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Confessions of an imperfect dog mom: Stem Cell procedures in dogs – part 2

Stem Cell Procedures for Dogs: the miracle we were looking for…

in the grassAbout a month a go I published a post regarding a stem cell procedure that we had done for our chocolate lab, Sam.  I said I would post an update on how this procedure has impacted Sam in another 30 days.  Here it is…

In the last month Sam’s quality of life has changed dramatically.  For context; prior to his stem cell injections Sam was at the point where he could only walk for about 5-10 feet before he had to lay down and rest due to pain from the arthritis in his elbows and hips.  Sam has never had normal legs.  His front legs are bowed to the point that he can not bend them  – he never has been able to bend his legs in the time we have known him (we rescued him 8 years ago).  Every vet that has examined Sam has always told us the same thing…it is the worst case of arthritis they have ever seen in a dog (especially to see a dog afflicted as young as he was with arthritis).

sam up

We are now about 7+ weeks out from the stem cell procedure and Sam is doing better than we could have hoped.  Sam isn’t just going on nice long walks (twice a day) but he has taken up running on his has been so long since he has been able to run.  My husband and I couldn’t be happier with the progress Sam has made.  When we had the final sit down with our vet 8 weeks ago to talk about Sam’s legs…knowing we were at a point where we had to either do something dramatic for Sam or let him go…. we told our vet (Central Kentucky Vets) that what we were looking for was a miracle…it appears we have received it.

Here is some video of Sam in the park with us earlier this week…not only is he running and fetching but as you can see he is one happy dog.  It was just about 8 weeks ago that we never could have imagined Sam fetching a ball again (well chasing a ball, he has never quite gotten the fetch and return part :)).

Here is a recap of how things have progressed since Sam’s stem cell procedure:

  • First week after the procedure:  Sam was terribly sore.  The first few days after procedure, other than to get up to eat and potty, Sam did not want to move much.   We were advised to get him walking as much as possible and as soon as possible.  This was hard, certainly for him but also for us as we felt horrible for adding to his joint pain, but he did it…our Sam is one tough cookie.  Basically, the first week after the procedure completely sucked.
  • Second week after the procedure:  Sam started wanting to move around more than the first week.  He volunteered for his walks as opposed to us having to goad him.  He was going on short walks a few times per day, longer than the week prior, but very slow and with a lot of resting.  Sam remained very stiff when he first got up from resting.
  • 30 days in: Sam’s walking started improving a lot.  His walks were getting longer, faster and he was not having to stop to rest nearly as much.  We noticed Sam trotting around the house instead of just walking (and not just trotting after food).  He could walk longer distances and was trotting a lot on his outings instead of just walking slow.  His stiffness seemed to improve quite a bit when transitioning from a resting position to movement.
  • 7 weeks out:  Sam’s walking has continued to improve and he has started running on his outings…. a lot.  Sam literally runs from one thing he wants to pee on to the next thing he wants to pee on.  The walks that Sam goes on (which he runs for a good portion of now) are considerably longer than the distances he has been able to walk for a very, very long time.  Sam still has stiffness when he gets up from resting but nothing like it was before.  Most of the time he hops up from laying down and within a very short period of time he is at his normal gait. (A normal gait for Sam is still quite akward but it works for him).  We have been able to reduce Sam’s pain meds and he is still feeling good.  Prior to the procedure Sam was unable to do the traditional “dog stretch” –  where the dog stretches out his front legs and lifts his backend up in the air.   Now Sam does the “dog stretch” quite often.  Sam has always been a happy dog despite his health issues. Lately though he is the happiest we have seen him in a very long time.

We are not trying to convince anyone that they should do a stem cell procedure on a pet.  When we are making tough decisions for our pet’s health one of the first things we do is start reading up on what other’s pet parents have experienced.  Stem cell procedures for dogs are still very, very new.  We don’t know how long we will continue to see improvements in Sam’s mobility and comfort level nor how long this will last.   We did have extra stem cells banked for Sam so we can do the procedure again in the future if we need to.

If you are interested in reading more on stem cell procedures in animals here are some links to informative materials that I read to learn more about the treatment;

St. Louis Vet on Stem Cells

Stem Cell testimonies (with before and after videos) by patients in Hawaii

Article in Tulsa Pet Magazine that explains the what and why of stem cells

Article from the American Veterinary Medical Association on stem cells in theory and practice

Stem Cell article in BARK magazine

USA Today article on canine stem cell therapy

Arthritis Foundation Article on Stem Cells in pets

Vet Stem Website  (this site is full of information, just keep in mind stem cells are their business)

If you didn’t catch my first post on Sam’s stem cells click here: Sam’s Stem Cells.  I will continue to post on his progress in the future.

If you are anything like us there is little you won’t do for your pets but making the big decisions for them can be so hard.  I hope you find this post helpful.

If you like pet news, rescue advocacy, pet art and fun crafts for you and your pet consider following my blog.  I post 1-3 times per week on my blog and daily on my Facebook and Pinterest page.  Check out my Art Gallery, Parent Resources and Free Tutorials for all sorts of great pet art and ideas.  Please keep me in mind when you are shopping for Pet Rescue Art and Pet Adoption Cards and Pet Sympathy Cards….I sell my items at my Rescue Mama ETSY shop. I donate a portion of all of my sales to pet rescue organizations.

Update: July 10, 2015.  We are now nearly one year from Sam’s Stem Cell procedure.  Sam continues to do very well.  He goes on nice walks everyday, he still runs (in his own goofy sort of way) and he can still jump on furniture and in to his pool.  Sam’s quality of life continues to be very high.  His right elbow is his most difficult joint.  We did bank Sam’s Stem Cells after his first procedure.  We are currently contemplating another injection in to his right elbow.

Rescue On!

Nancy (and Sam)

Sam and Sparky snoozin’ in the office.
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Confessions of an imperfect pet mom: Stem Cell Procedures for dogs with arthritis…

Stem Cell Procedures for dogs with arthritis…

sam up
Our Sweet Sam!

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.

Rescue On!