Canine Hip Dysplasia
Conventional and Alternative Treatment Modalities
Larry A. Bernstein, VMD, CVH, CVA
Copyright ©2000 Larry A. Bernstein
Last article I talked about the genetic component of Canine Hip Dysplasia and why, I feel,
there has been enough selective breeding to make me feel that there are factors other than simple genetics at work here.
We discussed other measures, such as diet, exercise, homeopathic therapy and easing up on our vaccinations as
ways to help prevent this problem.
Now we will discuss some of the methods, both conventional and holistic to deal with the dog that has this
problem. Some of the procedures are not commonly done in the Cavalier due to their small size but we shall include them for completeness.
In the simplest terms the hip (officially know as the coxo-femoral joint) is a ball that
rests in a socket. The ball is at the end of the upper bone of the leg, the Femur. The socket is in the pelvis and known as the acetabulum . The shape of the ball, the depth of the socket, the muscles surrounding
the joint and the joint capsule all serve to hold the ball in place.
In Canine Hip Dysplasia a few different things can happen. The socket (acetabulum) can be
too shallow, the ball (femoral head) can be flattened or at an improper angle or there can be any combination of these events. Since this creates an inherent instability in the joint, there can be pain, muscle
strain or bony degeneration. Once the pain starts to affect the use of the back legs, the dog depends more on the front and the hind end weakens. The weakening of the muscles allows for more instability and it
becomes a vicious circle.
Goals of Therapy
There are two basic goals to any therapeutic regimen. They are:
- Reduce the pain and inflammation.
- Strengthen the joint.
Each of these two main goals has a direct effect on each other. Reducing pain will allow (to some degree) more
use of the leg and thus strengthen the joint through exercise. At the same time, strengthening the joint through surgical or holistic intervention can reduce the pain and inflammation. The point is that we must take
the degenerative cycle turn it into a positive regenerative and healing cycle.
Conventional Drug Therapy
To do this many conventional veterinarians resort to pain killers and anti-inflammatory
medications. This is usually the first step in conventional therapy. For inflammation the most popular medication has always been some form of steroid. Over the past few years, the NSAID's (Non
Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) have gained in popularity. They can be very effective. They can also create long term health problems like stomach ulcers, liver damage and kidney failure. Many veterinarians
will use them for a limited time or during severe episodes.
There are three basic conventional procedures for dealing with the dysplastic hip in the
dog. These are:
- Total Hip Replacement
- Triple Pelvic Osteotomy
- Femoral Head and Neck Ostectomy
There is also a procedure called a Bop Shelf Arthroplasty. This uses an artificial bios-active polymer block
screwed onto the front of the acetabulum in young dogs to encourage the growth of bone and thus create a "deeper" socket.
BOP (Biocompatible Osteoconductive Polymer) has had some good results in larger breed dogs but has fallen out of
vogue over the past few years.
The total hip and triple pelvic Osteotomy are usually reserved for larger breeds than the Cavalier. One is self
explanatory and the other (TPO) involves cutting the bones of the pelvis and rotating it to form more of a shelf. This also creates a "deeper" socket. The surgical fractures are then plated and left to
The most common surgery used in the small dogs is the excision (removal) of the femoral head and neck. Called the
FHO for Femoral Head Ostectomy. In this procedure the surgeon actually removes the ball and neck from the end of the Femur. This eliminates the ball from the ball and socket joint that comprises the hip. Since
most dysplasia related pain comes from the loss of cartilage and the bone rubbing on bone, removal of the femoral head allows the empty space to fill with fibrous tissue. It then becomes like an elastic joint and
the bone on bone pain is eliminates. In small to medium size dogs the muscles around the joint can create stability.. During my time in surgery I performed almost a thousand of these with about 90% success.
Alternative Medicine Offers Less Violent Solutions
When one thinks of cortisone and surgical intervention, the first thing that should go through our minds is
"What are my less traumatic alternatives?". This is one of the reasons that I became interested in holistic medicine in 1989. I felt there had to be other reasons for these problems to occur and other,
gentler methods to help them resolve.
In our last article we discussed my feeling that the genetic component was only one factor contributing to Canine
Hip Dysplasia. I alluded to the limitation on vaccinations, the importance of exercise and a proper diet to help prevent the problem.
We will now look at some of the different alternative medical views of Canine Hip Dysplasia and some of the
common alternative modes of therapy. These include:
- Supplemental Therapy
- Herbs, Acupuncture and Moxabustion
- Massage Therapy
Supplements for the joints are more popular now than ever and have even made it onto the
shelves of the conventional veterinarian. Chondroiten Sulfate and Glucosamine are two of the most popular with alfalfa, mussel, antioxidants and yucca running a close second. Tahitian Noni juice is also being used
more and more. These are aimed at repairing or marinating the cartilage, lubricating the joints and reducing the inflammation and pain. The use of a drug called Adequan (adequan polysulfated glycosaminoglycan
), is a pharmaceutical. It is chemically similar to the natural glycosaminoglycan of cartilage tissue, making a medical therapy that claims to treat both the symptoms and the underlying processes threatening to
turn joint injury into joint degeneration. I have had a number of cases respond well to this therapy. It is injected into the muscle twice a week for a few weeks and then on a more conservative schedule.
There is so much to say about diet that it will become an article unto itself one day. I
believe in as natural a diet as possible. I prefer a raw food diet whenever possible and I usually supplement with a high quality prepared food like Petguard, Flint River or Solid Gold when time and resources
prohibit feeding solely a raw home prepared diet. I think this is still the number one thing one can do to allow our animal companions to reach their full potential. Many people are feeding so many different
variants of the raw food diets that I will leave it to others to provide details. There is a reading list on our website that lists some of our favorite books on the subject.
Herbs and Acupuncture
Traditional Chinese medicine calls these arthritic changes the Bi Syndrome and feels that
the degeneration and bone spurs associated with severe degenerative joint disease are the stagnation of the life force (Qi). Treatment is aimed at reducing the pain and inflammation by stimulating this motion.
Severely painful cases often respond to a few sessions of acupuncture and do wonderfully. The dogs do not seem to mind the needles. Moxabustion involves burning the Chinese herb Artemis Vulgaris (Mugwort) and
using the healing heat to warm the affected areas and some of the meridians. This is often done along with the acupuncture in the office and then continued at home by the client. Dogs love the attention and the herb
has healing properties that make it far superior to hot packs and other heat sources.
Chiropractic adjustment also aids in the animal moving better. It relieves pain and helps to
create a better balance so that the animal will walk, exercise and regain the lost muscle mass that helps create the destructive cycle we mentioned earlier. Since the dysplastic dog is walking abnormally, the other
areas of the body lose their natural alignment and regular adjustments can minimize this.
I have found that homeopathic therapy , when used properly, can help to reverse the problems
associated with Dysplasia. People often use homeopathic remedies like Arnica and Ruta to alleviate immediate pain in the joints but I find this is only temporary. It is better to find a trained homeopath, like you
would a trained acupuncturist or chiropractor, and look at the deeper issues that contributed to the Dysplasia from birth.
Massage therapy is coming into its own as a treatment modality these days. A major part of the problem, as we
mentioned earlier, is pain. Muscles get sore, they get contracted as they are unused. They atrophy. A good massage routine can limber up those muscles and help the dog move more freely and with less discomfort.
The goal of this article was to acquaint the reader with some of the mechanisms of Canine Hip Dysplasia and to
let them know that there are many available options for therapy that do not need to be as extreme or invasive.
Please remember that the best way to treat a problem is to prevent it. We use diet, constitutional homeopathy and
careful breeding with our Cavaliers. What you do is, of course, your choice but if your dog does have these problems and they are mild, get help now before they worsen. If they are already bad then please explore
these gentler forms of treatment. They work.