An acquaintance of mine, B.J. Richardson, was calling from Texas, doubt and hope in his voor put the dog down. I can't afford one and won't do the other. Is ittrue that Vitamin C might help?"
I had to say that I'd never heard of Vitamin C curing canine hip dysplasia, but I was awarveterinarian Wendell Belfield D.V.M of San Jose, CA, did prevent CHD --or least its symptoms -- in eight litters of German shepherds, a breedthat is prone to crippling abnormal development of a dog's hip joints.In those instances, all of the dogs' parents had CHD or had previouslywhelped pups that became dysplastic. Belfield gave the bitches VitaminC throughout pregnancy and lactation. The pups received Vitamin C fromweaning until they were two years old. None of the pups developed CHDduring that entire period.
Though Belfield's work wasn't scientific in the strict sense, it certainly indicated thatbe prevented. Still I couldn't see how the joint could be remodeledonce it had grown improperly, at least not without surgery. However,Vitamin C therapy seemed to be Richardson's only hope, so I told himwhat I knew.
Many readers had written and told me that their arthritic dogs normally were laid up afterbut when given Vitamin C, they could hunt several days in a row. Nonehad said they did it with dogs that had CHD, but maybe....
I also recalled reading about the efforts of Dr. Bob Cathcart, a medicaldoctor in California who championed the use of Vitamin C in curing awide variety of joint ailments and illnesses. Much of his work centeredaround using the vitamin in large quantities, increasing the dosesuntil the body reaches "bowel tolerances." Though Cathcart's work waswith human patients, many veterinarians adopted his method, saying thatVitamin C should be given in increasing doses until the dog's stoolsloosen, at which point the dose should be backed off a half a gram or agram at a time until the stools became firm again. At that point, thedog's body receives the maximum Vitamin C that it can utilize.
I also understood that a superior form of the vitamin is Ester-C, whichcan be purchased in health food stores. The vitamin in Ester-C ismolecularly locked to calcium, so it doesn't cause the acidity problemsnormally associated with ascorbic acid (the common form of Vitamin C),which can upset a dog's stomach. Ester-C also has natural C metabolitesthat get it into the cells faster and more effectively (common ascorbicacid is slower getting out of the blood serum, so it passes through thekidneys, where much of it is rapidly lost in the urine).
A month or two later, I heard that Pinto, Richardson's dog, had begunimproving less than a week after receiving maximum doses of Ester-C.Pinto, the grandson of Miller's Chief -- an 11-time champion inhorseback-style bird-dog trials -- was now running like the wind. I wasas surprised as I was delighted.
Two years later, I was in Texas and dropped in to see Pinto. Richardson had kept him on amaintenance dose of Ester-C. The dog was moving with a fluid grace andpower in the hips. Twice, for a step or two, I saw a bunny hop,suggesting that not everything was 100 percent correct. But both times, into immediately shifted back to a normal gait.
I still couldn't understand how Ester-C could remodel a defective joint, but I was hopeful. Nobody I knew whose debilitated dog had improvedclinically on Ester-C had ever taken X-rays of the joints, so I askedRichardson to have X-rays taken.
He did and mailed me the original X-ray taken two years before and a new one. I showed botDianna K. Stuckey, a board certified radiologist in St. Louis, wholooked at the original and pointed out the hip dysplasia with the lefthip most severe. The second? "Arthritis that customarily follows hipdysplasia," she said. I explained Pinto's quick and lasting response toEster-C. "How could this dog go from lame to moving freely, andapparently without pain, in a few days -- and stay that way withoutsomething improving in the joints?"
"We occasionally see this," Stuckey said. "A dog is arthritic yet moves as if it feels nopain. We don't know why. Great 'heart' maybe, or high pain tolerance."
I'm sure that veterinarians do see this. But the answer to my question,Pinto's improvement was not because of great heart or high pain tolerance.He had been hurting and he had been limping badly. If hisresponse to such pain improved in just a few days, something causedthat change.
Dr. Chuck Noonam of Weston, CT also compared the X-rays. He noticed slight improvement inbut said the hip joint had clearly succumbed to degenerate arthritisfrom the dysplastic hip joint banging around in and out of the socket.
"Eighty-three percent of dysplastic dogs either show an improvement in their hipdysplasia or they learn to deal with the problem as they grow older,"Noonan said. "The second X-ray shows that the dysplasia is slightlyless severe, but because of the arthritis, the joint is worse overallthan in the earlier X-ray. It is possible that the Vitamin C washelping to sort of lubricate the joint so the dog felt less pain."
In my investigations, I had found that Pinto's results from Ester-Cweren't unique. Soon after Richardson first called, I received a letterfrom Steve Dudley of Arizona. His young black Lab, who showed greatpromise at hunting Gambel's quail, went lame with CHD. Dudley's vetsuggested that Dudley replace the hip -- or expect to put the dog downby age four. Dudley tried Ester-C instead and the dog promptlyimproved. Kept on Ester-C, the dog lived until age 13 without showingsigns of soreness, lameness, or unwillingness to hunt, Dudley wrote.
Flood of Proof
My investigation also led to Charles Docktor, an Arizona veterinarian whowas the first to test Ester-C for its effectiveness in healing jointproblems. In 1983, he used Ester-C on a large number of arthritic dogs,finding that 75 percent improved in various degrees in a short periodof time.
Independently, a continent away, Dr. Geir Erick Berge, a veterinarian in Oslo, Norway, perwas reported in the August-September 1990 issue of The NorwegianVeterinary Journal. Berge selected 100 dogs with a variety of jointailments. His testing revealed that 75 percent of the dogs rapidlyimproved on Ester-C, some only slightly, some almost totally. Dr. Bergeadded that large amounts of Vitamin C metabolites, substances essentialto a body's metabolic processes, are required in rebuilding diseased joint tissue.