Stem cell therapy or regenerative medicine is now being used to treat chronic diseases in pets. In humans, stem cell therapy can be a bit controversial due to the use of embryonic stem cells and and all the moral and ethical considerations involved in that. In animals, however, adult or mesenchymal stem cells taken from the animal itself are used so there is no controversy. Stem cell therapy has been in used in horses to treat tendon injuries for well over 10 years. The first research involved harvesting cells from the bone marrow and this had some effect. Now, though the stem cells are harvested from fat. It turns out that the fat is a perfect source for a large number of different types of stem cells and it is readily available in most animals.
Presently in dogs and cats stem cell therapy is used to treat arthritic conditions ( like hip dysplasia), degenerative arthritis and tendon and ligament injuries. Research is being done on its use for Degenerative Myelopathy, Pancreatic disease and Kidney disease. So how does this work? First, the dog has to have an anesthetic to remove 30g of fat ( about 1 oz) from behind the shoulder blade. This fat is then processed in 1 of 2 ways–it is either processed in the veterinary hospital using special equipment or it is shipped to an outside lab for processing. Once the fat is processed and the stem cells have been extracted and activated, they are injected back into the affected joint. Some stem cells are also mixed with plasma and injected intravenously. If your veterinarian is using the in hospital processing the procedure is completed all in one day. If not, then the dog has to come back in 2 days for the injection. After the injection, the stem cells go to work regenerating the joint and the dog steadily improves with maximum benefit occurring after 3 to 4 weeks. 75 % of these dogs can walk pain free and require little or no pain meds. Benefits have lasted from 1 year to 4 years after 1 injection. Physical therapy to rebuild muscle that was previously lost helps to extend the length of time this treatment lasts.