Dogged by Pain: Experimental treatment hopes to relieve dog arthritis

ZACHARY, LA (WAFB) - At nearly 11-years-old, Shadeaux the Labrador is as playful and energetic as a puppy. A retired hunting competition dog, she can't resist chasing after her favorite toy with her owner, Pam Flotte. However, just a few months ago, Shadeaux was barely getting around using just three legs.

"I could tell she was having some difficulty and knew it was arthritis. It was progressively getting worse," said Flotte.

Arthritis is one of the most common ailments in dogs, according to veterinarian Dr. Lynn Buzhardt.

Buzhardt, who is with the Zachary Animal Center, explains that just like their human counterparts, dogs experience aging joints. Right now, the only way to treat arthritis in dogs is with medication. However, according to Buzhardt, long term use can lead to kidney damage and other problems. That's why the Zachary Animal Center is participating in a nationwide clinical trial that uses stem cells to treat arthritis.

"We're injecting stem cells into dogs' joints and determining whether we see an improvement," said veterinarian Dr. Scott Buzhardt.

Stem cells are immature cells that have the ability to develop into several different types of cells. According to the company behind the clinical trial, "Animal Cell Therapies uses adult stem cells from umbilical cord tissue, which is donated by pet owners. This tissue would otherwise be discarded. From that tissue, ACT develops pure doses of mesenchymal stem cells, which are cells that not only are involved in many types of tissue repair, but also secrete important proteins needed for the body to repair itself."

Flotte eagerly signed Shadeaux up for the trial, which involves the injections and several follow up exams. "I wanted her to be comfortable. She's my heart and soul," said Flotte.

The trial is a double blind study. That means neither the doctors or the staff, nor the owners know which dogs receive the stem cells and which receive a placebo. However, any patients who receive the placebo can get the stem cell treatment once the trial is completed. The center expects to continue accepting participants for the trial for a few more weeks, but in order to qualify, the dog must meet certain, strict criteria.

The veterinarians at Zachary Animal Center believe this new method holds huge potential. "Not only to make the dog feel better right away, decreasing the inflammatory process, we hope to make him feel better in the long run by actually improving the components of his joints," said Buzhardt.

Flotte believes the change in Shadeaux speaks volumes. "I took her out with the other dogs for the first time and she swam and swam and ran and just I cried watching her," said Flotte. "She was so happy and it made me so happy."

For more information on the trial or to find a trial accepting dogs near you, click here.

Copyright 2017 WAFB. All rights reserved.