Canine Dysplasia and Alternative Treatments: Laser Therapy and Acupuncture Offer Pain Relief for Dogs

At the University of Colorado James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado, canine health is a priority. While the hospital routinely sees patients of all species, sizes and breeds, canine hip dysplasia is a familiar complaint here, and one with which Dr. Narda Robinson is well acquainted. When she is not examining a German Shepherd puppy or evaluating the arthritis diagnosis of a Golden Retriever, she is researching the latest options for pain relief for dogs.

Canine Health and Hip Dysplasia

As the head of the Comparative and Integrative Pain Medicine Department she oversees a host of therapy options, from acupuncture to laser treatments. Around 100 dogs are seen at the hospital each year for dysplasia symptoms.

Canine dysplasia is a debilitating disease that is found most frequently in the hips and elbows of large canines, such as Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers. Left untreated, the condition can lead to joint arthritis and have a devastating affect on the dog’s quality of life. Surgery is often indicated, but can be expensive. Dr. Robinson’s department handles many non invasive and alternative treatment measures for dogs with this diagnosis.

Laser Therapy and Acupuncture for Dogs

“We do a range of services,” Dr. Robinson said, who noted that there are many different forms of treatment available these days. “We are starting to look at the value of laser therapy. What we don’t have is research on how (canines) respond.” The technique has shown promise in management of pain in humans.

Dr. Robinson founded and oversees the Medical Acupuncture for Veterinarians Program. She is skilled in administering acupuncture to her four-legged patients.


Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Other Nutritional Supplements

Nutritional supplementation is often used to treat arthritis-related conditions in canines. Omega-3 fatty acids, for example, helps to reduce inflammation around the joint and lessen associated pain. Dr. Robinson cautioned that it is important to make sure the supplement is fresh.

“It has to be included in the diet. It can’t be rancid; therefore, the packaging is important.” She advised examining and smelling pre-packaged dog food that contains the supplement before using it. Exposure to heat can destroy the omega-3 fatty acids.

“(The liquid) supplement may be a better way for some dogs. You can squirt it over the food, or give it in a capsule.” Supplements, like other treatment options, are often accepted differently by each dog. She stressed the importance therefore, of an individualized treatment plan.

Glucosamine and chondroitin are two supplements that have been around for some years, and are good examples of treatments that are received differently by each patient. Not all dogs show positive results to these supplements, and not every researcher is sold on them.

“You can find studies that support the use of glucosamine and chondroitin, and some that don’t,” said Dr. Robinson. “It can depend on genetic differences as well as the nature of the disease. It is an easy thing to give and good point to start. But there are other options.”

One area of research that she feels may show promise is the use of herbs in pain management.

“We are doing a study on a mixture of herbs, with a randomized-blind placebo to see whether the dog’s ability to use (its) limbs improves with the therapy.” The four-week trial investigates whether herbs can aid mobility in dogs affected by osteoarthritis.

Individualized Lifestyle Change and Canine Dysplasia

But the most important component in pain management, said Dr. Robinson, is individualized lifestyle change.

In a nutshell: “Not over-doing it. The goal is regular moderate exercise.”

And that is where individualized care comes in.

“People need to have an awareness to detect when the dog is in pain.” She said an important aid to this goal is palpation. She uses gentle, full-body palpation to relax the patient and to interpret the dog’s symptoms.

“Head to toes, so you know which muscles are atrophied … and all the places the dog is in pain.”

She stressed that palpation is not only an important diagnostic tool for veterinarians, it’s useful to dog owners as well. She added that not all dogs react to pain the same way or show signs of discomfort.

The hospital also uses massage to treat pain and loosen muscles. Medical massage has shown positive results in the treatment of arthritis, but is another therapy option that is highly individualized.

Dr. Robinson said keeping three questions in mind will yield the best success with the patient: “What are the dog’s challenges, what is the disease, and how can we help the dog without aggravating the disease?”

The key to treating canine dysplasia symptoms therefore, is understanding the individual dog and what will ultimately provide the best quality of life