone, cartilage, muscle or any tissue in the body. Recently, a detailed study on the use of fat-derived stem cells in dogs showed that animals receiving stem cells demonstrated a significant improvement in lameness when compared to dogs in the control group. In clinical trials, over 80% of pet owners report improvement after therapy. This news has excited veterinarians and pet owners alike and has many asking about the potential for a real world application.
More than 15 million (20%) dogs in North America suffer some form of degenerative joint disease, better known as osteoarthritis (OA). 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”. 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. 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 on-going treatment.
Adult stem cell regenerative therapy is now an accepted treatment for OA and is available for both dogs and cats. Deerfield Veterinary Hospital is pleased to be the first veterinary hospital in the Ozarks to offer stem cell therapy. All of this seems pretty miraculous and for some pets, the results are truly nothing short of a life-saving miracle.
If you are trying to decide if stem cell therapy is right for your pet, please consider the following. Not all pets are considered good candidates for this therapy. Since anesthesia is involved in both the cell collection step and the reintroduction of the cells, this may not be ideal for all patients. Additionally, any dog with serious systemic disease, such as cancer, might not benefit from these treatments. Even though there has been great feedback from owners, this is not a one shot therapy. Some pets need to return regularly for follow-up treatments. Scientist 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 $3000 to $3500 for initial treatments.
Arthritis can be painful and even debilitating in any dog or cat. If you suspect your pet suffers from this disease, talk with us about testing to confirm arthritis and then discuss the many treatment options. We will recommend a multi-modal approach to pain relief, combining appropriate medications, controlled exercise, weight loss, and environmental changes to make your pet’s life easier. In some cases, new technology, like stem cell therapy, can be beneficial!
This video segment from ABC’s Nightline in 2008 reviews the process of harvesting and transplanting stem cells in pets.
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