Stem Cell Procedure Helps Ailing Dogs

November 28, 2010 6:20 PM
ALI HELGOTH / News Herald Writer

Terry Barner - After suffering from arthritis in his joints and undergoing the first in-clinic animal stem cell regenerative therapy in Florida, an 11-year-old Doberman/Collie mix named Rascal is now able to freely move around without pain.

PANAMA CITY — Squirrels, consider this fair warning: Hummer and Rascal are back to their old selves.
Last month the two dogs were the first in Florida to undergo an in-office stem cell therapy procedure to treat conditions that limited their mobility, and their owners said it was a success.

It’s pretty obvious by looking at Hummer, a 6-year-old yellow lab, that he recently had surgery. His fur is shaved on one of his shoulders and he’s also missing patches of hair on both hips.

For his owners, Barbara and Dustin Stokesbary, though, the missing fur is a small change compared to the ones he underwent after surgery.

Hummer used to struggle to get off the floor, he tired easily and he took steroids to make it through the day.

Now, he’s going on hour-long walks every evening, and he’s back to running and jumping. He’s also resumed a loving greeting — sitting tall on the bed and putting his front paws on people’s shoulders — a perfect position to cover their faces with kisses.

Results for Hummer were almost immediate and without side effects, his owner, Barbara Stokesbary, said.

“They had told us that first weekend after the procedure to keep him calm … he acted like he hadn’t had anything done,” she said.

“We were just so hoping we would have a good outcome,” she said, and she’s satisfied with the results.

In October, the dogs were treated by veterinarians at Animal Care Center in Panama City Beach. The procedure uses stem cells harvested from fat to treat osteoarthritis, hip dysplasia, ligament and cartilage injuries and other degenerative diseases.

Stem cell treatments have been used on dogs, cats, horses and other animals for several years, but MediVet-America recently developed technology that allows the stem cells to be separated from fat in-office during a roughly four-hour procedure. Fat is taken from the animal — in these instances the shoulder — and stem cells are derived, then injected to the affected area.

The procedure was performed for the first time in Florida in Panama City Beach, but it’s becoming more available. This week, clinics in the St. Petersburg area and Key West are scheduled to offer the procedure, according to information from MediVet.

Stokesbary said she would recommend the procedure to others. At about $1,800 it’s more affordable than the roughly $10,000 hip replacement surgery that was the other alternative for Hummer, who was born with hip dysplasia. For some, it can also be less expensive over the long term than pain medications.

It’s possible Hummer’s results could get better, but Stokesbary said she’s happy with where the dog is at now. He’s acting like a puppy, she said.

Last week Les Thompson took a mile-long bike ride around his neighborhood, Rascal running alongside him. It was a big change for the 11-year-old Doberman and collie mix who suffers from osteoarthritis in both hips.

He and his wife, Pam, hoped the procedure would relieve some of his pain and make him more mobile. It’s certainly done that, he said.

“Rascal’s doing great,” he said. “He’s really active now. Before, he could barely get up and down.”

Undergoing the procedure is the “best thing that ever happened to Rascal, as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

Thompson said he started to see improvement in Rascal a few days after the procedure, and he’s been getting gradually better since.

He was confident it would help the dog, but skeptical that it would work so well.

Thompson has another dog, a 14-year-old Pekinese named Pockets. The little dog has a small wheeled cart attached to his back that stabilizes his body from hip dysplasia. Thompson said he hoped Pockets would be a candidate for the procedure too, but he has neurological problems that the surgery doesn’t help.

Because the procedure is relatively new, it’s not known how long the results last.

“We’re hoping that we’ll get a year to three years (of improvement),” said Dr. Mike Hutchinson, a veterinarian who represents MediVet and teaches the stem cell procedure to other vets, when the procedure was done in October. After the results wear off, the procedure can be performed again.

Veterinarians were using the two dogs to help decide whether to regularly offer the procedure at their office, and based on the success, plan to do it regularly starting next month, Matt LeBleu, a veterinarian at the clinic said.

The veterinarians used what the pet owners reported to them to help determine success. Both animals are no longer on pain medications and their activity level seems up while level of pain seems down.

“We feel like we’ve gotten some pretty good results,” LeBleu said.

Those whose pets aren’t regular patients at the clinic can still have the procedure performed on their animals.

They can bring the pets’ medical histories for a consultation to determine if the procedure will help, have the procedure there and do follow-up and subsequent care with their usual veterinarians.

“Anything we can do to make our patients lives better is what we’re striving for,” LeBleu said.