Veterinary medicine has been keeping up with state-of-the-art human medicine, and there are many regenerative therapies available to target serious medical problems along with various technologies to enhance health awareness. The collective goals are to reduce physical pain and suffering, and thus improve feline well-being so that cats can live their best lives. Here are ways that science and technology can help cats in all life stages.
STEM CELL REGENERATIVE MEDICINE
“Regenerative medicine is an innovative branch of medicine that uses stem cells and tissue engineering to develop novel therapeutics to repair or replace diseased organs, tissues or cells,” explains Dr. Boaz Arzi, professor of dentistry and oral surgery and the director of the Veterinary Institute for Regenerative Cures (VIRC) at the University of California, Davis.
“Harnessing the various aspects of regenerative medicine, we can now attempt to treat disorders that were previously regarded as non-curable or untreatable, and offer exciting possibilities for development of future therapies,” he adds.
In the feline world, stem-cell treatments can be used to treat with the goal of curing painful issues such as feline chronic gingivostomatitis (FCGS), kidney disease and osteoarthritis, sadly all very common in cats worldwide.
The cure for feline chronic gingivostomatitis. Professor Arzi, with his extensive research team, has been conducting trials to find a cure for FCGS since 2013 and has had great success.
“Feline chronic gingivostomatitis is a naturally occurring, immune-mediated oral mucosal disease potentially triggered by a viral etiology such as feline calicivirus,” he explains. “It results in painful inflammatory mucosal lesions that markedly affect quality of life and often requires long-term immunosuppressive therapy (steroids) in cats that don’t respond to dental extractions therapy.”
One of the cats enrolled in Arzi’s initial trials was 12 years old at the time and suffering badly from FCGS. Once given stem cell therapy, he lived pain-free and was cured of the disease until he was 20 years old.
Harvesting stem cells. Currently, mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are the most common type used in veterinary treatments and can be harvested from bone marrow or organ material removed during a regular spay and neuter procedure. Stem cells can also be harvested from fat, known as adipose-derived stem cells. Cells harvested from fat are considered heterogeneous cells — a mixture of cells with many functions and, hence, can be used in many different applications.
In order to safely collect and transport the harvested fat, a stem cell laboratory provides a kit to the pet’s veterinarian, which includes an insulated shipper, ice pack, sample transport tubes (for the fat) and all the needed paperwork and shipping labels. The stem cells to be used in the animal are created in the laboratory and shipped back to the pet’s veterinarian under very stringent conditions to be injected in the appropriate site.
Storing stem cells. Cat parents have an option to store their own pet’s stem cells harvested at the time of a spay or neuter and keep them frozen should they ever be needed in the future. A company called Gallant has specialized in the banking of stem cells for the lifetime of a pet and making 10 doses available on demand. The procedure can be paid monthly, annually or a once-off lifetime charge. Learn more at gallant.com/pricing.
Off-the-shelf stem cell treatments. Advancements in science have now led Gallant to obtain a license to manufacture FDA-approved allogeneic “off-the-shelf” cellular therapies.
Off-the-shelf means the doses are manufactured in bulk, like a drug in a bottle, and the veterinarian can buy any number of doses and store them at his or her clinic for when a cat comes in that may need it, explains Dr. Linda Black, who is Gallant’s chief executive officer. Get more information at gallant therapeutics.com.
The product for stomatitis is scheduled to be available in 2024, and the stem-cell treatment for kidney disease will follow in 2025. This will also drastically reduce the costs of stem-cell treatments to the $300 to $500 price bracket. Currently, apart from the harvesting process, some veterinarians are charging thousands. It’s an open market.
PLATELET – RICH PLASMA THERAPY
Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections involve drawing tubes of the cat’s own blood and running it through a centrifuge to concentrate the platelets. These activated platelets are then injected directly into the injured or diseased body tissue. This releases growth factors that stimulate and increase the number of reparative cells the body produces. This treatment is used for osteoarthritis.
PULSED ELECTRO-MAGNETIC FIELD (PEMF) THERAPY
This non-invasive treatment essentially pulses an electromagnetic field into tissues via inductive coils to help with healing, reducing inflammation and pain.
“PEMF therapy can help with any process that causes pain or inflammation. Common uses include for post-surgical patients, especially after orthopedic or neurological surgery, and patients receiving physical rehabilitation,” explains Katie Krebs, DVM, DAB-VP clinical instructor, at the Community Practice at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine in Blacksburg, Virginia, who is currently involved in research studies to explore the benefits of this therapy.
Dr. Krebs and her team are also looking at using at-home devices for the treatment of arthritis in cats. “Cats do best when they’re in a non-stressful environment, such as at home, and these devices tend to be easy for pet parents to use,” she says.
“As far as PEMF devices go, there are a few veterinary products that are available for animals, but none have been tested specifically in cats, which is what the study is investigating. For anyone looking to purchase one for home use, it’s probably best to consider a veterinary device,” Dr. Krebs suggests. “At the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, we use units manufactured/sold by Assisi Animal Health.”
DNA kits can identify a cat’s genetic makeup and thus shed important light on a cat’s temperament and personality. This is important in having a better understanding of the cat in your home and how she may react to other pets and people in the household. Also, they are able to identify hereditary genetic health conditions.
The Basepaws Breed + Health DNA Kit now provides results for over 43 genetic conditions represented by 64 health markers, including a new marker for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), the most common form of heart disease in cats. And it includes genetic markers for blood type. There are three different feline blood types, and certain blood types can be more common in some breeds and less common in others.
The kit screens for 25 genetic traits that are represented by 50 genetic markers. The traits section of the digital report presents a summary of some of the genes and mutations that are responsible for a cat’s unique physical appearance. It also includes results for a non-aesthetic trait that is important to a cat’s health being the likelihood of resistance to the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV).
“The Basepaws Oral Health Test is a one-of-a-kind screening tool that tells you if there are signs of active dental disease in your cat. The test can identify (at the time of testing) for common issues such as bad breath (halitosis), tooth resorption and periodontal disease,” explains Rowyn C. Rose, science communications specialist for Basepaws.
Dental diseases, especially in the early stages, can be very difficult to see with the naked eye. The Basepaws cat oral health test is the first of its kind to let you “see the unseen” by identifying active signs of dental disease in your cat’s mouth so you can get them the help and relief they need sooner.
Similarly, Dr. Krebs says laser therapy for cats is something routinely done in veterinary clinics.
“Laser therapy is a really good alternative to PEMF for cats with osteoarthritis” Dr. Krebs says. “Laser uses light that penetrates into the tissues to help decrease inflammation and pain and aid with healing. Most lasers that are going to be effective for helping healing in pets are for use by veterinarians only. And again, if a pet owner wants to invest in an at-home device, they should talk to their veterinarian and be instructed on the proper use and safety of lasers,” she adds. “This treatment is a lot harder for owners to do at home because the units are very expensive and have to be set to properly address the cat’s underlying condition.”
Kitty is also going to need protective eyewear for such treatments.
FOOD & ENVIRONMENT INTOLERANCE TESTS
There are also DNA-based tests that can help identify any food or environmental triggers that may be affecting your pet’s general health and well-being.
The General Health Assessment Test from 5 Strands includes two tests: The Pet Food Intolerance Test and the Pet Environmental Intolerance Test. The Pet Food Intolerance Test covers proteins, grains, vegetables, fruits, additives and preservatives that may be found in a commercial pet food-based diet. Of the 275-plus items tested, the results will show how the pet’s hair sample responded upon exposure to each item tested. The level of severity is provided in the results, which can also be downloaded on the 5Strands mobile app.
The Pet Environmental Intolerance Test covers fabrics, cleaning supplies, grasses, trees, mold, dust mites and other animal dander. Understanding your pet’s environmental triggers can help you adapt or modify your pet’s lifestyle. Such knowledge is very useful to a cat’s veterinarian to keep on file.
TECHNOLOGY BOOSTS FOR GOOD HEALTH
Technology is now everywhere, operating food bowls, helping to weigh correct food amounts to combat obesity. Also, there’s a variety of health apps to track your pet’s activity levels offering a window on your pet’s world so that you can see if they suddenly aren’t as active as usual.
Pet parents are well aware that the litter box can in fact be a mine of information about a pet’s health. Are they constipated, are they peeing too much? Litters that change color can help indicate that there is an issue present.
Petivity is a smart litter box monitor that can be placed under a litter box and uses artificial intelligence and acquired pet data to track a pet’s behavior in the box and even monitor their weight, all indicators of good general health and well-being. Changes in the litter box activity can also indicate urinary tract issues, kidney problems and diabetes. The device works with a smartphone app and send alerts so that pet parents don’t miss a thing. No collar or chip required, as the mobile app can sync and monitor multiple cats.
The Felaqua Connect is a unique water bowl with a water reservoir that works in conjunction with an app to track how much and how often a cat drinks water. It operates on a cat’s unique ID microchip and thus can be programed for multi-cat households, too.
If your cat has special health considerations, monitoring her fluid intake can be important.
Keeping track of your pet’s health at home and then sharing that information with your pet’s veterinarian goes a long way in improving a feline’s general health and wellness, allowing her to live a happy life.