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Aging Gracefully- Part 1: A new hope for arthritis?

The mortality of our oldest dogs, their presence a staple in our lives, looms over our home and our hearts like a rain-filled cloud.

Sammy has always been my number one companion on hikes; no longer.

These days, Sammy drags behind after a mile or so on a leash walk, can’t go off leash because he doesn’t hear well once he gets a little way away from me, and someday in the not so distant future he will no longer be able to hear me tell him I love him.  There was a time when thunderstorms meant reading Harry Potter out loud to Sammy, something for him to concentrate on other than the booming sound he heard in the background.  No more of that.  I’m not complaining, but every thunderstorm is a reminder of how life is changing as our dogs age.

Sally still loves hiking, but if we are out for more than twenty minutes it comes with a heavy price.

Sally was my first dog, hard as it is to believe after the experiences we’ve had.  So many years have gone by with so much change, growth and adventure, and she has been there through it all.  From that first tentative step into life with a dog until now, she has been the steadfast friend and family member that has set the standard for all who would follow in her wake.  For now, she’s still here but her eyes are growing ever more cloudy, white hairs speckle her face and she can’t go on hikes anymore.  At ten, she’s not so old that her joints should have benched her permanently but unfortunately, it has happened due to an early onset of arthritis resulting from an injury years ago.

These two dogs are the keystone of our family.  The ugly truth is that they are aging and now senior citizens of the canine world, and we’re being forced to accept that their bodies just can’t last as long as their legacy will.  We’re fighting tooth and nail to protect our dogs until the end, though.  We can’t stop them from getting older, but we can protect them from certain ailments.  For instance, arthritis.  There are many things you can do to reduce the impact of this painful condition on your dogs (and in humans, as well.)

  • Keeping your dog at a healthy weight or even a bit on the lean side is one of the most important changes you can make.
  • Instead of high-impact exercise, swimming with your dog allows them to work their muscles without putting stress on their joints.
  • Pain relief therapy pretty much becomes status quo once a dog experiences arthritis.  This consists of both pain medication from the vet and more natural supplements designed to help.  We’ve had Sally on Fish oil, Vitamin E and a Glucosamine/Chondroitin/MSM supplement for years, only giving NSAIDs on her “bad” days.  For more information on holistic and medical treatments, I highly recommend checking out Dog Aware’s Arthritis Page, or watch for a future post here which will cover the medications and supplements we’ve tried (and some we haven’t) in detail.
  • Alternative or homeopathic treatments such as acupuncture, herbal remedies, etc have been used with varying levels of success.  I have not gone this route, myself.

Is that all you can do for your dogs?  It used to be, for the most part.  Now there is a newly accessible therapy for arthritis, hip dysplasia, ligament and cartilage injuries (and more!) that is being used with great success.  It is called Stem Cell Regenerative Therapy (for brevity, I will abbreviate to SCRT in the remainder of this post.)  The therapy itself is not new, it has been done for a long time in animals.  The new therapy, though, is done via the Adipose Stem Cell Procedure versus the older way of harvesting bone marrow.  The doctor that owns one of my vet clinics is one of the most experienced and knowledgeable in the world in regards to stem cell therapy, and so we have decided to take the plunge.  The price for this in-house procedure currently sits at about $1800 in most clinics in the country.  Some clinics do not have the equipment to perform the procedure in house and will quote you a much higher price, sometimes twice that, so it’s worth checking things out in terms of perhaps calling other vets.

So how does this work?  SCRT is done via Adipose Stem Cell extraction.  A small sample of fat tissue is removed from your dog via a small incision; the dog must be under anesthesia for this.  That fat tissue is just loaded with dormant stem cells.  The sample is treated with a special patented enzyme mix to break it down.  The extracted cells are formally called the Stromal Vascular Fraction, “which include bone marrow stromal cells, follicular dendritic cells, & mesenchymal cells along with many beneficial proteins that encourage bone formation, liver cell regeneration, nervous system regeneration, wound healing, vascular rebuilding, skin repair, damaged cells to repair themselves, and cell re-growth.” (Source: Medivet)  The SVF is filtered and sterilized and then using an LED, the cells are stimulated so that they become highly active, dividing and ready to work.  If left inactivated, the body would be responsible for this process and would likely not activate all the cells.  This way, they are amped up and ready to go so that as soon as they re-enter the body, they can begin repairing cells.  The cells are divided and injected into the body where they are needed most, and then the remaining sample is given intravenously so the body can put them to work where it sees fit.

Sally’s procedure is scheduled for the 22nd.  I will be chronicling the entire process, so stay tuned!

An upcoming blog will cover supplementation in detail; if you have any questions you’d like researched or answered about any particular kind of medication or supplement for arthritis, leave a comment!

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