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Fall 1998

Research Magazine > ARCHIVE > Fall 98 > Article

Rx for Rex
By Dawn T. Pick

Steve Budsberg's patients can't tell him where it hurts, and until recently, he could only guess at how well his convalescing canines were doing after they underwent total hip replacement surgery.

"In the past, veterinarians had to subjectively measure whether their patients were doing well," said Budsberg, a UGA professor of small animal medicine. "But how did they really know that the dog was doing well? Their observations tended to be very biased."

To help answer these questions, Budsberg studies the effects of surgical procedures like total hip replacements in dogs. He assesses the extent of a dog's recovery by measuring the forces that it puts on its limbs and the range of movement of its joints over a period of time after surgery.

To document these improvements, Budsberg uses a force plate that works much like a high-tech bathroom scale to quantify the force applied by the dogs with each footfall. These tests show how much force the animals are willing to put on the ground, giving an objective measurement of their progress, while special cameras document the animals' joint movements.

Budsberg also is using this method to refine his research of the canine gait. He is studying abnormalities in the gaits of dogs by quantifying their responses to medical and surgical interventions and comparing them to the gaits of normal, healthy dogs.

"Dogs are the quintessential model for human hip replacements," Budsberg said. "Hip replacements [in dogs] have been done for years, but people were never able to quantitatively show that they work. We now provide them with the ability to do that."

Budsberg's team - which includes Jon Chambers, a UGA professor of small animal medicine, and current and former surgical residents - also evaluates numerous drugs as potential pain relievers for dogs. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has strongly encouraged drug companies to use Budsberg's testing methods when seeking FDA approval of agents that are reported to stop pain and inflammation such as non-steriodal anti-inflammatory products.

"We test the animal's gait before and after taking a drug, looking at whether the product decreases pain and inflammation, allowing the leg to work better. By doing this, we can show definitively whether the product works," Budsberg said.

Through quantifying the injured dog's movement and comparing it to that of a healthy dog, Budsberg said his team "can detect even small 5 percent improvements." Funded by the Fort Dodge Animal Health company, Budsberg's most recent study of the drug etodolac - used in treatments of osteoarthritis in the hips of dogs - detected improvements as small as 4 percent to 8 percent.

"In the future, if we also can show that joint movements are as reproducible as a dog's gait, we may be able to look at two separate surgical procedures and measure whether one procedure is significantly more effective than the other - whether it brings [the limb's] movement back more toward normal," he said.

For more information, email Steve Budsberg at budsberg@calc.vet.uga.edu or access www.vet.uga.edu/erc/sam/sam.html.


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RX for Rex