Feline stomatitis, commonly referred to as gingivostomatitis is a painful inflammation of a cat's gums and the back of the mouth. As the condition progresses, affected cats find it hard to eat and swallow, and may suffer from damage to their teeth. Stomatitis results in a severely diminished quality of life for pets as well as immense frustration for their pet parents.
The cause of stomatitis isn't clear. Many affected cats have been exposed to herpesvirus or calicivirus. However, it seems like it's predominantly an immune-mediated disease with the cat's immune system reacting to the plaque on their teeth.
There are a number of treatment options for cats with stomatitis, including antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medication, and regular dental care to keep the teeth free from plaque. Pet parents need to maintain teeth hygiene at home with chlorhexidine washes and frequent brushing of their pet's teeth. If the response isn't satisfactory, the next step in the treatment of this condition is to remove all of the cat's teeth. In spite of these efforts, gingivitis can become chronic and is very difficult to manage.
A veterinary team from the University of California, Davis, has been exploring the use of stem cell therapy in treating feline gingivitis. Stem cells have the ability to differentiate into a number of cell types. This gives them anti-inflammatory and healing properties and allows them to regenerate damaged tissues.
Bob, a fourteen-year-old domestic cat, had been through all known therapies for gingivitis, including a full mouth extraction. Bob didn't respond well and was still suffering with painful gums. As a last resort, Bob was treated with stem cells harvested from his own body fat. These cells were injected intravenously and they worked quickly to reduce oral inflammation and pain. Bob had two stem cell treatments and returned to the veterinary teaching hospital for monthly check-ups. By his three-month check-up, Bob was free of all signs of gingivitis.
This success led to scientists performing further studies involving seven cats with severe gingivitis. Five of the seven responded very well with complete remission or significant improvement of their symptoms. Scientists aren't sure why two of the study participants didn't improve with stem cell therapy, but the results so far suggest it's a treatment option that warrants further investigation.
There aren't many disadvantages to treating a cat with their own stem cells. The most significant risk is the development of blood clots within 72 hours of the intravenous injection of the stem cells. For this reason, cats should be hospitalized for three days after each treatment so they can be closely monitored.
Stem cell therapy appears to be a safe and effective way to treat painful gingivitis in cats. Side effects are rare and outcomes are good. Studies into this method of treating cats with gingivitis may also provide valuable information into how it can be used to treat people with oral inflammatory diseases.