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DENVER (CBS) – As dogs age, 80 percent of them will develop arthritis. Now, a new national study is looking at stem cells as a treatment.

“I think it’s really ingenious because they do it in the NFL. They do it in horses, so why not dogs?” veterinarian Dr. Analisa Schilling said.

So far, an animal hospital on Colorado has screened about 50 dogs and enrolled 20 in the study. Dogs have to have osteoarthritis in up to two joints, but be in otherwise good health. Owners have to agree to bring the dog for follow up visits, and keep a daily log.

“I actually have a range of dogs from as young as 2 years to age 16,” said Angela Vogt, study coordinator.

The stems cells come from the umbilical cords of puppies. They’re processed into an injection by a San Diego company, Animal Cell Therapies. The hope is that a single injection will help with inflammation, help the environment of the hip, and help the immune system. This is a pilot study, but will go toward FDA-approval of the treatment.

“I really hope that with this study we’re able to see if it actually benefits, and it will be another tool we can add to our tool kit to treat arthritis,” Schilling said.

LINK: Information About the Dog Stem Cell Study

Right now, veterinarians use a mix of lasers, acupuncture and medications to treat arthritis, and some of those treatments come with side effects. The hope is that stem cells will offer significant improvement and less side effects.

“We have so many owners who care about their dogs, and put in so much time, and come in and say, ‘I hate to see my dog in pain.’ It’s heartwarming that we can give them another alternative that may be safer,” Vogt said.

Sawyer Howell is one of those owners. He and his German Shepard, Boone, have been buddies for more than 10 years. Boone has hip dysplasia, which led to osteoarthritis.

“It’s been kind of sad watching him slow down,” Howell said.

He enrolled Boone in the stem cell study, but because the study is a double-blind, placebo-controlled study he doesn’t know if Boone got the stem cells or a placebo.

“He hasn’t gotten any worse,” Howell said.

Boone is one of about 600 dogs nationally who are in the study. Howell looks forward to finding out the final results later this year, so he’ll know whether to pursue further stem cell treatments for Boone.

“Absolutely, anything that can help make him feel better, I’m all for it,” he said.

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