New pet stem cell research offers more options for animals

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - When Allison Yeager noticed her dog Forge show some signs of aging, her heart sank as she pondered what would happen next.

"He's just a joy to have. He's a good companion," Yeager says. "He's always there for me, but once we started seeing some, well, what we thought were signs of aging, it kind of tugs at your heart strings a little bit."

But they weren't signs of aging. Forge had arthritis that was spreading fast and due to his age he wasn't a candidate for surgery.

Forge did have another option though.

Dr. Kristi Oldham of Bee's Ferry Veterinarian Hospital told Yeager of a new procedure known as pet stem cell therapy.

"We all have stem cells in our body, and one place they can be is in our fat," Dr. Oldham says. "They haven't decided what cells they're going to be so if you inject them in to an area that has a lot of inflammation, it will go to that site and heal what needs to be healed."

It's a relatively new procedure in the U.S. and a first for the Lowcountry.

"Everybody knows about embryonic stem cells and the controversy, but these are his own stem cells, so I thought that was really neat," Yeager says.

In addition to being "really neat," the procedure is also really fast.

On a Tuesday, Dr. Oldham surgically removed some fat and overnighted it to a lab in California where they harvested the regenerative cells from that. The lab there returned the cells back to Charleston and by Thursday Forge had the injection.

Four weeks later, Yeager says her friend was back his exciting self.

"It's just been ongoing this whole time," Yeager says. "Everyday I see something new with him."

While there are pills to take and physical therapy to attend, Dr. Oldham already considers this a success.

"It's totally exciting to see an animal that was painful and now is going to have a better quality of life," Dr. Oldham says.

Dr. Oldham says she's since done the procedure on other pets with similar results. She does, however, strongly advise that the therapy is not for every animal and to consider more traditional forms of treatment such as surgery before stem cell therapy.

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