Stafford Township, NJ — Stem cell therapy is an incredible process for healing damaged tissue, so it seems remarkable that it is available – for pets – right here in Manahawkin. Stafford Veterinary Hospital, at 211 North Main St., began offering the advanced treatment in 2019, under the direction of Michael Pride, medical director at the facility.
There, stem cell therapy is most commonly applied to osteoarthritis, but can also be used in dogs suffering from hip dysplasia and ligament and cartilage injuries, as well as mobility ailments and some chronic inflammatory issues such as inflammatory bowel disease and chronic kidney disease, which is common in cats.
“Stem cell therapy is actually the only thing that can help to reverse the process of arthritis,” Pride said. “Everything else is a Band-Aid.
“This process can actually help to rebuild cartilage and really reduce inflammation without the need of using aspirin-type medications,” Pride said. “It’s a newer technology that we can use to avoid chronic use of medications, which might actually be detrimental in the long term for the liver or kidneys.”
Stem cell therapy treats the source of the problem by offering the ability to replace damaged cells with new ones, instructs the website staffordvet.com.
Stem cells are powerful healing cells in the pet’s body that can become other types of cells. For example, in the case of arthritis, stem cells can become new cartilage cells and have natural anti-inflammatory properties, thus reducing pain and increasing mobility.
“The stem cells are your primary structural cell for all other cells in the body; they can differentiate into almost any other cell,” explained Pride. “We’re processing it down into that primordial stem cell; we’re activating it, and we’re injecting it into where it needs to be, and it just starts taking on the characteristics of the cells around it.”
Table-top machines from MediVet Biologics are the first Adipose Stem Cell therapy kits for in-clinic use, a major advancement. Stem cell therapy for animals has been commercially available since 2004. MediVet pioneered in-clinic treatment options around 2010.
Pride believes Stafford Veterinary Hospital offers the only such treatment in the immediate area; another is in Egg Harbor Township, Atlantic County.
“We’re always trying to figure out different ways to help the patient without hurting them,” he said while petting a kitten that had been a patient for another type of treatment.
As stem cell therapy is more in the news regarding humans, a pet owner’s first question might be where the stem cells come from that are used in the process. The answer: from fat tissue of the pet itself, extracted and processed the same day.
As the therapy has been refined in the last decade, “it has actually started to become a lot easier, more cost-effective more recently,” said Pride, “since we’ve been able to process fat tissue instead of actually getting bone marrow.
“Fat tissue actually has a much higher concentration of adult stem cells than bone marrow does, so it’s less painful for the patient, they heal a lot easier, and we don’t have to process it in a different facility.
“Everything comes from the animal, and we give it back to the animal. Nothing comes from another animal. We don’t have to worry about them rejecting the sample; it’s their own tissue, and we’re giving it back to them.”
The pet typically goes home the same day after about eight hours. First, X-rays and a consultation with the veterinarian can determine whether the pet is a candidate for the treatment.
A pet owner may not even know that their animal has arthritis.
“Cats have a lot of inflammatory issues that they tend to be very good at hiding,” said Pride. “A lot of people don’t realize that they have arthritis. They think, ‘oh, my cat’s just getting older; he’s not jumping as much; he’s not as strong; he’s just sleeping most of the day,’ but actually he has arthritis. It’s very difficult to diagnose in cats. A lot of times you end up having to do X-rays to find where the arthritic joints happen to be.”
An inch-and-a-half incision is the minor surgery that harvests the fat tissue from the belly while the pet is anesthetized. For a cat, about 20 grams are extracted. For a large dog, about 40 grams are needed. While the pet is recovering from the incision surgery, the veterinary hospital is processing the sample. When the sample is ready, the pet is sedated “because we then have to give them the joint injections. Then we can reverse the sedation, and they go home.”
We asked the doctor if the process always works. He gave the example that on average, a dog such as a boxer that was hobbled is now able to walk without seeming like it’s painful. In an extreme positive case, a dog that had been barely walking might be bouncing all over the place in two months.
“It doesn’t always work to the extent that we would love it to, but we usually notice that there is a positive effect from it,” Pride remarked. “Every patient will be different in what they experience.”
For the same reason that “everyone’s situation is going to be different,” cost of treatment was not given for this story.
It generally takes about 30 to 60 days for relief to show, the veterinarian said, and the animal’s progress will be monitored.
On average, results last about 18 months to two years before more stem cells might have to be injected. The procedure takes about an hour.
“The nice thing is once we collect those stem cells (from the first procedure), we can bank the leftovers – they are cryogenically stored at MediVet corporate headquarters in Kentucky – and we don’t have to go through the initial anesthetic surgery,” said Pride.
Stem cell therapy is one of several innovative modalities available at Stafford Veterinary Hospital. Laser therapy, acupuncture and holistic medicine are others. Care for exotic pets is available, as is emergency pet care.
Visit the website staffordvet.com or call 609-597-7571 for more information on general and specialized services, including: vaccinations, microchipping, spaying and neutering, dental care, wellness exams, dermatology, gastrology, oncology, opthalmology, cardiology, soft-tissue surgery, ultrasound, radiography, nutrition, parasite control, boarding, labor and delivery, end-of-life care, and cremation.
Stafford Veterinary Hospital has been in business since 1965, founded by Dr. John Hauge. Today, five highly skilled veterinarians are on staff, and a satellite, Tuckerton Veterinary Clinic, is at 500 North Green St. in Tuckerton.
Pride has been medical director at Stafford Veterinary Hospital since 2008. He attended Rutgers University, then earned his Veterinary of Medicine degree at Oklahoma State University.
The mild-mannered doctor feels a great reward from treating animals that can’t speak for themselves when they feel bad.
“These guys, they’re always thankful; you can see what they think,” he said of treated pets. “The turnaround in their attitude, the turnaround in their ability to be more comfortable, you can see it in their faces; you can see it in their actions. You learn to read animals over time.
“It’s knowing that we’re helping those who can’t help themselves,” he added, “and you can see it in them; that’s the most gratifying.”
Reposted from The Sandpaper on Jan. 15, 2020