PULLMAN, Wash. — Veterinary arthritis researchers in Washington State University’s teaching hospital have launched three concurrent studies and are looking for dogs in need of humane, noninvasive care for arthritis. 

In return, the veterinarians from the Comparative Orthopedic Research Laboratory will pay owners up to $600 and provide free pet food and medications for up to eight months for volunteering their animals.

Arthritis, obesity and hip arthritis

WSU veterinarians are trying to determine the effects of obesity on the clinical expression of arthritis in dogs with chronic hip dysplasia, a common condition in which the hip joints in animals and humans do not form properly.  After years of use, the joint can develop a painful arthritis, the subject of the studies.

In this study, the college will provide compensation for the owners’ time through a graduated payment system.  Owners can receive as much as $300 for participating.  All dogs go home and remain the property of their owners during and after the study.

“Animal owners typically feel a great sense of accomplishment by participating in humane research with their own animals to help develop new methods for pain control associated with arthritis,” explained Dr. Steve Martinez, one of the WSU researchers and a small animal orthopedic surgeon at the college. 

Dogs must weigh between 33 and 99 pounds and be at least 10 pounds overweight to be accepted in the study.  The dogs will be divided into two groups — Group 1 will be put on a weight-loss diet to reduce body weight to less than 15 percent total body fat, and Group 2 will be fed a standard maintenance diet, keeping body weight at the same level as when the dogs enter the study.  All food will be provided by the college.

Each prospective dog will be prescreened during the first visit to determine if it is a suitable candidate.  If the dog is enrolled, a veterinarian will evaluate the dog for lameness during each visit to WSU.

Prescreening tests include a complete physical examination; blood work requiring the drawing of a blood sample, a urinalysis, X-rays and a noninvasive bone density analysis through special scanning used with humans. Additionally, each dog will be walked across a force plate to measure the pressure of each stride.

“These tests and this study are noninvasive, except for the blood drawing which most of us have experienced sometime in our life,” said Martinez. 

A WSU veterinarian will evaluate all prescreening laboratory results to determine if client animals can be safely sedated and whether there is X-ray evidence of mild to severe arthritis in the dog’s hips.

“A short-acting general anesthetic or sedation will be used to keep the animals completely still during the routine X-rays and bone density evaluation,” said Martinez.  “This is the same procedure used to obtain radiographs on dogs for virtually any reason in normal veterinary practice.  Unlike people, we can’t ask an animal to hold still on a table.”

After a successful prescreening and acceptance into the program, dogs will return to WSU for two more follow-up visits at four and six months. At each subsequent visit, dogs will receive another lameness evaluation, force plate evaluation and bone density scanning. 

During the study, owners must be sure to make their scheduled appointments in Pullman. They also must fill out questionnaires at each visit, provide weekly visits to the dog’s local veterinarian for an approved weigh-in, complete weekly activity reports on the animal and feed only the recommended amount of food provided. Owners also must refrain from giving the dog any drugs or supplements unless authorized in the study.  If necessary, local veterinarians can treat any medical emergencies that may arise during the course of the study.

At the end of the six-month study, no further involvement is required of the patient or client.

New drugs for joint pain evaluated

In this study, dogs with arthritis of the hip, elbow or knee joints will be assigned to two groups to compare the effectiveness of two new anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving medications.

“The study will be conducted in such a way that neither the owners nor the scientists will know which medication the dog is receiving until after the study is concluded,” explained Martinez.

Dogs will be enrolled in the study for 28 days plus a one-day prescreening appointment, which is used to determine the dog’s eligibility for study and includes a health history, complete physical examination, and a lameness and pain score evaluation. A blood work-up to ensure safety during sedation will follow. Dogs that qualify will be sedated, and the affected joint will be X-rayed to ensure it has arthritis that can be treated with the new medications.

Owners will be required to bring their dogs back to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital for re-evaluation on days 14 and 28 of the study. At the successful completion of the study, owners will be paid a $300 honorarium.

Feeding trial to reduce the expression of arthritis

The third study underway at WSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital is designed to show whether or not a change in diet without weight loss can alleviate the symptoms of arthritis in dogs. The honorarium to owners is up to $600 and free food for this 32-week study.

Prospective dogs for the study can have been diagnosed with a number of conditions, including lameness, morning stiffness, disuse atrophy, decreased range of motion in a joint, joint sounds or other types of arthritic conditions.  Joints that have been operated on in the past, been injured or have simply become arthritic due to age will all qualify an animal.

Before dogs can be considered they must be off all medications with steroids and nutritional supplements for arthritis for at least 30 days before the first appointment.  Prospective dogs must not have received anti-inflammatory drugs like Rimadyl for at least 10 days.

As in the two studies detailed above, there will be a complete physical and clinical prescreening with X-rays performed on dogs prior to acceptance into the program.  Each dog also will have a patch of hair shaved off its coat measuring 1.5 inches square.

Clients will be required to bring their dogs back in for re-evaluation seven more times at weeks 8, 12, 16, 20, 24, 28 and 32.  During four of those visits, the dog will be sedated and have a skin biopsy taken (measuring less than size of a pea), have joint fluid withdrawn with a needle for evaluation, and have a bone density scan.

Clients will need to weigh in their pets with local veterinarians each week.  The dogs in the study can only be fed the food provided by WSU during the study.

Like the previous studies, the dogs will live at home and remain the property of their owners.

For complete information or to set up a prescreening appointment, contact Dr. Michelle Powers or Cara Temple at (800) 498-9459 or (509) 335-7747. The laboratory can be reached by e-mail at CORL@vetmed.wsu.edu.