ABILENE, Texas - For several years, Boomer, a Staffordshire bull terrier, has limped into his local medical center once a month to receive injections to treat his arthritis.
However, veterinarian Allen Bolt hopes the 14-year-old Boomer has taken his last wobbly walk through the doors of his Abilene clinic. Recently, the terrier received an in-clinic stem cell procedure Bolt hopes will become routine, and will extend the lives of many people's pets.
In 34 years of being a veterinarian, Bolt said he has seen a tremendous change in the impact veterinary medicine has had on pets.
"When I got out of school, if you had a 10-year-old dog, you had a really old dog," he said. "I think one of the reasons the life expectancy is better is because we're taking better care of them. When the dogs and cats moved from the backyard to the bedroom, that's when we started treating them like part of the family."
Treating them as family means investing in their health, he said, and he now sees dogs living into their early 20s as a result.
The stem cell procedure is less invasive than a spay, he said. Stem cell regenerative therapy involves removing fat tissue from the animal, separating the stem cells from the fat, activating and then injecting the cells into the affected area. For Boomer, his hips and stifles (like knees on a human) received the cell injections.
Boomer's future was grim without the procedure, Bolt said.
The traditional arthritis treatment was taking a toll on Boomer's kidneys, and his owners were running out of options.
"You're faced with just letting him hurt, putting him to sleep, or make him comfortable but kill his kidneys," he said. "That was the time I got involved with MediVet-America, which was perfect for this guy."
The Kentucky-based company has offered more than 2,000 stem cell kits to veterinarians across the U.S.
A dog owner himself, Bolt said he knows the heartache of watching pets age. He researched the stem cell therapy process and shared it with Boomer's owners, who quickly got on board.
"I think it's just one of the greatest things that's come down the pipe," he said. "You can treat these dogs with their own stem cells, their own plasma. You're not doing them any harm with the treatment and there are no side effects."
For several years, the therapy has been available to veterinarians willing to harvest the fat tissue from the animal and send a sample to a West Coast lab. Now that the procedure can be done in-clinic in a single day, the cost has been cut in half.
The regenerative therapy costs $1,500 at Animal Health & Medical Center of Abilene, Bolt said.
For pet owners like Judie Bradley, the cost is a sacrifice she's happy to make. Bradley hopes her dog, Sabre, will also receive the stem cell procedure.
"I've always believed it's kind of a 'til death do you part relationship with our animals," she said. "It's not always easy, but it's what you have to do."
Sabre, an 11-year-old rescued shepherd mix, is one of three dogs and two cats in the family, she said, and all are treated like children.