Stem-cell therapy for dogs draws support, detractors

Deltona retiree Paul Jaynes was heartbroken when his 9-year-old Labrador, Cookie, suddenly stopped walking last year. The once-athletic dog struggled to stand and, if she moved at all, collapsed after a few steps.

He carried his 90-pound companion to his truck, drove her to the vet and braced himself for the bad news. Surely she couldn't live like this.

Instead, his veterinarian told him about a newly available procedure involving stem cells. In a single day, the vet said, they could remove the cells from Cookie's fatty tissues, process them and re-inject them into her joints. She could go home immediately.

"It was very dramatic," Jaynes says. "The day after surgery, she was standing. She was hesitant, but she was standing and walking a little. I thought: 'Are you kidding me?' Within a week, she was almost back to her old self."

That was last September, and six months later Cookie is still going strong, Jaynes says. While he has no doubts about the treatment, though, some veterinarians worry that marketing of stem-cell therapy for animals has gotten ahead of the scientific research needed to validate its use.

The results, while sometimes promising, are not universal.

"Most of what you hear is anecdotal 'Oh, I tried this, and it helped my dog,'" says Dr. Jeffrey Peck, a veterinary surgeon at Affiliated Veterinary Specialists, based in Maitland. "This has grown in its marketing exponentially greater than it has grown in evidence."

Much of his practice is in orthopedics typically, dogs with hip dysplasia or arthritis. He tried using stem-cell therapy with his patients in 2008 but dropped it after a dozen cases in which he saw no improvement.

"I don't refuse to do it if a client really wants to try, but I give them my disclaimer," he says. "I tell them: 'I don't think I'm going to hurt anything. But I doubt I'm going to help anything either.'"

At $1,400 to $3,000 for the procedure, most pet owners opt out, he says.

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Stem-cell therapy for dogs draws support, detractors

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