Social Media Icons

Follow Us:

Main Content

Stem Cell Technology: An approach to treating arthritis in dogs

Twitter Stumbleupon Mixx it! Print Email icon
Pin It
If you enjoy this article,
Go here to sign up for the mailing list to receive more articles like this.

An innovative approach to treating arthritis in dogs -- involving the use of stem cells taken from the animal being treated -- has shown positive results, according to veterinarians who have employed the new therapy. This relatively new technology may signal a new approach to the treatment of this common, debilitating condition.

Arthritis: what it is, how it’s treated

Osteoarthritis -- not to be confused with the more serious form of the illness, rheumatoid arthritis -- is a degenerative joint disease that causes inflammation, pain, swelling, and loss of mobility. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), almost half of all dogs in the United States suffer, to some degree, from this form of arthritis. (For an informative podcast on arthritis from the AVMA, click here. For a detailed article on arthritis from the American Animal Hospital Association, click here.)

Treatments for the symptoms of arthritis include pain medications, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), physical therapy, nutritional supplementation, and changes in diet. Some pet owners opt for newer, "holistic" approaches, including acupuncture and massage therapy.

Vet Stem™ Regenerative Cell Therapy

Now, an entirely different treatment is available. Developed by Vet-Stem, a California-based company, this treatment involves the use of a dog’s own stem cells to directly treat its arthritis. (Interestingly, the therapy began in 2003 to treat tendon and ligament injuries, fractures and joint disease in horses. More than 3,000 horses have already been treated with Vet-Stem™ Regenerative Stem Cell Therapy.)

During a short surgical procedure performed under general anesthesia, a veterinarian makes a small incision in the dog’s belly or shoulder and removes about two tablespoons of fat tissue. The sample is then sent overnight to Vet-Stem’s lab, where it is processed and the Vet-Stem™ Regenerative Stem Cells (VSRCs) are concentrated. The VSRCs are then shipped priority overnight back to the treating veterinarian in ready-to-inject syringes. With the dog under sedation, the veterinarian injects the cells directly into the affected joint.

Thus far, the results have been impressive. At the 2008 annual convention of the American Animal Hospital Association, Robert J. Harman, DVM, MPVM, Vet-Stem’s founder and CEO, spoke about the success of his company’s therapy: “Over 500 hundred dogs around the country have been treated with little to no side-effects. About one half of one percent of the patients experienced some discomfort, but that might just be form the needle going into the joint.” None of the dogs reportedly became sick or died due to treatments.

The typical cost of Vet-Stem™ treatment, including an initial workup, ranges from $2,000 to $3,000.

An independent view

For an independent view of the efficacy of the Vet-Stem™ technology, WebVet sought the opinion of Pamela Schwartz, DVM, DACVS, a Staff Surgeon at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. Like all veterinarians who employ the Vet-Stem™ therapy, Schwartz was required to complete a Vet-Stem Regenerative Cell medicine credentialing course before beginning the use of the treatment.

“We’ve seen good results,” Schwartz reports. “While the degree of improvement has varied, all of the treated dogs have shown some improvement.” According to Schwartz, the best results have been obtained in those dogs that were more seriously affected by arthritis at the beginning of treatment. One of the patients who showed the most improvement was an obese, arthritic dog that Schwartz describes as “barely able to get up and walk” when treatment began.

Evaluation of the effectiveness of the treatment is based both on the owner’s and the treating veterinarian’s careful observation of the dog’s degree of mobility. This evaluation is necessarily somewhat subjective; after all, we can’t ask our dogs: “Are you feeling better?” Nevertheless, when a dog no longer shows signs of lameness and has begun to play actively for the first time in months, it’s reasonable to conclude that the treatment has worked.

An additional tool?  Not a cure

Schwartz points out that the Vet-Stem™ treatment is not a cure for arthritis: “I tell people that this is not a magic solution. It’s something we can add in to other treatments. It doesn’t eliminate the underlying cause of the disease and some patients may require repeat treatment at some point.” Schwartz has re-treated some patients after about one year.

Schwartz emphasizes the importance of proper patient selection in order to achieve the best results. Before Vet-Stem™ treatment can begin, a prospective patient must receive a complete examination to make sure there is not some other disease process – such as cancer or an infection -- that might account for the dog’s symptoms or that would be a contraindication to stem cell treatment.

What to do

Dealing effectively with your dog’s arthritis should begin with a visit to your veterinarian. If your dog’s condition is not responding adequately to the standard treatments, discuss Vet-Stem™ Regenerative Cell Therapy with your vet. S/he may already be using the therapy with other patients. If not, ask about it. 

(A Vet-Stem™ form letter explaining the therapy, which you can bring to your own veterinarian, is available here.)

If your veterinarian is not familiar with or credentialed in the use of Vet-Stem™ therapy, the company maintains a searchable "Locate-A-Vet" database so that you can find a veterinarian in your area who has completed the Vet-Stem™ Regenerative Medicine Credentialing course.

Remember: canine arthritis is a treatable condition. With the advent of Vet-Stem™ Regenerative Cell Therapy, your veterinarian’s toolbox has a new and welcome addition.

Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, D.V.M.
Did you like this article?
Go here to sign up for the mailing list to receive more articles like this.

Related content

Pet Questions Vet Answers®

All medical-related content on WebVet has been veterinarian approved to ensure its timeliness and accuracy.
Introducing Pet-Pods...

Veterinarian with small dog FREE downloadable PDF files providing a comprehensive review of some of the most timely pet health topics: Allergies, Fleas, Summer Safety Hazards, and Vomiting and Diarrhea.

Newsletter Signup

Get FREE Pet Insurance Quotes Now!

Search For A Vet