Desperate pet owners turn to stem cell treatments

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- An increasing number of pet owners are turning to stem cells to treat everything from arthritis to allergies.

"It was horrific to watch him unable to walk or wag his tail," Sarah Denning said of her then 6-year-old dog, Gary, who suffered from disc problems in his lower back. He was in constant pain.

Denning was about to have Gary euthanized, when her veterinarian, Dr. Tom Newland, at the Adobe Animal Hospital in Scottsdale, suggested they try a stem cell treatment.

Two weeks later, Gary showed signs of improvement. In another month, he was a new dog.

"He started running and playing with other dogs. That was beyond expectations," she said.

Dr. Newland is one of a handful of Valley veterinarians who use stem cells to treat his four-legged patients.  

The process involves harvesting fat from the animal's back, and using a centrifuge to isolate the stem cells. They are activated with an LED light, and then injected into the patient. In Gary's case, the stem cells were put into his spinal fluid.

Nancy Sugarman's lab-mix, Emma, suffered severe allergies before her stem cell treatment.

"It was to the point where she was eating herself alive. She was totally raw," Sugarman said.

Medications only partially helped Emma's quality of life, and were costing around $500 per month. Sugarman was skeptical of the stem cell option, but decided to go with it.

Emma has stopped itching completely, but has to return for periodic treatments when symptoms reappear. Her stem cells have been banked, so only a minor procedure is needed.

"She's a brand new dog," Sugarman said.

"Truly, how well Emma has done is priceless. She's done much better than what traditional therapy could have done for her," Dr. Newland added.

The cost depends on a variety of factors, but ranges from  $1,800 to upwards of $3,000. Some pet insurance companies will pick up most of the bill.