Stem-cell therapy gives arthritic dogs taste of youth

TOPEKA — Bruce Zimmerman gave his dog, Sherman, a gentle nudge on the leash on a recent Monday afternoon as the 11-year-old pit bull mix attempted to tug his owner toward an empty cat carrier during a check-up at the University Bird and Small Animal Clinic.

"He's not back to being a puppy, but compared to before, I would say he's doing good," said Topeka veterinarian Larry Snyder, one of the three surgeons that operated on Sherman in November and performed regenerative stem cell therapy, which is used to treat joint and arthritis pain in animals.

Sherman had suffered two torn ACLs and an arthritic hip before undergoing surgery Nov. 11. The regenerative procedure, which involved harvesting stem cells taken from clumps of fatty tissue from Sherman's upper back, has reduced arthritis pain and seems to have given the dog a younger attitude, Snyder and Zimmerman said.

"After the third day of recovery from the procedure, you could see changes," Zimmerman said. "Now he jumps up and barks at the door, which he used to do years ago — you don't really see that (behavior) stopping over time until he started doing it again."

Sherman was one of two dogs that received stem cell therapy at the clinic in November. Gunner, a 7-year-old Labrador, also is recovering from the surgery.

Sherman's therapy focused on his knees, where his stem cells were injected into each joint. Gunner, who was suffering from hip dysplasia and damaged knee joints, received injections in his knees and hips. The remainder were put back into each dog's bloodstream.

Gunner and Sherman both received clean bills of health from Snyder recently. Neither dog, he said, shows signs of swelling in the legs, and both seem to have improved dispositions.

"I was surprised," Snyder said. "You expect the arthritis to get better, but I'm surprised by the attitude of the dogs."

Now when Zimmerman opens the door, he said, Sherman is ready to bolt out and chase some wild animals.

Likewise, Carrie Hoffman, Gunner's owner, said her dog also seems more active than he has been in years: going up and down stairs, begging for walks and finding new ways to get into mischief.

"When I took him walking, he used to drag his back feet," Hoffman said. "He no longer drags his feet. Now he jumps up on the couch."

Snyder said the change in attitudes can be attributed to reduced pain.

Topeka Zoo veterinarian Shirley Llizo, who attended the recent check-up session, said she was observing for any potential uses in the zoological field.

"Cats, apes, elephants, bears and other animals in the zoo field can all suffer from arthritis," Llizo said. "It's not limited to any species."