Stem cell therapy

January 7th, 2015
Stem cell therapy

Arthritis is a painful and debilitating condition that affects far too many of our furry friends, but now there’s a new treatment option helping give sick dogs a new lease on life. Tim Falk discovers how stem cell therapy can be used to treat arthritis.

As is the case for many humans, arthritis is a painful fact of life for a large percentage of our canine companions. The signs of arthritis in an older dog are something many owners are familiar with: slowness to get moving after periods of inactivity, as well as trouble running, climbing stairs or hopping into the car.

“Arthritis and osteoarthritis are very common conditions seen in all breeds of dogs at all stages of life,” says Dr Joshua Llinas, veterinary director at Greencross Veterinary Clinic at Jindalee in Queensland. “Older dogs are more commonly affected and most dogs will develop some degree of arthritis in the later stages of life.”

Of course, just because arthritis and stiff joints are a common problem for dogs doesn’t mean there aren’t options available to help reduce their pain. If your dog is showing signs of being in pain, a full joint exam and assessment should be performed by your vet to determine the best course of action. Arthritis is usually a life-long condition and a balanced approach needs to be taken to give the best outcome.

There are special foods designed to help lessen joint pain, while vets can also administer anti-inflammatories, injections, perform acupuncture and even establish physiotherapy programs to help manage a dog’s arthritis.

But now there’s a new treatment option to add to the list: stem cell therapy. “Many treatments can be considered before and in conjunction with stem cell therapy,” Dr Llinas says. “Usually, a combination of medications, physiotherapy, acupuncture and now stem cell therapy can be used to give great function and pain management while minimising risks of side effects. This leads to a better quality of life for a longer period of time.”

How does it work?

The use of stem cell therapy in human medicine has at times been a very controversial issue. But rather than using embryonic stem cells, in veterinary medicine the most commonly used stems cells are adult stem cells.

“They are found in almost every tissue of the dog’s body but the ones we use are collected from fatty tissue,” Dr Llinas explains. “Stem cells are the cells used to make repairs in everyday life. These cells have the ability to produce large amounts of factors that can help it differentiate into almost whatever type of cell you want.”

“Once injected into the area where they are needed, stem cells foster growth and regeneration of tissues. The factors produced by these cells block scar tissue formation, enhance blood vessel growth and stimulate the scaffolding that helps with regeneration of the new tissue.”

They also have a very strong anti-inflammatory action, which can be a great help to arthritis-stricken pets. Once in place, the cells can differentiate and grow into many types of cells including bone, cartilage, muscle, fat, nerve and others depending on what is needed.

“They are attracted to inflammation and damaged areas and go to work where they are needed most. This all helps to regenerate at the injured site and results in a more normal function,” Dr Llinas says.

How successful is it?

Age is no barrier to treatment and stem cell therapy can be used to treat arthritis in any joint in the body, except the backbone. “Most commonly at our practice, it is used for hips, knees (stifles), shoulders, elbows, wrists and ankles,” Dr Llinas says.

Happily, stem cell therapy can produce significant results for many dogs and result in a huge increase in their overall quality of life. “We have seen great success with large improvements in pain relief, joint function and post-operative pain,” Dr Llinas explains.

“There is an improved overall quality of life and we have found we are using less pain killers and anti-inflammatories, or in certain circumstances going off them completely. At this stage, over 80 per cent of dogs treated at our clinic have shown clinical improvement through both our assessment and the pet parent assessment.”

By no means is stem cell therapy the solution to every pet’s arthritis problems, but it’s another weapon vets can add to their arsenal in the fight against this debilitating and quite painful condition. It’s helped many dogs across Australia increase their mobility and get active again.

If your plucky pooch is showing the signs of arthritis, speak to your vet about the most suitable course of treatment available to you.

Signs and symptoms

Are you worried that your canine companion may be suffering from the pain of arthritis? Symptoms owners should keep an eye out for include:

  • Reduced activity levels
  • A reluctance to play, go for a walk or even run
  • Difficulty getting up after sitting or lying down
  • Stiffness in the legs
  • A limp or any lameness
  • Stiff, swollen or painful joints. Your dog may even lick or bite at its joints
  • Signs of pain when your dog is touched in certain areas, or pain when in certain positions
  • A loss of flexibility
  • Hesitancy to jump
  • Trouble climbing stairs or hopping into the car
  • A change in personality which could possibly include an increase in aggression

If your dog displays any of these symptoms, head to your vet for a check-up.

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