DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — To the owners of two dogs at Foxcroft Veterinary Services, their animals are not pets. They are part of the family.
So when they heard that the clinic was offering stem cell regenerative therapy to treat ailments for their dogs, they were first in line.
“I didn’t want to put her through [major surgery]. What I read about the [stem cell] procedure, it would be better for her and it would be better for us,” said Sheryl Firth of Sangerville, who brought her 2-year-old pit bull Gracie to the clinic on Wednesday.
Gracie and Diesel, a 5-year-old Labrador, were the first two dogs to undergo the procedure. Both suffer from degenerative joint disease.
“She was like an old dog. She could hardly sit down,” Firth said about Gracie.
Ellen Tucker of Dover-Foxcroft, who owns Diesel, said her Labrador suffered a knee injury.
“He loves to play. He’s a very active dog,” said Tucker. “He blew his knee out playing ball [several months ago]. If he overdoes it, he gets gimpy.”
Dr. Jeffrey Kelly said he believed this is the first time the procedure was done in Maine. The local veterinarian said he is excited about the treatment and wanted to introduce it to his practice.
“The stem cells are taken from the animal from a place of fat,” Kelly explained. “[The fat] is taken and spun to remove the cells that we don’t want and to concentrate the stem cells we want to use and put them back into the animal to do their thing.”
The stem cell procedure works best when it is paired with surgery, he said.
“The result is so much better than each individual [procedure],” Kelly said.
An incision was done on Gracie’s undercarriage and fat was extracted during the procedure.
The fat was then taken to three new machines sold to the clinic by MediVet America, which oversaw the procedure.
The stem cells are mixed with platelet rich plasma, “which wakes up the stem cells that were dormant in the fat tissue so they can go into the body and do what they need to do,” said Adrienne Cromer, a lab technician with MediVet America, who was instructing the staff.
A water bath is then used to incubate the tissue to simulate body temperature. A centrifuge then spins to separate the cells that will be injected back into the dog. The entire process takes roughly five hours.
MediVet America’s technology has been around for three years, Cromer said. It’s currently being used in 47 states as well as Mexico, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom and the Middle East.
“I did a 155-canine study that was published in Veterinary Practice News, and we measured the success rate on three different levels — pain, range of motion and lameness. Ninety-nine percent of those 155 canines saw improvement in one of the three areas. Most showed improvement in multiple areas,” she said.
Sheryl and her husband John Firth, watched anxiously as Gracie went under the knife in surgery.
“[We want] her to maintain a healthy life,” said Sheryl Firth. “We have to pick her up to put her in our vehicle. It would be nice for Gracie to jump into our vehicle.”
The recovery process takes a couple of weeks and the dogs will see improvement after 30, 60 and 90 days, said Cromer. The age and health of the animals play factors in recovery time, said Kelly.
Kelly said that risks associated with the stem cell procedure are minimal, and he hopes to provide the procedure as an everyday practice at the clinic.
“The more we do it, the easier it will become for the clients,” he said.
The stem cell procedure costs $1,800 for dogs, according to MediVet America. It can also be used for other animals such as cats and horses.