Stem Cell Treatment Helps Arthritic Dogs

posted September 21st, 2013 by
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by Kiley Roberson

Cassie the Rottweiler is only 2 and a half years old, but her slow and limping steps make this should-be playful pup look like a senior citizen. Cassie suffers from osteoarthritis in both elbows and had a torn ligament in her back leg. Cassie was born with elbow dysplasia that required surgery on both elbows.

Then she tore her ACL six months later, requiring a third surgery. Although surgery was helpful she still had limited mobility from daily pain. She required lots of pain medication, but Cassie’s vet, Dr. Joe Landers of Tulsa’s Heritage Veterinary Hospital, says there’s an alternative.

“Stem cell therapy,” explains Dr. Landers. “It’s taking the individual’s own cells stored in fat, activating them and then injecting them back in, so they repair damaged areas as well as decrease pain. Similar to how a cut heals on your finger, for example, but in a joint.”

Dr. Landers’ clinic (and staff veterinarians Dr. Stephanie Bradley, Dr. Jessica Zink, and Dr. Julie Merrick) is currently only one of two veterinarian hospitals in the entire state that practices this type of regenerative procedure, but it has proven successful across the country for pets and people. Even sports stars like New York Yankees’ pitcher Bartolo Colon and PGA golfer Tiger Woods have received such treatments.

The key is obviously the versatility of stem cells. Stem cells are essentially the body’s repair cells. They have the ability to divide and differentiate into many different types of cells based on where they are needed throughout the body. Stem cells can divide and turn into tissues such as skin, fat, muscle, bone, cartilage and nerve, to name a few. They even possess the ability to replicate into organs such as the heart, liver, intestines, pancreas, etc.

Dr. Landers says it’s important to note that as everyone ages—pets and people—their joints, as well as other organs and tissue, deteriorate to varying degrees. “In geriatrics, the joints are often very worn and have lost mechanical function,” Dr. Landers explains.

“So they can only be repaired so much. Often just the pain relief is enough to help the patient get up and moving and interacting again. But we do caution clients on expectations; a young dog will be much more mobile after treatment than an older dog.”

For pets like Cassie, stem cells can make all the difference in quality of life. “The most common use for pets now is treating degenerative joint disease or arthritis,” says Dr. Landers. “Good candidates for stem cell therapy are older dogs who are not responding well to medical therapy, like antiinflammatory medications, any longer, or dogs that surgery will not help. It’s also great for younger dogs like Cassie with early arthritis in helping to slow the progression of the disease.”

The stem cell treatment that Dr. Landers performs was actually developed by MediVet America of Lexington, Ky., one of several companies that sell equipment and training to veterinary clinics around the world. MediVet has more than 500 clinics and participating vets, like Dr. Landers, who have performed over 5,000 stem cell procedures so far.

A typical stem cell operation like the one Dr. Landers recommended for Cassie takes several hours. To start, the veterinarian will anesthetize the pet. He will then surgically remove a couple of tablespoons of fat. This is a quick and simple procedure that is generally easier than performing a spay. They will then spin the fat cells in a centrifuge to separate out the stem cells that are naturally present in fat. This generally takes a couple of hours.

Next, the cells are mixed with special enzymes to “digest” any residual fat and connective tissue, which are then “activated” by mixing them with “plasma rich platelets” extracted from the animal’s blood cells. The mixture is stimulated under an LED light for 20 minutes or so to further concentrate the stem cells. Finally, the newly awakened cells are injected back into the damaged joint and also intravenously.

The therapy works well because stem cells are the only cells in the body that have the ability to transform themselves into other types of specialized cells, making them a potent tool for repairing damaged and deteriorating joints. There are 50 to 1,000 times more stem cells in the fat than bone marrow, a source that was used more when the procedure first became popular.

While still largely unavailable to owners, stem cell therapy from fat cells has been offered to our furry friends for several years. With fewer regulatory hoops to jump through in veterinary medicine and no contentious religious debates, experimental procedures are often tested and perfected on animals decades before they’re green-lighted for use on humans.

One of the things veterinarians and owners alike praise about the MediVet procedure is it is done all in one day. Thus a larger number of viable cells are available and are not lost in shipping and processing in an outside lab. Stem cells can also be banked for future injection, so the animal does not have to endure extraction again.

While every animal is different, MediVet says they’ve seen positive clinical improvements in 95 percent of the arthritic cases performed nationwide. Some owners have even reported seeing a difference in as little as one week. While quick results are possible, Dr. Landers cautions that this type of treatment is not a cure and isn’t right for every pet.

“This therapy will not work on a pet with cancer,” Dr. Landers says. “The stems cells will actually increase the tumor and make it worse. Also, the animal needs to be healthy enough for anesthesia, and we do blood work beforehand to check internal organs. There is a risk, as with any anesthetic procedure, but we monitor the pets closely and keep them under for as short as possible.”

Cassie was a great candidate for stem cell therapy. Dr. Landers performed the procedure in his office and the whole process went off without a hitch. In just a few weeks, Cassie was already showing progress. “She has done fantastic,” Dr. Landers says. “She plays again and can even go up the stairs.”

If you’re interested in stem cell therapy for your pet, talk to your veterinarian. You can also read more about the procedure on the MediVet website at medivet-america.com.

“Stem cell therapy is important for pets,” says Dr. Landers. “It gives a powerful option to pet owners to treat chronic pain and thereby increase their pet’s overall quality of life.”

2 Responses to “Stem Cell Treatment Helps Arthritic Dogs”

  1. Pet Bounce says:

    It truly is a blessing that Stem Cell Therapy is another tool that can be used to help our furry friends combat their chronic arthritic pain. The more knowledge we have the more we can do everything possible to help our loved ones!

  2. […] Article in Tulsa Pet Magazine that explains the what and why of stem cells […]

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