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Which Treatment Is Best for Arthritis?

Dr Barchas: Cartrophen vs. stem cell transplant as treatment for arthritis? My 9-year-old Golden Retriever started limping a while back. Initially it was just after...

Dr. Eric Barchas  |  Oct 1st 2011


Dr Barchas:

Cartrophen vs. stem cell transplant as treatment for arthritis?

My 9-year-old Golden Retriever started limping a while back. Initially it was just after he got up from lying on the floor and as he got moving he seemed fine. It started happening more and more, and so we had some X-rays that showed a slight bit of osteoarthritis. We tried Metacam and it seemed to help a bit but was told it wasn’t a long-term solution.

Not wanting to jump to pharmaceuticals right away, we have been using Cosequin and some Omega-3 capsules we got from the vet. I do not think it is making that much of a difference.

Our vet has recommended cartrophen injections, saying it is a more proactive option that actually fixes the damage. I have also read (and have seen on TV) some interesting articles about harvesting a dog’s own stem cells and injecting them back into the arthritic area.

Can you please comment on the pro and cons of each and which you think may be the better option? My dog is otherwise very healthy (he can swim for long periods of time).

Thanks,
Andrea from Toronto

Cartrophen is a synthetic form of polysulfated glycosaminoglycan (PSGAG) similar to Adequan, which is common in the United States. Both products are similar to cartilage and administered by injection.

In theory, these cartilage-replacement products (and oral cartilage supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin, also known as Cosequin) may help to slow cartilage loss in arthritis, and thereby help to stop the progress of the syndrome. However, I am not aware of any reputable study that verifies this.

Injectible PSGAG, however, has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects. Therefore, the use of Cartrophen or Adequan may be beneficial in some dogs with arthritis.

Stem cell therapy is relatively new. Stem cells are harvested from a chunk of fat and injected into arthritic joints with the hope that they will regrow cartilage. It’s great in theory, and it may have some promise in practice.

However, it’s a bit too commercialized for my taste. Vets must take a certification course from the company that developed the procedure. The fat must be sent to that same company. The procedure came out right around the time that stem cells were receiving a bunch of media hype.

The process seems a bit cultish, and I wonder whether the canine stem cell industry is putting profits ahead of patients (I believe that stem cell treatments are super expensive, to boot). I also have seen some reputable experts speak downright derisively about the technique.

So, if I had to recommend starting one of the two methods, I’d go for the PSGAG injections.

However, you also touched upon another line of treatment that you could consider: swimming, weight management, strengthening, and physical therapy. These tactics have been demonstrated to be effective in arthritis management. With a little training you can perform them at home for free. And they don’t involve injecting or ingesting anything.

Photo credit: Stork.