Many owners consider their pets just as much a part of the family as their two-legged counterparts, and increasingly, veterinary care is providing answers to help our friends spend more healthy years with us. These new treatments have led to a rise in the number of specialists practicing in town, including an ophthalmologist, surgeons, internal medicine practitioners, oncologists and even a veterinarian dermatologist practicing in St. Louis, says Dr. William Stehnach of My Best Friend Veterinary Center.

General practitioner veterinarians do many surgeries in their own offices, though, including spaying and neutering pets, soft tissue surgeries such as bladder stone surgery, tooth cleaning under anesthesia or the removal of foreign bodies. In fact, removing errant socks, rubber balls or undergarments is one of the most commonly performed surgical procedures, Stehnach notes.

For new and complex techniques or patented procedures, however, Stehnach says he sometimes refers patients to specialists. “If you do a procedure over and over again, you would be better at doing it,” he says. “In my practice, we utilize the specialists—we have the expertise in town so why not utilize it?” He likens the practice to human medicine. “If your internist found a heart condition, you’d be sent right away to a cardiologist.” Likewise, if he finds a cancerous mass, he refers pet patients to an oncologist. “I have four being treated right now with chemotherapy, and I get reports every week updating me on their condition.”

Even cutting-edge treatments such as stem cell therapy are making their way to St. Louis. A small number of local veterinarians are offering the treatment, and Dr. Stacey Wallach of Town & Country Veterinary Hospital is among them. The therapy is used to treat dogs suffering from cartilage, tendon and ligament injuries, as well as osteoarthritis, and is being studied for treating cats with kidney failure, Wallach says. “This is not a first line of defense,” she cautions. Because of the novelty of the treatment and its cost, stem cell therapy would only be used after other options have failed. For example, a good candidate might be a dog who is suffering from joint pain, but isn’t responding to anti-inflammatory drugs, supplements or diet changes, she says.

The stem cell therapy consists of two steps, Wallach explains. First, fat is collected from the animal during a short surgical procedure. Stem cells are then harvested from the cells, and injected into the joints or affected areas, as well as directly into the veins. So far, studies are showing a success rate of between 70 and 90 percent for good candidates, Wallach says.

Apart from the risk associated with all surgical treatments, cost is another factor that should be considered, especially with new treatments, Wallach adds. Stem cell therapy can cost between $2,000 and $4,000, she says, and because it is so new, it might not be covered under many pet insurance policies. “If people knew about it, I think they would be interested in doing it, because of the benefits it can provide,” Wallach says. After all, the right treatment might mean more happy, healthy years for your furry friend.

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