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North Hills Monthly

Pets Now Benefiting from Therapies to Treat Chronic Diseases

Mar 31, 2015 09:54AM ● By Jill Cueni Cohen
Plasma therapy, joint replacements, knee reconstructions, MRIs, radiation and chemotherapy, chiropractic therapy…all of these treatments and more are now available for pets.

According to Dr. John Payne of Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center (PVSEC), many chronic diseases that affect humans—such as cancer, diabetes, osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease—can also affect dogs and cats. “I think people nowadays are more aware of chronic diseases,” said Payne, noting that there is usually another disease process or injury that has led to most chronic conditions.

A specialist in orthopedic surgery and osteoarthritis, Dr. Payne said that there are a variety of therapies now available for dogs that can help manage pain, and in some cases, alleviate osteoarthritis altogether. “Osteoarthritis has always been a common disease, but there’s more that we can do,” he said, observing that people seem to value their pets more now than they did in the past. “People consider their pets very important and want these technologies and are willing to pay for them. There’s a much greater availability of diagnostic and treatment options as a result.”

He explained that dogs normally don’t get old-age wear-and-tear arthritis the way that people do. “There’s always a reason for it,” he said. “There was an injury or some sort of dysplasia that specifically affected the joints. Such an injury will make arthritis a likely problem in the future.”

Doctors who work at PVSEC only take referrals because their equipment is specialized to treat specific conditions. “We have a high-field MRI scanner which uses the same 1.5 Tesla magnet that is used in hospitals,” Dr. Payne said, noting that the practice is also equipped to treat spinal cord disease. “We do hip replacements on dogs 40 pounds and over to treat hip dysplasia, which makes the dogs virtually pain-free. It is cutting edge, and you’ll only see that in a big hospital.”

One area that has exploded in this field is minimally invasive surgery using arthroscopic and laparoscopic technology. “There’s less pain and a faster recovery,” explained Dr. Payne, who has been using this adjunctive therapy—mostly on large-breed dogs—as an alternative to conventional surgery.

Anesthesia has also become safer because of more sophisticated monitoring equipment, and unexplained complications are quite rare these days. “We can see the animal’s metabolic state or depth of anesthesia,” Dr. Payne said, noting that medications have been improved over the past 30 years. “We also have an anesthesiologist, which makes it much safer.”

An alternative to surgery altogether, platelet-rich plasma therapy, consisting of concentrated platelets being injected into the joint to take advantage of platelet-derived growth factor, is a newer method of treating canine osteoarthritis.

As a Certified Veterinary Chiropractor, Dr. Michael Savko’s goal is to avoid or reduce surgical procedures and drugs altogether. At the Suburban Animal Clinic in Butler, he makes animals more comfortable through a variety of techniques, including muscle work and acupressure. “Chronic ailments like diabetes and cancer are difficult to get a handle on because there’s a disease process attacking the body,” he explained, noting that the objective is to manage an incurable disease in a way that makes the animal more comfortable. In some instances, he is even able to restore function.

“In some cases, we can either resolve the problem or make the animal as good as it can possibly be,” he said, recalling a recent terminal patient. “A cat had one of the worst cases of skin cancer I’ve ever treated and was going through chemo. I was able to make that animal more comfortable and social. This allowed the owner to have more peace with the situation. The cat died after nine months, but it passed away gently.

“My treatment finds areas of the nervous system not working right and makes them work better,” he added, noting that the nervous system is responsible for pain and function. “If you have cancer, stimulating the nervous system to heal helps the body to fight back.”

As an adjunctive therapy, Dr. Savko said that he makes it possible for pets to live with terminal conditions as well as they possibly can. “You can give them a better quality of life, and having extra time to process the loss of a pet makes it a lot easier for the owner, too.”

Organic conditions, such as ear and eye infections, can also be treated successfully, said Dr. Savko, noting that conventional treatments may have side effects that can cause more stress to a sick animal’s system. “The disease process will affect animals by stressing their bodies and minds,” he explained, adding that chiropractic treatments can help medications work better. “If I remove blockages, it should make the medical treatment used to manage the disease more effective. I allow the body to function at its highest capacity.”