Question: My four-year-old Labrador, Digby, has just been diagnosed with mild hip dysplasia. Are there any alternative therapies that can help?
C.L., via email
Answer: Hip dysplasia is a common problem in dogs. In fact, it's thought to be the most common cause of canine osteoarthritis of the hips. The hallmark of the condition is the abnormal formation of the hip socket and the structures that make up the hip joint, which, in its more severe form, can ultimately lead to crippling lameness and painful osteoarthritis of the hip joints.
Large and giant breeds, such as Newfoundlands, Mastiffs, German shepherds, Labradors, Golden retrievers, Rottweilers and large hounds, are more likely to be affected. But some small breeds like Pugs, Bassett hounds and Bulldogs can also suffer from the condition.
Hip dysplasia is primarily a hereditary condition, but there is some debate as to what role environmental and man-made influences play. 'Over-nutrition,' which can lead to rapid growth and obesity, too much exercise too young, like jogging with a puppy under one year old, or over-exertion or injury to the hip joint at a young age, can all contribute to the development of hip dysplasia.
Signs and symptoms
The only definite way to confirm a diagnosis of hip dysplasia is with X-rays, but there are certain signs and symptoms to look out for.
If there is major hip dysplasia, then pups can show signs from as early as five to 10 months of age. They will bunny hop like a rabbit, need to rest soon after exercise and hesitate to get up quickly after play, instead sitting on their haunches with one or both legs splayed outward like a frog. They may also avoid stairs, slopes and jumping, and carry their back legs slightly forward so as to rely more on their front legs.
Dogs with very mild dysplasia may not show any symptoms except slight lameness after over-exertion or stiffness first thing in the morning. Even this limping may not start till they are four or five years old. Only dogs with severe hip dysplasia will show pain or limited mobility prior to maturity.
Dogs with severe dysplasia exhibit symptoms ranging from stiffness or soreness after rising from rest, reluctance to exercise, bunny-hopping gait (the legs move together at a run rather than swinging alternately), swaying or wobbly gait, lameness, pain, reluctance to climb stairs or jump up into cars, refusal to stand on the hind legs and sudden dislocation of the hip joint.
Some dogs cry or wince when the hips are touched. In advanced cases, there is wastage of the muscles adjoining the hip and thigh areas.
As different dogs have different body weights, pain thresholds, lifestyles and exercise routines, there is a lot of variation in symptoms. Some dogs with hip dysplasia start showing signs early on, while others with the same degree of disease will have no symptoms. Each dog is unique in its capacity to adapt and live with hip dysplasia.
There's no complete cure for hip dysplasia, so treatment focuses on alleviating the symptoms and providing a good quality of life for the dog. The usual treatments are:
• Enforced rest or exercise control. Rest is crucial, especially when there are episodes like dislocations and when the arthritis is severe. Resting means there's a reduction in the wear and tear of the hips.
• Mild analgesics or painkillers. Hip dysplasia can be very painful, depending on the extent of arthritis in the joint, so dogs may be prescribed painkillers like tramadol or codeine.
• Anti-inflammatory drugs. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as meloxicam, carprofen and rubenocoxib are often prescribed to reduce pain and inflammation.
• Surgery. There are various surgical procedures available to dogs with hip dysplasia—depending on the dog's age, weight and the severity of the disease—including ones that aim to modify or repair the abnormal hip joint and ones that replace the hip completely. But, as with all surgeries, there are significant risks, so this should only be considered as a last resort.
Complementary and alternative therapies
Diet. Weight control is the single most important thing owners can do to help their dogs' hips. If Digby is overweight, getting him to a healthy weight can make a phenomenal difference to the progression of his hip dysplasia.
A low-calorie prescription diet such as Hill's Reduced-Calorie j/d and Royal Canin Mobility Support can help. Even better, you can give Digby a balanced, homemade diet if you have the time, using fresh, raw food. Ideally, 40 percent of a dog's diet should be free-range or organic meat and fish, and the remaining 60 percent should be made up of vegetables (lightly cooked and raw), grains, unsalted ground-up nuts and seeds, and fruit.
Try to feed Digby twice a day rather than just once. Many dogs can become overweight if fed once a day, as the body's metabolic rate can slow down to compensate for lack of food.
There are plenty of feeding tips, diet advice and recipes in my book, You Can Heal Your Pet, or check out Darwin's Natural Selections Raw Dog Food's convenient, complete and balanced meals made with high-quality raw meat (www.darwinspet.com).
Joint supplements. Certain nutritional supplements can help rebuild cartilage and promote joint lubrication, including glucosamine, chondroitin, omega-3 fatty acids and collagen.
A number of branded combination supplements are also available including Synoquin—a 100 percent natural blend of chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine hydrochloride, Dexahan (a purified form of krill oil that acts as a rich source of omega-3s), zinc and vitamin C—and Cosequin, a combination of chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine and manganese ascorbate. These can be very effective in both advanced and early cases.
Vitamin C. This potent antioxidant may help reduce inflammation and swelling of the tissues surrounding the joint and neutralize the alkalinity of the blood seen in dogs with hip dysplasia.
Bach flower remedies. Bach practitioners recommend using Gentian, Oak and/or Rock Water, depending on whether pain or stiffness is the main complaint. See www.bachcentre.com for a list of Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioners (BFRAPs).
Herbs. Boswellia serrata is a popular herbal remedy for joint pain. Chinese herb AC-Q has also been reported as being useful in arthritis by holistic vet Dr Allan Schoen.
Suggested dosage: 150-200 mg twice a day Boswellia serrata; consult a vet trained in traditional Chinese medicine if you'd like to try Chinese herbs
Homeopathy. Expert homeopathic vet Dr Francis Hunter recommends Rhus Toxicodendron 30C to be taken both short and long term as an excellent arthritis remedy. If lameness is made worse by movement, try alternating Bryonia 6c with Rhus Tox.
In chronic arthritis with bony changes, which is often the case in advanced hip dysplasia, Calcarea Fluorica 30C given twice weekly for six to eight weeks is recommended. Silica 200C may be given twice daily in severe acute cases.
Acupuncture. Acupuncture and acupressure can be used to relieve pain in dogs with hip dysplasia, so it may be worth finding a qualified vet acupuncturist near you. Alternatively, you can give acupressure to your dog yourself by making a three-finger tripod with the thumb, index and middle finger, and using this around the hip bone on 3 acupressure points: BL54, GB29 and GB30, pressing for 30 seconds at a time. See my book You Can Heal Your Pet for more detailed instructions on how to give acupressure to your dog.
Massage. Giving your dog a daily massage can relax tight muscles and relieve pain by increasing circulation. The aim is to massage the muscles, not the bones. Heat massage—applying a hot-water bottle or heat pad wrapped in a thick towel to achy hips for 10 minutes once or twice a day—can also help.
Hands-on healing. Reiki healers like Kathleen Prasad have seen remarkable results with conditions such as arthritic joints in both animals and humans. This type of healing can be an excellent tool in pain management when used with other appropriate healing modalities.
Hip hammocks. These can be useful for dogs suffering from hip dysplasia, allowing them to regain their mobility. Several companies like OrthoPets are designing orthotic and prosthetic solutions to help stiff dogs get moving. Dog hip braces, special harnesses, orthoses and other mobility aids are available. These can be very useful where hip dysplasia has caused severe muscle wastage.
Pressure-reducing orthopedic beds, ramps, car hoists and other aids can also assist dogs with dysplasia and help and alleviate their pain.
Rohini Sathish, DVM, MSC, MRCVS, MHAO, MCIVT
Dr Sathish is an award-winning holistic vet with 22 years of experience. After training in acupuncture, acupressure, energy healing, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), animal communication and herbal medicine, she now actively integrates conventional veterinary treatments with complementary therapies and is co-author of You Can Heal Your Pet (Hay House, 2015). You can contact Dr Sathish at her website: www.rohinisholisticvetcare.com