Apr 9, 2021

Can VetStem Cell Therapy Help Canine Atopic Dermatitis?

There are a multitude of diseases outside of orthopedic conditions for which treatment with stem cells has been successful, while others do not respond as well. At VetStem, we work with veterinarians and their pet owners on a case-by-case basis to determine if stem cell therapy may be a viable treatment option. Oftentimes, these patients have diseases that are challenging to treat or current standard therapies are lacking in clinical data. One of these diseases is canine atopic dermatitis (also known as allergic dermatitis or atopy).

What is Canine Atopic Dermatitis?

Canine Atopic Dermatitis (CAD) is what most dog owners call “allergies.” The primary symptom is itchiness, usually in the feet, face, ears, armpits, front legs, and/or abdomen. Scratching and licking can lead to hair loss, hotspots or other irritations, skin thickening and more. Secondary skin infections and/or ear infections can develop and make symptoms worse.

CAD is a genetic disease that predisposes a dog to certain allergen sensitivities. The allergen(s) are environmental such as pollens, molds, dust mites, dander from other animals (yes, even human dander) or normal skin organisms. While there is still much to learn about CAD disease, we have learned that atopic dermatitis occurs due to a skin barrier defect, which allows allergens to absorb deeper into the skin where the immune system can access them. Thus, when an atopic dog comes into contact with the offending allergen(s), their body creates a skewed immune response leading to an allergic reaction. It is worth mentioning that the symptoms of CAD are very similar to those caused by food allergies or flea allergies and some patients may be affected by more than one condition. Your veterinarian is your best resource for determining if CAD is the cause of your dog’s itchiness.

Traditional Treatments for CAD

In an ideal world, allergic dogs would avoid the allergens they are sensitive to, but CAD allergens are often airborne and thus, even staying indoors does not eliminate exposure. Frequent bathing is helpful in removing the allergens from the skin and allergy desensitization injections can be tailored to each dog after extensive allergy testing is performed, however both of these treatments require much time and effort that some families may not be able to accommodate. While more innovative treatments have been developed in recent years such as oral medications or canine antibody injections, truly effective treatment options remain limited, may be expensive, and do not cure the condition but rather control the “itchiness” symptom. CAD is a lifelong disease that will require lifelong management.

Stem Cells for CAD – Mechanisms of Action

One tool that stem cells utilize is immunomodulation, or the ability to modify the immune response. Since there is an immune component to atopic dermatitis, it is theorized that stem cells can down-regulate a dog’s immune response and therefore, his/her body may not overreact to specific allergens and he/she will not become overly itchy.

Stem Cells for CAD – The Research is Limited

There are very few studies on the use of adipose derived stem cells to treat canine atopic dermatitis. And the two most relevant studies reached conflicting results. While one study showed no significant improvement of clinical signs or symptoms, the second study showed significant improvement. In addition, results from the second study lasted for at least six months. Because studies are limited, we can not say for certain that stem cells improve symptoms in dogs with atopic dermatitis.

What about anecdotal evidence?

Multiple veterinarians have utilized VetStem Cell Therapy for atopy in both dogs and cats. Some veterinarians have reported an improvement in symptoms after treatment with stem cells. In some cases, patients have required less allergy medication than before stem cell therapy. That being said, some patients have not experienced improvement in symptoms. So, while we can’t say that stem cells will help every dog with atopic dermatitis, we do believe that some benefit from treatment with VetStem Cell Therapy based on the responses reported from the veterinarians and owners who have implemented it.  

As always, it is important to note that each patient is different and therefore some may not respond at all to stem cell therapy. If you think your allergic dog may benefit from treatment with VetStem Cell Therapy, speak to your veterinarian or contact us to find a VetStem provider in your area.