What is Stem Cell Therapy for Dogs and Cats?

Stem cell therapy offers enormous potential for the health of our animals. In the best case scenario, it can help diseased areas regenerate and heal. Some wonder if stem cells will one day help our dogs and cats regrow amputated limbs, similar to a lizard. While that hasn’t happened as of yet, there is plenty of excitement about what these cells can do.

But first, you’re probably wondering what a stem cell is, anyway.

What is Stem Cell?

According to American Veterinarian, “Stem cells are unspecialized cells with the ability to differentiate into specialized building blocks of organs and tissues.”

In other words, stem cells offer a world of possibility. Offering a blank canvas to science, they can become what you need them to be. Need new healthy cells to fight cancer? Stem therapy can help. Researchers have used them to treat humans for leukemia, lymphoma, and other cancers. Need new healthy cells to fight painful inflammation? Stem therapy can help. In animals, veterinarians have used stem cell therapy to treat osteoporosis and other inflammatory conditions including feline gingivostomatitis, a painful mouth disease in cats.

These remarkable cells are found in the bone marrow and sometimes fat, and they have the ability to transform a diseased body part back into a healthy body part.

How Are They Used?

Imagine your dog had osteoarthritis in the knees and you wanted to try stem cell therapy to relieve the pain and improve your dog’s mobility. Your veterinarian would take stem cells from your pet’s bone marrow and inject the cells into the painful knee area.

Photo of dog laying his head on his owner's legs

According to researchers, these cells will reduce the inflammation and allow new tissue to grow. Unlike the scar tissue that would form at the site of an injury and never feel the same again, stem cells can make the damaged area as good as new through regeneration.

UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine has a laboratory for studying Regenerative Medicine where researchers are studying applications for these stem cells. One of their research projects involves feline gingivostomatitis. This painful mouth disease often requires surgery and teeth extractions. They describe possible stem cell treatment: “A stem cell therapy where stem cells are taken from fat tissue is a new potential therapy for chronic inflammatory diseases. This cell therapy MAY help to correct abnormalities that may be involved with stomatitis in cats. Moreover, stem cells may help in regenerating damaged tissues. In this study, we will evaluate the effectiveness of using stem cells to treat cats with gingivostomatitis that have had full or near-full mouth extractions.” (Source)

Researchers are also testing stem cell therapy on other chronic, inflammatory diseases, such as brain inflammation, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and tendonitis. However, one application that hasn’t worked well is treating cats with chronic kidney disease. This means that stem cell therapy is not necessarily a magical cure-all, and its proposed uses may still need a lot more study. (Source)

Is Stem Cell Therapy a Good Choice for Your Dog or Cat?

Like any medical treatment, stem cell therapy is not something to take lightly. You’ll want to consult your family veterinarian about whether your pet is a good candidate from a health and age standpoint. You'll also need to consider availability, as this is not a service offered by every veterinary practice: it is still relatively new in the veterinary field.

Photo of a cat owner talking to the veterinarian during an appointment

As you can see, there’s still a lot to discover when it comes to stem cell therapy. Researchers at veterinary schools around the U.S. are actively studying applications in dogs, cats, and horses, so there are new findings on a regular basis. Maybe one day they’ll even be able to regenerate new limbs!

If you have any questions about stem cell therapy -- or any other medical services for your best friend call your family veterinarian today!

 

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