Pet Therapy

A new medical technology is helping heal some Hawaii pets.


Before undergoing stem-cell therapy at Surf Paws Animal Hospital, 13-year-old Kumba suffered from arthritis so bad he could barely get off the floor.

photo: courtesy surf paws

Stem-cell therapy is an exciting new way to potentially battle diseases such as cancer and diabetes. For humans, the technology is still mostly in the experimental phase. For pets, though, the future is here already.

A handful of Hawaii veterinarians have embraced stem-cell therapy, easing the aches and pains of dozens of aging dogs and cats over the past year.

The treatment is a relatively simple process that involves extracting adult stem cells from the animal’s own fat, then reinjecting them into injured joints to relieve pain from problems like osteoarthritis, hip dysplasia and degenerative bone disease.

Before offering the treatment at Surf Paws Animal Hospital, veterinarian Cristina Miliaresis needed to know it worked. She tested it out on her own dog, a 9-year-old American bulldog/pitbull with ruptured ligaments in both her knees.

The results were great, Miliaresis said. So much so that she recently gave her dog a second treatment that has left the animal happy and hyper. “It’s an amazing concept in general, and it’s not something we’ve had the ability to do until now,” Miliaresis says.

The treatment is simple and safe, says Carole Spangler Vaughn, owner of MediVet Hawaii, a company that specializes in regenerative medicine for animals.

“It’s low risk. We’ve never seen a negative reaction from the actual stem-cell therapy,” she says. “Conservatively speaking, 95 percent of the time they get better and there’s improvement—less pain and more mobility.”

While embryonic-stem-cell research for humans has been controversial, the pet treatment uses adult stem cells collected from a few tablespoons of the animal’s own fat. The chance of rejection is low and, unlike embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells have not been found to cause cancer, says Spangler Vaughn.

“You get lots of stem cells in fat. It’s kind of cool,” she says. “Nobody cares if you take some fat out of somebody.” The procedure, which costs up to $3,000, takes just a few hours, Miliaresis says.

The results have all been positive, at times quite dramatically, she added. While she can’t promise whether the treatment will extend a pet’s life, she says, “I’ve had at least five patients who were going to euthanize their pets because they thought they were too uncomfortable.”

Those owners saw the quality of their pets’ lives improve so much that they reversed their decisions, she says.

Other owners have seen enough improvement to take their pets off long-term medications that just mask symptoms, Miliaresis says. “Their whole aura improves. They just seem happier. That’s the best thing for me to see—these patients feeling better,” she says. “It’s really rewarding.”


Did you know? According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the average first-year cost of owning a medium-size dog is $1,580.

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Honolulu Magazine June 2018
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