Canine osteoarthritis occurs in approximately 80% of dogs older than eight years old. This painful disease does not have a cure. Instead, the conventional therapy for canine osteoarthritis consists of anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce the pain, and dietary supplements to help restore the damaged joint cartilage. Unfortunately, NSAIDs can affect much more than the painful joints; they can lead to renal and gastric damage, among other side effects.

During the past years, researchers have been looking for alternatives to conventional osteoarthritis therapy. Recently, the surge of regenerative therapies for humans has sparked the interest of veterinarians. Can dogs benefit from stem cell therapy as well? Research results are promising.

Recent studies suggest that stem cells can help alleviate the pain and discomfort associated with canine osteoarthritis improving the quality of life of our beloved companions.

A study performed in 2014, led by Dr.Jose M. Vilar at University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in Spain, tested the effect of stem cells injected inside the joints of dogs suffering from severe osteoarthritis associated with hips dysplasia. In this study, stem cells were gathered from fat tissue in each dog and injected back into the same dog at the site of the arthritic joint. The dog was able to go home the same day as the procedure. Then, researchers measured the dog’s ability to bear weight on the affected limbs using a special force platform on which the dogs would walk. The dogs treated with stem cells showed a significant increase in their weight-bearing ability, suggesting an improvement in their arthritis signs and decrease in pain.

Dr. Rubio Zaragoza and colleges performed a similar study at the International University in Valencia, Spain. The scientist included twenty-six healthy dogs diagnosed with osteoarthritis based on x-rays and clinical findings. Osteoarthritis improvement was measured subjectively through radiological assessment of the affected joints, functional limitation, and joint mobility. Besides, the investigators analyzed articular substances that correlate with joint health.

From the first month to six months after treatment,  all of the measured parameters except the radiological changes had improved significantly. This study showed that the application of a single intra-articular injection of stem cells improves the clinical signs of canine osteoarthritis for up to six months.

A third study led by the same group of researchers compared the efficacy and safety of stem cell therapy with plasma rich in growth factors (PRGF) therapy in dogs. The results from this randomized trial showed that a single joint injection of stem cells is significantly more effective than PRGF in reducing pain and improving functional limitation and quality of life in dogs with hip osteoarthritis.

The results from these and other research studies show that that stem cell therapy could be an effective, safe, feasible, and minimally invasive alternative to treat canine osteoarthritis.

References:

Railland et al. (2012). Clinical validity of outcome pain measures in naturally occurring canine osteoarthritis doi:10.1186/1746-6148-8-162

Vilar et al., (2014). Assessment of the effect of intraarticular injection of autologous adipose-derived mesenchymal stem cells in osteoarthritic dogs using a double-blinded force platform analysis. doi:10.1186/1746-6148-10-143

Zaragoza et al. (2015). Intraarticular injection of adipose mesenchymal stem cells over hyaluronic acid and collagen type II cleavage neoepitope in the treatment of osteoarthritis in dogs. doi:10.1016/j.joca.2015.02.796

Cuervo et al. (2014). Hip Osteoarthritis in Dogs: A Randomized Study Using Mesenchymal Stem Cells from Adipose Tissue and Plasma Rich in Growth Factors. doi:10.3390/ijms150813437