As a veterinarian, it is my job and my passion to provide animals with the best medical care possible. This mission has led me to explore many facets of science and medicine, ranging from ancient practices to today’s cutting-edge technologies and those of the future.
In recent years, advances in veterinary medicine have been both rapid and effective in providing better quality and quantity of life for pets. This article explores some of the most fascinating and beneficial medical developments for dogs and other animals.
Stem Cell Therapy
Stem cells are able to differentiate and transform into other cells in the body, enhancing healing in extraordinary ways. While the body naturally produces stem cells, they are not always in high numbers and tend to become less active with advancing age. The use of stem cell therapy allows us to harvest, concentrate, and even multiply a patient’s own stem cells and then administer them in ways that promote healing of arthritic joints, damaged tissues, and failing organs.
As if this were not amazing enough, clinical trials are under way to evaluate the use of allogenic stem cells. Allogenic cells do not have to be surgically harvested from a patient. They are effectively “off the shelf” stem cells that can be administered to any canine patient. The elimination of the collection process means avoiding surgery and anesthesia for the recipient dog, making the procedure quicker, safer, and ultimately cheaper and more accessible.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
Hyperbaric medicine has been around for many years in human medicine although it has only recently become available to veterinary patients. Within a hyperbaric chamber, a patient is treated with 100% oxygen at pressures between 1.5 and 2.5 atmospheres. By saturating the patient’s blood and tissues with oxygen, we are able to circumvent many of the factors that limit the body’s ability to recovery from injury or illness.
The use of hyperbaric oxygen has many applications for canine patients, including treating wounds, trauma, spinal and brain injuries, organ disease, bacterial resistant infections, and more. Limbs and lives are literally saved through the use of hyperbaric medicine.
Arthroscopy, Joint Replacements, Orthotics, and Prosthetics
One of the most prevalent issues we see in dogs is orthopedic disease. Fractures and other trauma, dysplasia, arthritis, and similar conditions are common amongst canine patients. In the past, when a dog had a damaged or unstable joint, suffered neurological damage, or lost a limb there was not much to be done.
Now, however, surgeons are replacing hip and elbow joints in dogs in much the same way as it is done in people. In addition, the widespread use of arthroscopic surgery allows surgeons to “clean up” an arthritic joint in a minimally invasive approach. From a non-surgical perspective, we routinely create orthotic devices such as knee braces for cruciateligament injuries to stabilize joints so they can heal while still allowing dogs to walk. These days, appropriate bracing and physical rehabilitation can be viable alternatives to surgery.
Dogs who have lost parts of limbs can now be fitted with prosthetics, which allow them to move more comfortably and effectively. Just as in people, canine prosthetics are custom created to the individual. It requires time and effort for a dog to learn how to use prosthetic limbs, but they can make a huge difference in quality of life for many patients.
Integrative Health Care
Although it may not be considered a technological advancement, a greater and greater acceptance of the integrative model of veterinary care is worthy of mention. Rather than viewing health care as either “conventional” or “alternative,” more practitioners and consumers are catching on to the concept of “one medicine” – just as in human medicine.
Science and technology have made incredible contributions to the advancement of veterinary care, but the infinite complexity of the canine biological machine should never be overlooked. When properly supported through nutrition, supplementation, and other natural methods, the body can do things technology cannot.
There are miracles of medicine to be found everywhere and thus it is always in the patient’s best interest to explore all treatment options. The acceptance of this philosophy is a very welcome change in the medical field.
What the Future Holds
There are so many medical advances on the near horizon. Within the next few years, veterinary medicine will have access to science fiction-like technologies such as nanomedicine, personalized cancer care through gene therapy, and anti-aging therapy through telomerase activation. Just a couple of decades ago, who could have imagined the treatment options for dogs that are now routine?
The rate at which medical technology is progressing makes the future of veterinary health care almost unimaginably bright. I, for one, can’t wait to learn what is coming next.
Gary Richter has been a veterinarian in the East Bay for 15 years. He is the owner and medical director of Montclair Veterinary Hospital and Holistic Veterinary Care (montclairvethospital.com), a facility dedicated to providing alternative, complementary, and regenerative health options for pets. Dr. Richter lives in Oakland with his wife, daughter, and several pets.
Main article photo by: iStock.com