The Zachary Animal Center is the only Louisiana practice working in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study to show the effectiveness of stem cells in treating dogs with arthritis. And right now, it only has one dog with arthritis at Zachary practice qualified and signed up for the trial. 

Scott Buzhardt, one of the veterinarians at Zachary Animal Center, is eager to sign up more large arthritic dogs that may be helped by the study. This ongoing study has about 40 participants nationally, but there is room for 40 more.

The national study, from San Diego-based Animal Cell Therapies focuses on the use of stem cells in treating large dogs weighing 70 pounds or more that have arthritis in up to two joints of the knee, hip, elbow or shoulder.

Zachary Animal Center was involved in a similar clinical trial study about two years ago, but it did not have a weight requirement for canines. Buzhardt said this trial is a follow up to the initial study but with larger dogs only.

“We are just working with big dogs — 70 pounds or more,” Buzhardt said. “That includes Labradors, German shepherds, Great Danes, golden retrievers — and, of course, Great Pyrenees dogs — and others. This office has a history of being involved in studies like these — for about 30 years now.” Buzhardt was examining a Great Pyrenees at the time of the interview.

“We need studies like this because, just like humans, dogs are living longer than ever,” Buzhardt said. “And a lot of them are bigger than they were, obese, due to overeating or not exercising. That leads to joint issues, usually in the knees and hip areas more commonly. When the dog participant gets the injection, the owner doesn’t know whether it’s the medicine or a placebo.”

Participants qualifying for the project will receive study related medical services free. That may include X-rays, blood work, an exam or other services, as well as a box of dog treats and toys upon completion, a news release said.

The one dog in Louisiana participating in the study is an 11-year-old Labrador named Gracie. Her Zachary owner Shelley Boyd took her to Zachary Animal Center when she thought Gracie did not feel well.

"I noticed she was showing maybe pain in her feet or legs. She would scoot her back feet on the wood floors rather than use them, and she quit jumping on the bed. So I thought something was going on," Boyd said.

She was correct, and according to Buzhardt's X-rays, Gracie had arthritis. So Boyd decided to enroll Gracie in the clinical trial study. "First of all, it was because of the cost," she said. "It's free. I needed the X-rays and procedures necessary for the study anyway because I needed to find out what was happening to my dog. And this will help future pups."

Owners of participating dogs will not know if their dog receives the injection of stem cells or just a placebo, the veterinarian said.

Dogs that qualify for the study participate by visiting the Zachary office three times: first for screening, second for the injection and a follow-up exam a month later, a news release said.

While Zachary Animal Center offers regular vet services, Buzhardt said research is “a big chunk of what we do. These clinical trials are an opportunity for owners to have their pets treated when it may not be affordable for them to do so.”

In this clinical trial, Animal Cell Therapies developed an injectable stem cell that is being tested. The owner has to ensure the pet comes in for the timely follow-up visit and fill out a questionnaire. CEO and founder Kathy Petrucci said the company has done similar studies in the past.

This time, the clinical trial is more specific to larger dogs with arthritis with an adjusted dosage. She said stem cells, extracted from donated dog placenta or umbilical cords, may help with fighting a disease and sometimes reinvigorating the cartilage.

Dogs sometimes cannot tolerate steroids and other treatments, like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, Petrucci said.

“This may be a longer term way of treating the issue rather than just giving them a pill every day,” she said. “In the past, we’ve found stem cells may help with reducing swelling and creating good cells in the joints. But we need healthy dogs, or there might be other concerns. That’s why a prestudy exam is so important.”

Screening can be done online at dogstemcellstudy.com or via the vet clinic, 19700 Old Scenic Highway. Call Zachary Animal Center at (225) 654-2649 or visit its website at zacharyanimalcenter.com.