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Stem cell treatment alleviates giraffe’s arthritis



Liza Dadone, DVM, head veterinarian at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is a big believer in innovation and thinking outside the box, especially when it comes to the care of aging animals. Large animals like giraffe are susceptible to arthritis, largely stemming from their sheer size. Like all animals (humans included), these issues are exacerbated as they age.

“So much of it just relates to the pure mechanics of weighing a ton,” Dr. Dadone said. “So we’re doing as many things as we can to implement innovation in their home so they have minimal wear and tear on their joints.”

That innovation includes the installation of rubberized flooring throughout the giraffe barn, which is much easier on aging giraffe joints than their previous flooring. It also includes the development of an extensive hoof care program that includes regular monitoring and trimming, special “sneakers” for those with severe cases of arthritis, dietary supplements and, in the case of Mahali, a 14-year-old male, stem cell treatments.

Mahali suffers from chronic arthritis and had not been moving well, despite a number of medications and additional treatments. That led Dr. Dadone and her team to try an approach that has been successful in treating horses, but had never been applied to a giraffe before. She treated Mahali with an injection of about 100 million stem cells grown by researchers at the Colorado State University veterinary program

A month later, Dr. Dadone, reported, “Prior to the procedure, [Mahali] was favoring his left front leg and would lift that foot off the ground almost each minute. During the immobilization, we did multiple treatments that included hoof trims, stem cell therapy and other medications. Since then, Mahali seems much more comfortable and has resumed cooperating for hoof care. Thermography confirms he now has much less inflammation in his leg since the treatments. Based on this, he has now returned to life with his herd, including yard access.”

Dr. Dadone said she is not sure if Mahali’s results are simply due to the stem cell therapy or are a combination of different treatments, but she’s pleased and assured his quality of life has dramatically improved.

Next up, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo giraffe team wants to continue to study giraffe hooves and ways to improve hoof treatment and arthritis. Later this year, part of the team will go to Africa to help with giraffe conservation and concurrently study how wild giraffe feet compare with the feet of our giraffe. Our hope is that this helps us find ways to further improve foot health for zoo giraffe around the world.

Thermograms show Mahali’s left front leg one day before (top) and three weeks after (bottom) stem cell therapy, hoof trims and other treatments. Marked inflammation along the left metacarpal bone, improved two weeks after treatment. Image courtesy of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

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