Animals contribute to our happiness and health in many ways. They can alleviate stress and have been proven to increase our oxytocin or “love hormone” levels. Some pets even assist with or warn of mental and physical health episodes. These facts considered, there should be no surprise that Americans spent $66 billion to keep their pets healthy and happy in 2016; according to the APPA.

One up and coming treatment being spent more on is stem cell therapy. A form of regenerative medicine, stem cell therapy is most commonly used to treat arthritis in animals, as well as a wide range of other ailments. “Regenerative Medicine is a broad definition for innovative medical therapies that will enable the body to repair, replace, restore and regenerate damaged or diseased tissues.” In humans stem cells are used for a variety of treatments, such as skin grafts, bone marrow transplants, and to treat specific types of cancer. 

One pioneer of stem cell research and therapy in animals is VetStem, a biopharma located in California. VetStem has chosen to use adipose stem cells, primarily known for fat storage, as they are multipurpose and regenerative. Choosing the type of stem cell is important as some can develop into more cells than others. VetStem Regenerative Medicine uses concentrated adult stem cells from the same animal to treat their traumatic or degenerative diseases. This can include bowed tendons, ligament injuries, osteoarthritis, and osteochondral defects in horses, dogs and cats. More recently, studies have been conducted involving slipped discs in animals – a “shock absorber” that sits between vertebrae of the spine. Also found in humans, the degeneration of these discs often cause pinched nerves and sometimes paralysis.

Procedures are completed at a local veterinarian’s office, and when conducted go as follows: “stem cells are extracted from the bone marrow, umbilical cord blood, or fat of either your pet or another animal of the same species. A veterinarian injects the stem cells into the diseased area, such as a knee joint damaged by osteoarthritis. The cells move to the inflamed or damaged tissue, suppress the inflammation, relieve pain, and cause new tissue to grow. This new tissue is more like the original tissue than the scar tissue that would typically grow in an untreated inflamed area.”

By far the most common uses of the therapy is to treat osteoarthritis – a disease that will impact 80% of dogs and 60% of cats. If your pet suffers from osteoarthritis, a common occurrence with hip dysplasia, ask your veterinarian for more information. This treatment is not a cure all and can be expensive. On average, prices run between $2000 to $3000 but can be more depending on an animal’s needs. Stem cell therapies are arriving at many veterinarians across the country, pending business approval. Check with your local veterinarian to see what services are provided and whether your pet may be a candidate.