When Alex Nocifera's 12-year-old Weimaraner, Bodi, started panting hard during a hiking trip, he became concerned. When the dog later showed no interest in her food or water, he knew something was really wrong.
Still, he didn't see the end coming. "Now that I look back, there were slight indications," Nocifera says of Bodi's last days. "I remember a few months prior to the trip she was just a bit less active," he says. He chalked her slower pace up to aging.
Often, it is only in retrospect that...
In all animals, stem cells are like blank slates. They start out without any clear identity, but can divide and grow into many different types of cells, like muscle or blood cells.
What is stem cell therapy?
Stem cells are being used to treat illness and heal injuries in pets. They are injected into the body to repair muscles, joints, and ligaments that have been damaged by arthritis or injury. Some cancers are treated with stem cells taken from the pet's own bone marrow. And research is underway to test stem cells for diabetes treatment, and to treat animals that have lost control of their bladders.
Does stem cell therapy for pets work the same as in humans?
Yes. The basic idea is the same, but because there are fewer regulations for treating animals, stem cell therapy is used more often in pets than in humans.
How long have veterinarians been using this type of treatment?
Vets have been testing stem cell therapy in animals for about 10 years, but serious work has amped up in the past 4 or 5 years.
What does the procedure involve?
Stem cells are usually taken from the animal’s fat tissue or blood plasma. They're then separated out from other cells and put back in the animal, usually by injecting them directly into the problem area.
Does it work?
Right now, there are no big studies to show that stem cell therapy works in pets. All we have is anecdotal evidence, or stories from pet owners and veterinarians. Studies are underway to give us better insight into how effective stem cell therapy is in pets.
Are there any risks?
The biggest risk is your pet developing cancer. Studies are being done to see how to lessen it.
How much does it cost?
In pets, stem cell therapy usually costs between $2,000 and $3,000, but it can go much higher.
Where can I look into pet stem cell therapy?
Teaching hospitals are a great place to start your search. Here are a few:
William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, University of California, Davis
Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences
University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine
Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine
Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University