Help pets get well with their own cells

Help pets get well with their own cells

It's pricey, but stem cell therapy can give new life to dogs with painful ailments.
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May 01, 2009
By dvm360.com staff

Blue was a typical German shepherd who loved playing with toys, running full-speed in the backyard, and making new friends at the dog park. But at just 3 years old, she started showing symptoms of a much older dog. Bilateral hip dysplasia had gotten the best of Blue, robbing her of her natural athleticism. Then, just when it looked like a hip replacement was inevitable, Dr. Kathy Mitchener stepped in.

AN ALTERNATIVE APPROACH

Blue's owner brought her to Dr. Mitchener, owner of Angel Care Cancer Clinic for Animals in Memphis, Tenn., for pain-relieving acupuncture treatment. But Dr. Mitchener had recently become certified in stem cell therapy and decided Blue was a perfect candidate for the procedure. Rather than putting Blue through major surgery, Dr. Mitchener figured that a combination of stem cell therapy and acupuncture would ease the pain in Blue's hips. She was right. In the month or two following treatment, Blue improved significantly, and now she chases Frisbees and roughhouses like a puppy.

If you're interested in innovative alternative medicine, stem cell therapy may be just what you're looking for to help patients with chronic pain who don't respond to typical medications or treatments. After all, if it worked for Blue, it can work for your patients.

STEM CELL THERAPY FACTS

Here are a few key points to keep in mind if you're considering adding the service:

It's relatively simple. The first step to performing stem cell therapy is to become certified via an online course. Then, to ease pain from common ailments like hip and elbow dysplasia or arthritis, a veterinarian extracts a small amount of fat tissue from the patient and ships it overnight to a lab for processing. Technicians at the lab extract the stem cells from the fat, load the cells into a syringe, and ship the syringe back to the veterinarian, who injects the dose directly into the injured area. The stem cells then function to repair the injured tissue and ease pain.

It's not cheap. The cost to process the cells is about $1,500, including shipping. Depending on a practice's markup, exam fees, and other associated costs, clients typically pay between $2,500 and $3,500 for the procedure. Most animals require just one injection, but in the case of animals who need repeated treatments, the company can freeze extra cells for future use.

It can generate business. Dr. Mitchener combines stem cell therapy with acupuncture to further manage pain in patients. But whether you provide other alternative services or stick to the basics, offering stem cell therapy sets your clinic apart as a progressive practice. "It's turned into the gold standard for arthritis care," says Dr. James Gaynor, owner of Peak Performance Veterinary Group in Colorado. "It's a good practice builder because it shows clients that even if they can't afford it, at least your practice has all the right options."

It's not controversial. Some clients might cringe at the thought of their pet receiving stem cell treatments based on what they've heard in the news. But they likely aren't making the distinction between adult and embryonic stem cells. These adult stem cells come from the animal's own fat, not embryos, and can repair many tissues, like cartilage, tendons, or bone.

It takes the right client. For stem cell therapy to truly manage pain, clients must comply with your recommendations. They must take the time to properly exercise—but not overwork—their pet following the procedure, as well as schedule follow-up exams. Be sure clients understand that stem cell therapy is not a cure-all.

Most of Dr. Mitchener's clients are receptive to the procedure, particularly those open to exploring alternative medicine. Even if you don't plan to offer the service on a large scale, becoming certified puts you on the cutting edge of veterinary medicine. "I think it has potential with more diseases than we know about," Dr. Mitchener says. "It's just a matter of using the technology."

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