MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Our pets are a part of our family and when they’re in pain, just like the empathy we feel for our two-legged family members, we hurt emotionally. That’s why some pet owners are going all out to make sure their pets are pain-free and live as long as possible.
WMC Action News 5 looked into some of the cutting edge medical procedures -- once only considered for humans -- that are being put to use on our four-legged family members.
Argo is one such patient. The five-and-a-half-year-old chocolate lab is full of joy and love now, but Argo wasn’t so happy a few of months ago, when pain hit hard following a neighborhood walk.
Sheri Bishop described what happened that day
“We were walking up the front porch. We were almost finished and he screamed and couldn’t put his foot down,” Bishop said.
Sheri and her husband immediately carried Argo to his veterinarian, Dr. Angie Zinkus at Germantown Parkway Animal Hospital, who took x-rays and found that the relatively young dog had a serious case of arthritis.
“He has very significant bilateral elbow dysplasia,” is how Dr. Zinkus explained Argo’s condition. And not only did Argo have arthritis in both his elbows, he also had it in both shoulders, and hips -- an unusual occurrence in a dog Argo’s age.
But it was also his age that got Dr. Zinkus thinking way outside the box for treatment. She decided to try stem cell transplants in Argo’s joints, as well as injections of Platelet Rich Plasma or PRP Therapy.
“Both of these, the stem cells and the Platelet Rich Plasma, we do through a place in California called VetStem, and they’re one of the first stem cell places that came out,” Dr. Zinkus said.
Put simply, Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy, or PRP, involves taking blood from a patient, then removing the red blood cells through centrifuge, which creates a platelet rich plasma protein to be injected back into the patient.
Platelets are said to contain growth factors that can stimulate the growth of other cells and speed up the healing process. As Dr. Zinkus put it, “The stem cells are more--they go in there and where there’s missing cartilage and things like that, it’ll help regenerate that. The platelet rich plasma comes in and kinda accentuates that.”
According to its website, VetStem Biopharma is “the first company in the United States to provide an adipose-derived stem cell service to veterinarians for their patients” and “pioneered the use of regenerative stem cells in veterinary medicine.”
The company cites that in 2004, the first horse was successfully treated with VetStem Regenerative Cell Therapy for what would normally have been a career-ending tendon injury. Since then, more than 4,000 horses have been treated with similar therapies and more than 3,500 dogs and cats. Click here for more information on VetStem.
Dr. Zinkus, who chronicled Argo’s treatment on the animal clinic’s Facebook page, had to first harvest Argo’s stem cells and platelets under anesthesia, and then send it to VetStem for development. Forty-eight hours later, the stem cells and PRP serums were sent back and in her hands ready for use.
Argo was put under again for Dr. Zinkus to inject the dog with a syringe of stem cells in each joint, and one intravenously for good measure, followed up by the Platelet Rich Plasma injections.
Almost as soon as Argo came out of the anesthesia, he was on his feet and feeling better, and within a matter of days it was like he’d never had arthritis, at all -- pain-free, if not completely cured.
But if the pain ever returns, or if he ever develops, say, kidney disease, Argo is covered because VetStem banked his stems cells for future use, if ever needed again. Most importantly, he’s not on medication, nor did he have to have surgery which comes with it’s own complications and risks.
“We’re lucky to have so many things now that we don’t have to just reach for steroids or non-steroidal inflammatories that could particularly hurt their bodies over time,” said Dr. Zinkus.
And to keep Argo feeling well and flexible, his family also takes him to Dr. Kathy Mitchener at Angel Care Natural Healing and Acupuncture for Pets, who first saw Argo a few weeks after his injections.
Dr. Mitchener said her job is to help Argo recover from any damage his arthiritis may have caused.
“The first step was to assess him to see where his body was carrying the pain, where his body was compensating for the pain of the arthritis,” Dr. Mitchener said.
Since the Labrador had a lot of pain in the muscles as a result of the painful joints, Dr. Mitchener put Argo on a regimen of dry needling or acupuncture and laser therapy. The number of needles depends on the size of the pet and severity of the ailment.
According to a report by Mashable, in 2015, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) issued a joint statement saying acupuncture is a “compelling and safe method for pain management.”
“Acupuncture uses the nervous system to make things better," Dr. Mitchener said. "You put a pin in the body, its picked up by the nervous system, where the pin is placed goes to the central nervous system. The central nervous system processes that information and then responds to quiet down the pain, to remove the muscle spasm, to improve the circulation. If the heart rate is too fast, it slows the heart rate. If there’s a seizure, it quiets the seizure. If there’s anxiety, it relieves the anxiety. So it works by using what’s in charge of the body, to make the body better.”
Argo also takes an occasional walk in Dr. Mitchener’s underwater treadmill. The thermal effects of warm water help relax dogs and even cats. Proponents of underwater treadmills say warm water also reduces pets' pain, increases blood flow and makes connective tissue more flexible.
Dr, Mitchener said it’s also a wonderful method for dogs and cats to get stronger.
“The underwater treadmill is primarily to strengthen and improve mobility, both in young dogs, post operative dogs, cats, too, and geriatrics. First off, the water makes you buoyant. So, it’s kind of like walking on the moon -- there’s not as much drag on your joints.”
Nine-year-old Beignet, a rescue from New Orleans, seems to enjoy the underwater treadmill. The water levels can be drawn as high as a Great Dane’s chest or low enough for the tiny little Rat Terrier mix.
When Beignet first began coming to Angel Care for acupuncture and underwater treadmill several months ago, she could barely walk anymore. But Beignet’s owner Paul Brothers said his little lady is a changed pooch.
“She’ll actually get up on her own and come over and say, ‘let’s go outside.’ She goes out she walks, she doesn’t just sit waiting for me to come pick her up anymore, so very much more active than she was,” Brothers said.
Another all natural pain fighting tool in Dr. Mitchener’s arsenal for your pets is non-hallucenigenic cannabis oil from the hemp plant.
“We’re using it primarily to treat pain, to treat inflammation, and in the geriatric dog it improves seizures and anxiety,” said Mitchener.
CBD oil is now legal in many states, including Tennessee and Mississippi where access is limited with restrictions on tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.
According to Medical News Today, “Some people believe that CBD offers a more natural alternative” than “prescription or over-the-counter drugs to relieve stiffness and pain, including chronic pain.”
These products and procedures may be out of the realm of thinking or affordability for many pet owners, but both Doctors Vinkus and Mitchener said more pets owners are turning to the benefits of natural and cutting edge procedures for our pets to live longer and without pain.
And if you’re wondering about the costs of these procedures: Argo’s stem cell treatment ran about $3,500, while his platelet rich plasma therapy was roughly $1,200.
Pet acupuncture runs between $60 to 90 per session at Angel Care, while underwater treadmill therapy costs about $55 per session. The cannabis oil at Angel Care runs about $144 dollars a bottle. But most importantly, both veterinarians in this story suggest that before you try any of these procedures you talk with your vet about your animal’s treatment.