AUSTIN (KXAN) – As pets age or develop debilitating medical problems, some cutting-edge regenerative therapies can help your pet become active once again.
Most of these treatments began in the horse racing industry. With a lot of money on the line, arthritis or joint pain can be debilitating to horses and financially destructive to their owners. The use of these treatments is still fairly new, dating back only about a decade.
We looked into a variety of therapies:
- Stem cell therapy
- Platelet rich plasma therapy
- Growth factor treatments
- Massage therapy
Dr. Troy Smith, a veterinarian at Manchaca Village Veterinary Care in south Austin, uses what he calls the “Therapeutic Circle” when it comes to treating pets. Smith says he starts his patients off at the top and proceeds clockwise. Going along the circle, each treatment is more invasive to the animal’s well-being.
“We go from weight loss,” Smith said, “if it’s needed to nutraceuticals like glucosamine, Omega 3 fatty acids to the use of drug therapy.”
Smith will then go further if the pet doesn’t respond to those treatments. Further down the circle, pets can undergo platelet-rich plasma therapy, growth factor, and stem cell treatments. Surgery is a last resort.
Platelet-rich Plasma Therapy
Platelet-rich Plasma Therapy is similar to stem cell therapy in that it uses cells from the animal’s own body to treat an issue.
“For the PRP therapy, we’re just going to collect a blood sample from a patient and centrifuge it and collect a platelet-rich fraction of the plasma and suspend that platelet in a gel and inject that solution after the gel has dissolved in a patient,” Smith said.
We met one of Smith’s patients, a dog, Wesley, whose owner has paid for two platelet rich plasma therapy treatments so far.
“He had had problems with his hips and with his joints,” Wesley’s owner, Patrick Graham, said. “He was getting a little bit of arthritis in his legs.”
Wesley received his two treatments about six months apart, and is due for another one soon.
Graham said he’s fine with paying the $200 price tag for each treatment, “We’ll continue it until it doesn’t have an effect anymore.”
We also met another of Smith’s patients, a dog named Ladybug, who has degenerative arthritis in her left hip that her owner says is continually getting worse. She also tore her ACL a few years ago. The combination of those two factors had Ladybug’s owner, Linda Voigt, looking for a solution.
“The beauty about the PRP is that you can use it not just for joints but also for soft tissue aid repair,” Voigt said.
She, too, tells us she’s fine with paying the cost if it means a healthier dog.
“When you go back and look at just how much you spend throughout working your way through the different options, that really is quite good,” Voigt said. “This isn’t something that it’s just the fad of the moment. This is something that logistically makes sense for her health.”
However, the PRP treatment wasn’t successful. Dr. Smith is recommending Ladybug go ahead and get surgery instead of trying stem cell therapy.
Stem Cell Therapy
In north Austin, we met another dog, Princess Leia, who underwent stem cell therapy and is doing well.
“She has arthritis in her back hips,” Princess Leia’s owner Mikael Martinez said. “She was having a real hard time standing up. We got to the point we couldn’t travel with her anymore. The vibration in the back of the car was just too much for her.”
Princess Leia received her treatment from Dr. David Mouser, a veterinarian at North Austin Animal Hospital, in October.
“We have a long consultation with the owners to be sure they know what to expect,” Mouser said.
“We brought her in first thing in the morning and they took her back and would give us calls and update us on where she was,” Martinez said.
At the start of the day, Dr. Mouser took fat cells from Princess Leia’s body. The cells then underwent centrifuge and washing steps. After that, cells were then incubated and injected back into Princess Leia.
“She just seems to keep getting better and better. I think it’s gradually leveling off but we had a great breakthrough with her. She sat down three weeks ago and reached with her back paw and started scratching her ear. She hasn’t done that for years so that’s my figure of merit that things are going real well with her.”
Martinez says he is also fine with paying the cost of the treatment, which for stem cell therapy runs around $2,000.
“Just seeing her more energetic, we can go on longer walks,” Martinez said. “I can tell she’s in a lot less pain. It was very much worth it. Absolutely.”
Acupunture and Acupressure
In addition to stem cell therapy, Mouser also offers acupuncture.
“I’ve done acupuncture on everything from iguanas to mice,” Mouser said.
“Acupuncture has been a really good additional modality to our practice. We practice Western medicine when it’s in the animal’s benefit, and in some cases, primarily in chronic disease, where Western medicine has some real limitations, we’re able to offer the acupuncture and herbal medicine, which gives us one more tool to use.”
Mouser says an acupuncture treatment runs about the cost of an office visit: about $66.
In Texas, only veterinarians are allowed to puncture the skin. That has led to the practice of acupressure by those only under supervision of veterinarians. That, combined with massage therapy is the business model used by an Austin business.
Christina Hardinger, owner of Skillful Paws, combines the two techniques into her treatments. “We usually start at the head and work our way down,” Hardinger said. “Some dogs will have very sore hips and they start worrying because they know that area will be tender. So for some animals we have to start reverse and do the hips first, get that out of the way and they can relax for the rest of the session.”
While we spoke with Hardinger, she was treating Morgan, a dog who has tense areas.
“We’re trying to see how much tension he has in his neck muscles and if there’s tightness,” Hardinger said. “We’re feeling for hot areas, cold areas.”
A warm area, Hardinger says, would indicate there is inflammation. A cold area would mean there’s a lack of circulation. Both can cause muscles to get tight. Heat could also be indicative of a larger problem: arthritis.
“A dog that is arthritic, sometimes you can feel the heat all the way out here just radiating,” Hardinger said.
As for regulating the use of stem cell therapy, platelet rich plasma therapy, and similar treatments, the Food and Drug Administration currently has no regulations in place.
“The use of stem cells in veterinary medicine is a burgeoning field of study and technology,” FDA spokeswoman Juli Putnam said in a statement. “Many of these products meet the definition of a ‘drug’, and the FDA’s goal is to ensure that these products, like other drugs, are safe and effective. We are currently working on a draft Guidance for Industry on regulation of cell-based products for animal use. Currently, there are no FDA-approved products of this type that are intended for use in animals.”
That’s not to say the FDA doesn’t regulate animal medicine, though. According to the FDA, “the FDA regulates the drugs, devices, and food given to or used on over 100 million companion and food-producing animals in the U.S.”
The FDA, though, isn’t the only agency involved in regulating animal health. Click here to take a closer look at how the FDA works with other agencies.