Stem Cell Procedures for dogs with arthritis…
This is a picture of one of our dogs, Sam. Sam is somewhere between 10 and 12 years old; he is a rescue so we really aren’t sure of his age. Sam has terrible arthritis. He has been to many vets and each has said the same thing…Sam has the worst elbows they have ever seen. Sam’s has never walked like a normal dog; his elbows are so bowed that he walks with his legs locked straight (and even goes up and down steps like that). Sam’s health problems though have never inhibited him for doing a lot of walking or from being an incredibly happy dog. However, in the last few months the pain Sam was experiencing in his front legs was enough that he could only walk for about 5-10 feet at a time before he needed to lay down. Since we have recently moved we took Sam to a new vet here in Kentucky. Our new vet suggested we try stem cell injections in Sam’s joints. We felt we had to do something to try to ease his pain or we had to start thinking about letting him go. Because Sam is a very healthy dog (and crazy happy) other than his horrible arthritis pain we wanted to look at any option we had to find some comfort for him. We started doing some research on stem cell procedures until we were comfortable that we understood exactly what the vet was suggesting. We decided to go ahead with the procedure several weeks ago. We had the injections done in both Sam’s hips and elbows.
I write about this because I know how hard it is to make these kind of decisions for our pets and the first thing I do when considering something aggressive for my dogs is read what other pet owners have had to say about the procedure in question.
The procedure required Sam to be anesthetized so the stem cells could be harvested from his belly. Our Sam is so skinny (he’s always been skinny) that the vet had to make a larger incision in his belly than he would have liked to. They did get enough stem cells and we were lucky the stem cell counts were very high. We ended up with extra stem cells and had them banked so that if the injections were successful we had the option to do it again in the future without having his abdomen cut open again.
After the stem cells are harvested they are processed (takes about four hours) and then Sam was given a lower level of anesthesia to have the stem cells injected into his joints. Sam came through the two procedures (both done in one day) fine. It was really nice that this was a one day procedure (we had him back home by 4:00 the same day). (Bret and I are a bit pathetic; we can hardly stand for any of our pets to be gone for even a day). Sam was very sore for a few days after the surgery. I will admit it was really hard to see him so sore when we already knew he had so much pain in his joints. Like any pet parent we were questioning our judgment and feeling like crap for putting him in any additional discomfort. We gave him anti-inflamitories, pain meds, antibiotics and did a lot of icing of his joints. The extreme soreness lasted about three days and all we could do was give him meds and ice packs and spoil him (which he completely took advantage of :)).
Its been a about three weeks now and Sam is showing signs of improving each day. Sam now walks all the around the block (a long block) twice a day without having to lay down and rest. He still walks with a bit of limp as his right elbow (as you can see in the picture) is really rough. Sam even trots for a good part of his walks and he is trotting around the house. He still shows the typical signs of arthritis when he first gets up from laying down, I don’t expect that will ever go away, but once he gets moving he is significantly better. We know this isn’t a cure but only a way to manage his pain so he can continue living in comfort. We don’t know how long the improvements we are seeing will last. We also know that given the severity of Sam’s arthritis he will continue to need meds and other therapies (ice, laser treatments, etc.) for the rest of his life…but that is ok with us.
We are anxious to see how things go the next few weeks as stem cells take some time to work so there is room for more improvement yet. But it certainly appears we are going to have some more time with our sweet Sam in which he can enjoy life in comfort and continue to do his favorite thing…go for walks and pee on stuff. So far, we are happy with our results and Sam, of course, is the happiest of all us!
I am certainly not trying to recommend a stem cell procedure to anyone, just sharing our experience with it so far. Making these kinds of choices are so tough and is really specific to each dog’s situation but I know I look to others to hear about their experiences first hand…so here is ours. I will post another update on Sam in a month or so.