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).
Pinto's Rebound
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."
Mystery Unfolds
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.
Corroborating data were also reported by Dr. N. Lee Newman, who conducted 18 months of clicombat degenerative joint disease in performance horses. She reported aremarkable 90 percent success rate, ranging from good to excellent.Furthermore, 80 percent of the improved horses remained sound afterEster-C was discontinued. Newman credited supplemental Ester-C withmaintaining the integrity of collagen and connective tissue and withmobilizing white cells in the immune system, while deactivating freeradicals that damage cell membranes.
But other respected voices were making contradictory statements. The Cornell UniversityCollege of Veterinary Medicine Animal Health newsletter in May 1995denied that Vitamin C was of any value for either preventing ortreating skeletal diseases in dogs. "There have been absolutely noconfirmed reports that Vitamin C is helpful in any such instances," the newsletter stated. It went on to theorize that supplemental Vitamin Chas no value because dogs produce adequate amounts of the vitamin intheir livers.
But that reasoning is questionable. Vitamin C production varies from dog to dog, individual circumstances -- health and environment -- vary enormously. "Adequate"in human medicine only means enough Vitamin C to prevent scurvy. Whatis adequate for a strict carnivore like a dog? And in any case,"adequate" should not be assumed to be a synonym for "optimum."
This is where a Vitamin C standoff occurs, and getting people to changetheir scientific opinion is like asking them to change their religion.In Cornell's favor, the evidence that has existed supporting the use of Vitamin C on dysplastic dogs is heavily anecdotal. Even the various veterinarians' research that has been cited was actually efficacy tests-- that is, all of the dogs tested were given similar doses of thevitamin and no controlled comparisons were made. Efficacy testingstrongly suggests conclusive evidence, but it does not provide scientific proof.
The Acid Test
But in 1994, veterinarian L. Philips Brown presented the results of scientifically accept a "double-blind crossover" study on the effects of Vitamin C to anational conference on holistic veterinary medicine. Brown, the ownerof the largest veterinary hospital on Cape Code for 22 years, tested Vitamin C on 50 dogs with serious joint problems. The dogs were among a population of more than 500 canines at a large animal sanctuary in Utah. It should be noted here that representatives of Inter-Cal, makers of Ester-C, specifically asked Brown to study the vitamin because they felt it could have a major role in the treatment of joint abnormalities. Dave Stenmoe, one of the representatives of the manufacturer, says "We told [Brown] not to take our word for anything."Just to keep an open mind and conduct a scientific comparison of Ester-C, ordinary Vitamin C, and a placebo. He finally agreed to do it.
Brown, along with the Utah sanctuary's resident veterinarian, hand-picked the dogs with ththem in five groups.
After four weeks of testing, the supplements were withdrawn for three weeks. Then, each doover to a different group and received another supplement for anotherfour weeks. After yet another three-week layoff, 60 percent of the dogswere switched to a third supplement. The remaining 40 percent went backto whatever they were given during the first four weeks. At the end, mobility scores were calculated to determine the average for each ofthe five groups.
The results were impressively in favor of Ester-C therapy. Seventy-eight percent of the doEster-C experienced improved mobility within four or five days. Theaverage improvement score was 1.52. About 60 percent of the improved dogs relapsed when Ester-C was discontinued, but the group that returned to Ester-C in the third phase then regained mobility. Handlers reported no negative side effects.
On the low (850mg) dose of Ester-C, only 52 percent of the dogs improved, with an average0.45. Obviously, size of dose was important. Of dogs receiving 2,000mgof Ester-C with extra minerals, 62 percent improved by an average scoreof 0.87. Why Ester-C without extra minerals had better results remains unknown.
Ordinary Vitamin C improved 44 percent of the dogs, with a score of 0.67. As expected, nodogs on the placebo.
Not even the most dyed-in-the-wool skeptic can ignore the results of such a double-blind cBut the success of Vitamin C in treating CHD can still be questioned,or even denied, because X-rays show that the joints remain loose orarthritis remains. Even Brown confirms that X-rays taken for his studyreveal defective skeletal structures even after the Ester-C treatment.
Soft Tissue Factor
But those who see improvement with Ester-C are looking primarily at ananimal's behavior -- they see an improved ability to function. How canboth proponents and skeptics consider themselves correct? Perhaps by each being half right.
A joint is not bone alone. Soft tissue -- cartilage and synovial membrane -- exist between movement. If such tissue deteriorates, movement becomes more painful.Vitamin C is essential in the making and rebuilding of soft tissuebecause it promotes the growth of Collagen, a tough, stringy "mortar"that holds cells together. At the same time, the soft tissue also holdswater, which maintains compression resistance to cushion the joint --this is the "lubrication" described by Noonan in his assessment ofPinto's X-rays.
In healthy cartilage, normal cell loss is balanced by the rebuilding of cells. Under diseaconditions, cell loss is excessive. In the case of a dog's hip joint,this can mean that adequate cushioning no longer exists. The high demand for Vitamin C may begin exceeding the amount made in the dog's liver, so deterioration continues. Or supplemented Vitamin C may turn the process around.
Field experience, although still anecdotal, suggests that dogs on Ester-C lead full livesterrible pain and debilitation. Ester-C may prove to be a wondrousholistic cure, but OUTDOOR LIFE cautions that it's too early to statedefinitively that Vitamin C can cure or rectify canine hip dysplasia.Some doctors contend that the treatment is merely a Band-Aid on a farmore serious problem.
We should add one point. Hip dysplasia is at least partially inheritable. And it is not adefect. There is now concern that dysplastic dogs returned to mobilitymay also be returned to reproduction, which would further spread themalady. It is fair to say that there appears to be a great deal of hopefor the benefits of Vitamin C, but before administering the vitamin toyour dog, consult your veterinarian. And until more is known, don't breed that dog.
Reprinted from Outdoor Life, January, 1996
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