Fun upcoming webinar on veterinary rehabilitation.
Regenerative Medicine 30th May 2017
SPECIAL TRY WEBINAR FOR 1 DOLLAR FOR THE FIRST 30 DAYS
Fun upcoming webinar on veterinary rehabilitation.
Regenerative Medicine 30th May 2017
SPECIAL TRY WEBINAR FOR 1 DOLLAR FOR THE FIRST 30 DAYS
Here is the information and discount code for the 2017 RockTape Canine classes. Check it out! Use code RT50 at checkout for $50 off.
This is a story about my own pup. I met Adelaide in January 2016 when she was 8 months old. I had known her breeder from my previous job and we have a good working relationship. Addie is a Landseer Newfoundland, and was from lines that are used for showing, working, and breeding. It is great to see these big dogs do their job, and they are wonderful pets to boot.
The concern was Adelaide wasn’t developing well, and seemed to walk funny. I found some discomfort in her shoulder and hip joints, and suggested sedated radiographs. Those showed some mild hip dysplasia and osteochondrosis dessicans (OCD) lesions in both shoulders. OCD is a developmental orthopedic disease where the cartilage and bone don’t form correctly in a joint. This can lead to pain, arthritis, and the inability to work. It can happen in any dog, and there is some link genetically and environmentally. The key is to identify it early, remove that animal from breeding, and deal with the problem.
I sent Addie home that day with her breeder knowing that she could not be a show or breeding dog. However, she could make an excellent pet. About two weeks later, I called to check up on her and asked if she had been placed in a home yet. She hadn’t, and I took her in in February as a trial. If she would fit in with my pets, I would keep her as my own.
Addie fit right in with Penny and Milo, and soon I had a happy pup in the house. Great, now what do I do? Surgery was needed to minimize the arthritic damage in her shoulder joints. Then keeping her in good physical condition, protecting her joints and getting her moving would be my job. And since this is what I do for my patients, this is an easy fit for me.
Through some colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania, Addie had her shoulder joints cleaned out in April. The goal was doing them arthroscopically to minimize her healing time. The left shoulder went well, but the cartilage flap in her right shoulder was too large to remove. We successfully opened the joint and removed the flap. Then, we placed hyaluronic acid in both shoulders. This is essentially a synthetic joint fluid to help lubricate her joints and minimize further cartilage damage.
Addie recovered very well, and a month later, I spayed her and prophylactically did a gastropexy on her. This is tacking the stomach wall to the body cavity to prevent rotation or volvulus of the stomach during a bloat or GDV (Gastric Dilatation Volvulus) episode. Giant breed dogs are prone to bloat, and by doing this surgery I minimized her risk of gastric torsion. At the same time, I injected her shoulder and hip joints with hyaluronic acid and objectively measured her hips by taking radiographs in the PennHip method.
PennHip allows us to measure the distraction index between the hip joint of dogs, and correlates to how loose the joint is. Since hip dysplasia is based on laxity, the laxer a joint is, the higher the risk of arthritic change. Addie was dysplastic, but her score was mild. This allowed me to not consider a total hip replacement for her. If her scores had been worse, further surgery would be indicated.
After her recovery, I got Addie moving. She had continued to grow as well, and was now a lean 125 pounds. We began to work on walking and hiking. Last summer we hiked every weekend, and walked 2-4 miles each day during the week.
Penny, Addie, and I hiked to the top of Buck Mountain to overlook Lake George in July. By the fall, Addie could hike 10 miles a day nonstop.
Last fall, I had her groomed to a buzz cut. I weighed her the morning before, 125 pounds. Her weight right after the haircut was 113 pounds. 12 pounds of hair, and a reduction in 10% of her body weight. Not only is it easier to keep her clean in this cut, but reducing her body weight minimizes stress on her arthritic joints.
How do I keep her going? It is a multimodal approach. She eats Hill’s Science Diet J/D which is specifically formulated for dogs with arthritis. She also takes Dasuquin Advanced every day. This spring, I will inject her hips and shoulders with platelet rich plasma and bone marrow stem cells to further protect her cartilage.
I also keep her active, we walk 3-5 miles every day, and she plays regularly with Penny and her friend Dexter the Golden Retriever. We work on core strength through exercises on TotoFit equipment, and she gets out and swims when the weather cooperates.
At some point, she may need other medications, but currently she doesn’t have to take them. She is a wonderful girl and I am very thankful to have her as part of my family.
If you have questions about managing arthritis in your pet, please contact me.
For those not familiar with my cat Milo, please check out my prior blog post about him here. https://drbrunke.wordpress.com/2013/07/28/matters-of-the-heart/
Milo turned 14 earlier this year, but had been slowly declining in health over the last few months. I had noticed he was drinking more and urinating more. He began to lose body weight, but was still happy, interactive, and eating. He also would have sneezing fits of 10-50 sneezes at a time.
In the last 4 weeks, he began to have trouble breathing, and would make a sound close to a snore when awake. I debated taking him to work for tests, but he would stress out about it. I also knew that he could not undergo anesthesia for a CT scan or biopsy due to his heart. Additionally, he could not be medicated, since any attempt to do so in the past was too much stress for his heart condition.
Given his signs, I was suspicious of a nasal tumor.
So, I waited. I kept his food bowl full and he would interact happily with Adelaide and Penny.
I was away last week for training, and he stayed at home with my pet sitter. We had previously discussed that if he went into acute crisis that he would be euthanized without me there. I did this for one reason, Milo’s best interest.
Shortly after arriving home Sunday, I found Milo having trouble breathing. I tried to relax him, but he was struggling. I dropped everything and took him to the hospital where I sedated him. Once he relaxed, I could appreciate a mass invading his skull.
I then humanely euthanized him, letting him be at peace.
While letting him go was difficult, it was absolutely the right decision for him and me. Diagnosing or treating his tumor would be near impossible given his heart condition, and it would not be fair to Milo to put him through that.
I am very thankful for all the lessons I learned from him. To take a chance, to give things time, and that not all the patients read the books nor follow rules. Milo lived thirteen years longer than he should have. Those years were full of fun, eating, playing, and hunting. In the end, his heart was still strong and that is the message I appreciate most of all.
Mia is a 7-year-old German Shepherd that I met in October of 2015. She was referred for a left front leg lameness that had been going on for a few months. Mom had Mia since she was a pup, and no major issues were in her history. She was on some supplements, but no medications when I met her.
Mia is a large framed dog, and weighed in at 107 pounds when I first met her. She was about 10 pounds overweight. On physical exam, she had a definite left front lameness, with pain on the palpation of her biceps tendon. I also found bilateral hip joint pain, and lower back pain which had not been found before.
After checking her complete blood count, blood chemistry, thyroid function, and urine for any underlying diseases (there were none), I sedated Mia to further evaluate the painful areas. Radiographs showed severe arthritis in both hip joints. Mia also had spondylosis (bridging arthritis of her vertebrae) and mineralization of the biceps tendon in both shoulders.
Biceps tendonitis can occur for many reasons, but my suspicion in her case was years of chronic overload on her front legs. Because of her painful hips, she would transfer her weight to her front legs and overwork them. This shows us how animals can be sneaky about their problems and hide them from their owners for years.
While sedated, I injected Mia’s biceps tendons with long acting cortisone. The goal here was to provide targeted relief and anti-inflammatory action in the painful leg. Mia’s sedation was reversed and I sent her home to rest for 2 weeks. I discussed with her owner all the findings, and suggested that Mia may need surgery for her hips.
When I saw her again, the left front lameness was nearly resolved. It was no longer tender to the touch, and she walked evenly on her legs. With the pain reduced, we could now work on building strength and addressing her other issues. Mia was seeing our veterinary chiropractor to help with her posture, and I wanted to work more with Mia’s arthritic hips.
I didn’t inject her hips earlier for two reasons. One, it wasn’t why she was currently painful and limping. Two, since they had never been diagnosed before, mom needed some time to process her options on it. At her two week recheck, we started an Adequan injection series. This goes under the skin and penetrates the synovial joints to help improve joint fluid. By doing this we could help her and allow Mia to tell us what she needed. Adequan is a great option for dysplastic/arthritic hips, and I use it as one of my first options.
Another key step in managing arthritis is managing obesity. Mia was 10 pounds overweight, so we worked on a weight loss plan for her. In two months she dropped 8 pounds and was moving much easier! (Mom inadvertently was feeding her 3-4x her daily calorie requirements. Some quick math on my part made for her rapid weight loss.)
After the injections and adjusting her diet, our rehab team worked with Mia through underwater treadmill workouts, photobiomodulation (therapy laser treatments), core strengthening, and muscle building. By December 2015, Mia was 98 pounds and moving very well. She went from walking 10 minutes per walk to 45-50 minutes per walk, 5-7 times a week!
We maintained Mia in a rehab program all winter long and she was doing well. In March 2016, she came in favoring her right hind leg. Mom was concerned it was her hip, but I found pain and swelling in the right knee. My physical exam findings were consistent with a strain or partial tear of her cranial cruciate ligament. This is essentially the ACL in dogs, and is a common cause of injury.
After reviewing options with the owner, I again sedated Mia and injected the right knee with a combination of short acting cortisone and hyaluronic acid. This allowed for targeted anti-inflammatory action (like her shoulders a few months ago) and the hyaluronic acid helps to improve the viscosity in the joint, protecting the cartilage and giving time for the ligament to heal. While I was there, I injected this same combination into both hip joints to relieve discomfort there as well.
Mia resumed her rehab program a week later, and her right knee pain resolved. The swelling I had found before was gone, and she was bearing weight fully on the leg.
In May 2016, Mia’s left hip became very painful. She was having trouble standing up, putting weight on it, and lying down. We tried a course of oral medications, but only had mild improvement. That month our surgeon did an FHO procedure on Mia’s left hip to remove the bone on bone contact that was causing Mia so much pain.
Side note: There are two main surgical options for hip arthritis. One is a total hip replacement, where an artificial ball and socket are placed to create a new joint. This is commonly done in people and is done regularly in dogs also. It is the gold standard and has excellent outcomes. It can be expensive, and there is a restricted period on the patient because the bone must heal and hold the implants in place.
An FHO (or FHNE) is the other option. The femoral head and neck is removed and a false joint is created. This removes the worn-out cartilage and exposes bone/nerve endings that cause a lot of pain. No implants are needed, and the healing time is about 2 weeks. The key is to be aggressive in rehabilitation with these patients, to encourage them to use the leg. It is not as expensive as a hip replacement and has very good outcomes. It was done in people before hip replacement became the go-to option.
Mia did great through surgery and anesthesia, and excelled in her rehab program. Within a month, she was fully weight bearing, and improved her muscle mass in all her legs. She got back to her 45-50 minute walks within 2 months and we stopped seeing her for rehab in October 2016.
The plan was to keep her active and happy, and then see when/if she would need further rehab or surgery. She would continue to have regular veterinary chiropractic appointments and remain active. This also allowed her owner to catch up on finances. She had pet insurance but it doesn’t cover everything.
I saw Mia at the end of January 2017. She weighed 94 pounds, but was having trouble walking and moving. She was already on gabapentin and meloxicam and her joint supplements. About 2 weeks ago, she had started acting sore and was less inclined to walk, but the last 3 days before I saw her, she was painful when going outside and was favoring her right hind leg, holding it up and not wanting to stand on it.
My physical exam showed that her knee was fine, but the pain was coming from her hip. No neurological problems were noted, but the pain was back in both of her bicep tendons as well. After reviewing options with the owner, I checked some basic organ function (blood tests) and presented treatment options.
We could do the injections we had done before, or we could try a different approach. This new approach would be to collect Mia’s blood and bone marrow and inject platelet rich plasma (PRP) and her own stem cells into the painful areas. This is called regenerative medicine.
Side note #2: Platelet rich plasma contains numerous growth factors that facilitate tissue healing and repair. Growth factors are small proteins that are contained within a compartment inside the platelet. When a platelet is exposed to an area of damage or to fibrinogen, it becomes activated and releases its growth factors. These growth factors play an important role in tissue repair by promoting new vessel formation, enhancing cellular proliferation and promoting extracellular matrix formation.
When stem cells are injected in a concentrated form, they perform various functions to repair and regenerate tissue. They can differentiate into the surrounding tissue types which can include bone, cartilage, tendon, ligament, muscle, and nervous tissue. Other primary functions of stem cells in regenerative therapy includes: activating surrounding resident stem cells, stimulating new blood supply, recruiting additional cell types to aid in tissue repair, stimulating healing and tissue growth with the release of cytokines and growth factors, decreasing inflammation by moderating inflammatory pathways, reducing and/ or eliminating scar tissue, and creating a scaffold for healing tissues.
I did this in mid-February for Mia, and saw her this week for her recheck. Her right hind lameness has resolved, and both shoulder tendons are normal to the touch. This will be a slow road with her, I equate regenerative medicine to re-seeding your lawn. It may not look like you did much the first few weeks, but once the seeds sprout and the grass grows, it can be wonderful. In Mia’s case, it was also covered by her pet insurance.
Mia is back on a regular rehab program with our team and is improving weekly. Mom realizes that she may ultimately need surgery for her right hip, but for now she can work on strengthening Mia again and having her be in the best comfort and shape possible.
Stay tuned for regular updates on Mia. Here are a few pictures of her throughout the process, including her bone marrow collection and joint injections a few weeks ago.
I highly recommend you check out these series of online rehab oriented webinars. I am working with this group to formulate online content for the global rehab community.
If you have read some of my other posts, you are familiar with my multimodal approach to managing pain and mobility. For those of you new to this blog, this is where we use a combination of therapies to achieve a good outcome. In some cases, this is combining an oral medication with therapeutic exercises, or a surgical procedure with photobiomodulation (laser) therapy.
Using this approach, we can usually get better outcomes with less side effects. I also use this approach when an ideal treatment is not an option for a patient. This can be due to financial limitations, health of the pet (perhaps anesthesia is not an option), other options are not working, or any number of factors.
With this background, I would like to walk through some challenging cases I’ve had over the past few years. All of these dogs are German Shepherds, some male, some female, all between 7-15 years of age. While this disease can happen to many breeds, we do see it more in German Shepherds. Sometimes the spinal canal, through which the spinal cord and nerves pass, narrows and compresses the nerves. The most common spot for this narrowing to occur is at the lumbosacral joint, where the spine meets the pelvis. Spinal canal narrowing at the lumbosacral joint is referred to as lumbosacral stenosis, and the condition resulting from the compression of these spinal nerve roots is called cauda equina syndrome.
The narrowing is most often caused by arthritic degeneration or intervertebral disc herniation, but traumatic injury, congenital malformation (born with it), or tumor growth can also be involved.
The most common symptom of lumbosacral stenosis is pain. In the beginning, you may also notice stiffness leading to difficulty in walking, climbing stairs, getting on furniture, wagging the tail, positioning to defecate, or getting into a car. One or both back legs may become weak. Some dogs will cry out in pain when trying to move. In severe cases, the nerve roots can become so compressed that urinary and fecal incontinence will result.
This can be diagnosed through a combination of physical exam, blood and urine tests, radiographs, but it needs a CT scan or MRI to be definitively diagnosed. This is because radiographs (x-rays) do not show the discs and spinal cord, which can be seen on CT scans and MRIs.
The initial pain usually responds well to NSAIDS or Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs. I will combine this with weight loss (if indicated), muscle building (to strengthen the body), pain relievers (such as gabapentin) and other modalities (joint mobilizations, LASER, underwater treadmill workouts) to help keep the patient in good shape and moving.
Since it is most often caused by arthritis or disc herniation, setbacks, flare ups, and progression of the disease can happen even with the best of management. In those cases, we can add in other medications, or seek a consult with a boarded veterinary surgeon or neurosurgeon. Relieving the pressure through surgery can be very helpful in improving mobility and decreasing pain. After surgery, physical rehabilitation is needed to build upon what the surgeon has improved.
But what if a several thousand dollar CT scan or MRI isn’t in the cards? Or the scan shows the specialist that surgery is not a good option in this case? Are we out of options? Will your dog have to live in chronic pain?
I would hope you repeat readers know by now that this is not the case. So, let’s talk about options.
Studies have been done on both human and animal patients, and there is good evidence in the literature for epidural injection of cortisone. You may have heard of an epidural or spinal before. This is placing a needle or catheter in the space between two vertebrae and around the spinal cord itself. A more common place for this is childbirth, as a local anesthetic (lidocaine) can be injected into the space and block the body from perceiving pain. This is just like going to the dentist. They use novocaine so that you don’t feel them working in your mouth.
In veterinary medicine, we will use a local anesthetic (sometimes along with other pain relieving medications) for surgery (c-section, fracture repair) or for helping to relax an animal that is in labor and help to manually deliver the offspring.
Can we combine these two ideas? Absolutely. An epidural can be done for these lumbosacral patients with cortisone to provide anti-inflammatory action and pain relief. We need to rule out infection first, and ideally have a CT scan or MRI to rule out cancer or other causes. Where do I use this? When my oral medications are maxed out, the pet is still in pain, or for any number of reasons a pet cannot take certain oral medications.
For those of you thinking “wait, I had an epidural and I was awake for it, will my dog be awake?” The answer is no. While some dogs are excellent about holding still, it is not safe to do this procedure awake. It may require general anesthesia, but often can be done under heavy sedation. Their fur in the area will need to be clipped away, and a long needle is placed between the last lumbar vertebrae and the first sacral vertebrae. The cortisone is then injected around the spinal cord in the epidural space.
In my practice, we do this on an outpatient basis with the dog going home the same day. I use either triamcinolone or methylprednisolone, both of which are long acting steroids, as these have been shown to be most effective in the human literature. The dog goes home with specific instructions and restrictions and I see them back in one week. We then institute a combination of home exercises and outpatient rehab sessions to build muscle and strength.
90% of the dogs I have done this for improved in 7 days, and 100% are improved in 2 weeks. Some we are doing just for pain relief and others because they have trouble moving their legs.
How long will this last? This depends on the type of cortisone used. I had one dog that needed a repeat injection at 6 months. The others are doing well on one injection (approaching or exceeding one year).
Are there side effects/risks? With any procedure, there is always risk, but I do my best to minimize that. Blood and urine tests help to rule out other causes. Sedation is short and reversible, so that minimizes risk there. Infection is always a risk, but we do this under a sterile environment. The cortisone is confined to the epidural space, but some can get systemically absorbed. For those cases the dog may drink or urinate more for a few days, and will need to be off their NSAID for a period before and after their procedure.
So, what about those patients I talked about at the beginning? All but two are still alive and doing well. Fritz and Bailey were both over 13 years when I did their injections, and while they improved, their other mobility and health issues ultimately caught up with them. But during the time they had left, they were very comfortable. So, I’m pleased with that outcome. Yosh had an epidural and then months later herniated a disk in a different area that required surgery, I am pleased to report he is doing very well. The other patients are up and moving, and I hope that continues to be their story.
If you have questions, or think your pet may benefit from this or other procedures, please discuss it with your veterinarian or contact me.