Arthritis is an important disease in geriatric dogs and is also becoming more widely recognized in cats. Estimates indicate as many as one in five dogs will suffer from arthritis as they age. This is the second in a two-part series on arthritis. The first blog covered the standard therapies for treatment of arthritis. This blog features expert information from Dr. Pamela Schwartz, Diplomate American College of Veterinary Surgery, of The AMC’s Surgery Department. She has an interest in the use of stem cells for the treatment of canine arthritis.
Stem cells are purified mesenchymal stem cells harvested from subcutaneous (under the skin) fat in dogs. These stem cells are not the controversial embryonic stem cells we hear about on the evening news, but they do possess the ability to develop into any cell in the body. In animal models, researchers have shown these stem cells have the ability to develop into cartilage cells if they are injected into the appropriate environment. Once they are injected into an inflamed, arthritic joint, they will turn into new cartilage cells to help repair the damage caused by osteoarthritis.
Every dog is not a candidate for stem cell therapy. Stem cell therapy is currently indicated for osteoarthritis and is not considered applicable to other chronic medical or neurological conditions. Dogs with cancer are not good candidates for this treatment. If there is a surgically repairable disease (i.e., ligament tear), we recommend surgery and reserve the use of stem cells for the future.
Owners interested in having their dog evaluated for stem cell therapy must have a consultation with a stem cell credentialed veterinarian (The AMC currently has five stem cell credentialed doctors, including Dr. Schwartz). The evaluation includes a physical examination, blood work and chest radiographs.
If the dog is found to be a good candidate for stem cell therapy, an outpatient “fat harvest” will be scheduled. During the harvest, a small incision is made in either the groin, behind the shoulder blade, or into the abdomen. The dog is discharged from the hospital the same evening and the harvested fat is shipped overnight for processing. Forty-eight hours later, when the stem cells arrive back at AMC, the stem cells are injected into the affected joints while the dog is under sedation. Multiple joints may be injected on the same day and we’ve seen good results in arthritis of the hips, knees and elbows.
Following stem cell therapy, the degree of lameness is reevaluated 30, 60 and 90 days after the injection. During these visits, both the owners and the vets will evaluate the degree of lameness to assess the dog’s improvement. We are pleased with the results we have seen in the patients we have treated with stem cells. They can go for longer walks, jump on and off the bed again and have a more comfortable life.
For further information about stem cell therapy at The AMC or to schedule a consultation, please call Dr. Pamela Schwartz at 212.329.8756.