Stem Cells for Dogs? Oh yeah, baby.

Stem cells are one of the current hot topics. There is a lot of excitement around it, as well as controversy. My friend recently had a baby and she is having stem cells from her baby's cord banked. How cool is that?

But did you know that stem cell regenerative therapy is available for dogs? Vet-Stem, California based regenerative veterinary medicine company, has been making this possible for a few years now. First used to treat horses, it has been available to treat dogs since 2005.

The beauty of the Vet-Stem technology is that the patient's very own stem cells are used, extracted from their own fat tissue. No controversy, no implant rejection.

How does this work? It does involve a minor surgery. A Vet-Stem certified vet will extract a small amount of fat tissue from your dog's shoulder area, which is then shipped to Vet-Stem, where they extract the stem cells from it. They send ready-to-use syringe(s) back to the vet who then injects the cells into the areas needing treatment. Extra stem cells can be banked for future use, and now Vet-Stem can even grow additional doses from the banked cells.

So what is the big deal about stem cells?

The best way to understand that is by understanding what stem cells are and what they do.

Think of stem cells as 'blank' cells. These blank cells can multiply, and they can become any kind of cell as needed, such as blood cells, muscle cells and so on. That is their function. As the name stem cells might suggest, all cells in the body stem from these 'blanks'.

Here is a beautiful little presentation illustrating the process.

In an adult body, their job is cell renewal and maintenance. Stem cell therapy is based on the same mechanism the body uses to repair itself. It is providing the extra help where body's own capacity is not enough. Did you know that even a simple paper cut could not heal without stem cells? Stem cell therapy simply supplies reinforcements where body's natural resources are not enough.

This therapy can bring amazing results in treating a number of conditions.

What I find exciting about this treatment is that it is actually meant to treat, as opposed to managing or masking symptoms. It addresses the root of the problem. And you are not putting anything in the body that doesn't belong there.

What does it treat?

Presently, in dogs, it is mainly used to treat osteoarthritis and orthopedic soft tissue injuries. I also came across articles where it has been successfully used for hip dysplasia patients and other conditions. Stem cell therapy seems to have awesome potential and ongoing research is being done. Talk to a certified vet in your area about treatment options for your dog.

Do I have to go California to get it done?

No, there are a number of veterinarians throughout the country who are certified to perform this treatment. You can find a certified vet near you here

Does it work?

There are many testimonials to that it does. While it doesn't seem to work the same way for every dog, and long-term effect isn't yet known, there seems to be a number of excited owners and dogs showing great improvements. We are among them.

Jasmine is one of the first dogs in Ontario benefiting from the stem cell treatment. It all started with a partial ACL tear on her left knee. Originally we wanted to try stem cell therapy as an alternative to a surgery. In the meantime, though, she tore the ACL completely and it was no longer an option.  However, since we were already excited about the treatment, we decided to do a combination of a traditional surgery with the stem cell therapy to assist recovery and help with her arthritis.

It was the first time our vet got a chance to try this (finding a vet who has already done it isn't very easy, it is still rather new). The first month after the procedure he seemed rather skeptical and disappointed. But then he began getting more and more excited as Jasmine started making great progress.

While in the past year Jasmine had to deal with a number of health issues, underwent 6 surgeries, and a number of treatments, today she is in great shape, very happy, full of P and V, and enjoying her life.

I think that stem cell therapy is definitely something to keep in mind as a possible alternative to drugs or surgery. It is good to be aware of all available options before choosing one that you are comfortable with.

Is it expensive?

I believe that the expense is relative. You could spend around $100/month on NSAIDs alone. Physical therapy, pain medications, they are all expensive when you add them up. So I'd say, in the long run – not really. And this therapy is meant to heal, not to manage.

Related articles:
In The Beginning, There Was Fat: From Vanity To Revolutionary Therapy
Interview with Dr. Robert J. Harman, D.V.M., M.P.V.M. - CEO and founder of Vet-Stem
Digging Deeper: The Science Behind Adipose-Derived Stem Cell Therapy
Jasmine is Vet-Stem's poster child! 
Zeus Gets Stem Cell Treatment 
Jasmine Is Headed For Her Next Stem Cell Treatment 
Jasmine's Stem Cells Are In 
Running With The Wind: Trago's Elbow Dysplasia Surgery And Stem Cell Treatment

Of course, there is plenty more information available for you to ponder.