Veterinarians at Rome's zoo treated an elderly lion for arthritis by inserting some 50 gold pellets into the animal's muscles, officials said Wednesday.

The Asian lion, named Bellamy, had difficulty walking until the procedure two weeks ago in which 24-karat gold pellets were inserted into his spinal muscles near the joints, said the zoo's chief veterinarian, Klaus Gunther Friedrich.

He said the gold helps to relieve muscle contraction around painful areas.

The technique has been used before on dogs, cats and a tiger, but Friedrich said Bellamy was believed to be the first lion to undergo the treatment.

Friedrich said he did not believe the small amount of gold used was worth much.

"The lion is getting old. If we hadn't intervened, the situation would have got worse," crippling the lion's mobility, Friedrich said.

Bellamy is nearly 13 years old, Rome's Bioparco zoo said. Life expectancy in the wild is around 16 years, but it can be longer for lions in captivity.

After the 3½-hour operation, Bellamy appeared a little weak and shaky, but was able to walk. Small dots along his back indicate where the injections were made.

"I think he lost his pain now. Obviously, I can't ask him but I can observe him and it looks like the pain is absolutely reduced. It's a great result," Friedrich said.