Dog gets stem cells for arthritis at $1,800 per treatment

Stem cells can be injected for dogs with arthritis, but is the extreme price tag worth the treatment, given what is known about its effectiveness?

Stem cells could be the answer for arthritis—at least in dogs, according to vets performing a recent procedure in Overland Park, KS.

Jake, a 12-year-old Labrador, has been having problems with arthritis as he has aged. So, in an attempt to ease his pain and discomfort, surgeons at Stanley Veterinary Clinic in Overland Park removed fat from his body on Tuesday, then injected it into his joints. The procedure was led by veterinarian Les E. Pelfrey.

"It's amazing," Dr. Pelfrey told the Kansas City Star. "A few weeks later, these guys are running up and down."

Not everyone is in support of the procedure for dogs, however, pointing out that any long-term benefits are not proven, and having a single treatment is expensive--$1,800 or more with each attempt at treatment. But, others feel that the procedure will ultimately give dogs like Jake a better quality of life.

James L. Cook, a professor of orthopedics at the University of Missouri’s College of Veterinary Medicine said flatly that, although stem cells have shown promise in rejuvenating damaged tendons in horses, he would never recommend the procedure for dogs with arthritis, USA Today reported.

"But in the joints for dogs with arthritis? No way," Cook said. "I would never recommend anyone get this done."

Some studies, Cook said, have indicated that stem cells may reduce pain in dogs with arthritic joins. However, there have not been any studies thus far that have substantially indicated that the expensive stem cell treatments are more effective than the current standards of care. Such current treatments, he indicated, include weight loss, pain medication and, in some cases, injections of hyaluronic acid. These injections, he said, cost less than $100 each, and are typically given to arthritic dogs a couple of times each year—much more affordable for owners than the $1,800+ stem cell injections that may or may not show increased benefits.

Additionally, at this time, it is unknown whether or not any benefits gained from the expensive stem cell treatments are long lasting, although there are indications from some vets that they have had patients enjoy benefits for a year or more. Owners, however, like Jake’s owner, Elizabeth LeBlanc, often feel that it is worth trying the treatments, even with the large price tag.

"It will be worth it,” LeBlanc told the Kansas City Star, “even if I can give him one more great summer.”

Image: Wikimedia Commons