Unveiling the Medical Mystery behind Stem-Cell Therapy for Pets

Dr. Laci Schaible

Today stem-cell therapy is more readily available to pets than people. It's time to read up!

Regenerative medicine has been gaining spotlight time for years now in human medicine. In stark contrast to the restrictive and lengthy regulatory processes of stem-cell therapy in human medicine, animal treatment involving stem cells is mostly unregulated and races forward.

The Basics

In stem-cell therapy, the animal’s own stem cells are used to generate growth, help repair damaged tissue, and ease pain in pets suffering from arthritis, dysplasia and other tendon, joint, and ligament issues. The promise of stem cells comes in that they are blank building blocks that can become bone, cartilage, tendons, or fatty tissue.

Some pet parents may tense up when they hear “stem cell” because of the controversy surrounding these words in human medicine and research. Rest assured, this type of therapy uses the animal’s own adult stem cells, which are typically found in the bone marrow and fat, not embryonic stem cells.

Step-by-Step

The veterinarian collects fat tissue—an area rich in stem cells—from the animal typically under general anesthesia. That collected tissue is then processed (either in-house or at an outside lab) to further concentrate those cells. Once the stem cells are processed, the veterinarian simply injects them back into the animal’s affected area.

Once the stem cells are reintroduced into the patient’s body, they reduce inflammation and pain and spur a healing process that can regenerate tissue. Initial improvements from the therapy can be seen anywhere from a week or two to a month after treatment.

Treatment can be repeated when the effects start to wear off, typically between six and 18 months. While some animals don’t ever need stem-cell therapy again, many need a repeat treatment within a year or two. Extra cells are stored from the original procedure so that animals that do repeat the treatment don’t have to go through sample collection again.

Do all veterinarians offer this?

Veterinarians wanting to establish a stem-cell therapy program in their practices must first become certified, a process available through online training. Some companies offer a free, nationally-approved, online course in regenerative medicine to learn how to implement stem-cell therapy in a veterinary clinic, so if your veterinarian isn't currently offering this, encourage him to do so!

Fees

Fees for stem-cell therapy vary depending on the animal, but a typical cost to pet parents is in the $2,500 to $3,500 range. Stem cell therapy is covered by Embrace Pet Insurance for covered conditions.

Opinions

Advocates say the therapy can bring subtle improvements, as well as sometimes dramatic changes that can help turn an arthritic Retriever into a more energetic pup. A big advantage of stem-cell therapies is that they offer relief for pets without drug therapy.

Skeptics don't question the potential of stem cell therapy, but they contend more research is needed to prove its effectiveness--and it unarguably is.

Regardless, the lack of definitive answers doesn't seem to be a stopping point for this new line of therapy in veterinary medicine. 

While you can't predict when your pet is going to get sick or injured, you can protect yourself from expensive veterinary bills. Embrace Pet Insurance gives you the freedom to do what’s best for your pet without stressing over the cost. Easily personalize your coverage to fit your budget and your pet’s needs, then visit any vet for nose-to-tail coverage. Check out what the Embrace plan covers or compare pet insurance providers to learn more.

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