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Stem-Cell Therapy Can Ease Pain for Dogs

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Veterinarians have made enormous strides using stem-cell therapy on pets. Take poor Abbey, a beloved golden retriever who was in terrible pain. Suffering with arthritis, the dog was limping. Her muscles had atrophied and her coat was worn thin. Several veterinarians had been unable to diagnose the problem. One doctor had suggested she be put down. It was heartbreaking for Donna Klug-Splon and her husband, Scott Splon. But they weren't about to give up. Eventually the dog was diagnosed with Lyme's disease. But after treatment, Abbey still had bouts of arthritis.

"Her body had taken a beating,'' Donna said. "We had to put Abbey in a wagon and tow her around the block because she couldn't walk.'' But a couple of years ago, the couple found Dr. Cheryl Adams, a vet who suggested an innovative alternative: stem-cell therapy.

With fat culled from her body, Abbey's joints were injected several times with her stem cells. The transformation was remarkable.

Abbey went from being unable to crawl up the stairs, Donna said, "to chasing squirrels up the trees.'' Donna and Scott were astonished at the transformation. "We had a front-row seat to a miracle,'' Donna said.

Earlier uses

The procedure has been successfully used on horses. More than 3,000 horses have been treated with Vet-Stem Regenerative Cell therapy; now more than 500 dogs have been treated with the therapy. Besides treating osteoarthritis and other orthopedic problems, stem-cell therapy is currently in studies to treat multiple sclerosis, diabetes and renal failure.

Not to be confused with embryonic stem cells, the cells derived from body fat are adult stem cells with healing properties. Adams, who has been practicing veterinary medicine for 20 years, is one of the nation's top experts in stem-cell therapy.

"It's not a cure-all for every ailment,'' Adams, a vet at Arboretum Animal Hospital in the Chicago suburb of Downers Grove, said. "But it can grossly improve quality of life for many pets.''

Treatment information

Costs for the procedure run between $3,000-$4,000. For Donna and Scott - who have spent some $80,000 overall on health care for Abbey - the stem-cell therapy was worth every penny.

"My husband would have taken out a second mortgage if he had to,'' Donna said. When Abbey improved so much, Donna became so excited and grateful that she wanted to share it with the world, and even wrote in to newspapers.

"I tried to tell everyone I could about it,'' she said.

The procedure takes 15 to 30 minutes. After the dog is anesthetized, a small incision is made in its belly or shoulder, and a couple of tablespoons of fat are removed.

The sample is shipped to the Vet-Stem lab in San Diego, where it is made into a concentrate of regenerative cells, then sent back to the vet later that day. Two days later, the dog is sedated, injected with its own cells and sent home.

On the mend

Last year, Abbey was diagnosed with cancer in the liver. A surgery was successful, but Abbey has since developed signs of renal failure. Determined to save Abbey -- and do anything possible to avoid more suffering - Donna and Scott again turned to stem-cell therapy.

Once again, Abbey is on the mend. After having endured drastic weight loss -- from 79 pounds to 49 pounds -- the dog is back up to 60 pounds. Abbey is now 12 years old but is often mistaken for a much younger pup.

"She's looking great and doing great,'' Donna said. "She could live to be 20 years old.'' That's a ripe old age for a retriever.

These days, Donna and Scott watch Abbey bound around, happy and playful, and they relish every moment.

Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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