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Helping hugs
Duluth mom finds way to ease dogs' pain

As Gracie bounds toward the front door, excitedly wagging her tail, it's hard to imagine the golden retriever ever has trouble getting around. At 12 years old, the sweet-tempered dog occasionally suffers from hip pain typical in older golden and Labrador retrievers and other larger canines.

Gracie's owner, Deborah Pittman, had witnessed another of her dogs go through a slow descent because of hip pain and arthritis, and the thought of watching Gracie in that same state was too much to bear.

"It was hard watching my other Labrador go through that, and I don't want Gracie to do that," said Pittman, a stay-at-home mom from Duluth.

After searching on the Internet, Pittman realized there was little in the form of natural medicine to help ease her pup's ails, or prevent them before they began. She had seen heating pads used for humans with arthritis and wondered if the same technique could be applied to a dog.

"All I could find were electric floor pads, and my vet didn't recommend that," Pittman said. "I wanted something that could cuddle my dog."

With a clever idea in mind, Pittman sat down at her sewing machine and set to work creating the HipHug. Made from a durable cotton, the HipHug is a rice-filled blanket that can be heated in the microwave and placed on the pooch's hip.

The moist heat released from the bone-shaped blanket works to soothe hip and lower back pain. When a HipHug is placed on Gracie's hind section, her legs extend and her body goes lax.

"It has a nice, nutty smell to it, and she just relaxes when you put it on her," Pittman said. "Sometimes, she'll put her tennis ball in her mouth and fall asleep. She loves that tennis ball, even if she's getting too old to play."

Because most dogs using the HipHug are, like Gracie, not overly active, getting the heated blanket to stay put isn't a problem, Pittman said.

Katie Peterson had been paired with Ebb, her golden retriever, for the whole 17 years of the dog's life. A few years ago, Ebb's arthritis began to cause him mobility problems. After finding the HipHug several months ago and using it on Ebb, Peterson watched as her four-legged friend was able to move around more and walk further. While the blanket didn't cure his medical condition, it did reduce the pain.

"It really helped him so much," said Peterson, 21, of Lilburn. "It eased his pain tremendously. I would definitely recommend this to anyone with a dog."

HipHugs are available in all sizes, from the minuscule x-small to the Great Dane-sized extra large, and a range of colors. Prices vary depending on sizes, from $8.50 to $26.50. They are sold, and recommended by, the Pleasant Hill Animal Hospital, Medlock Bridge Hospital and Atlanta Animal Rehabilitation and Fitness.

"Of course, I checked with my vet after I made the first batch, and they completely supported it," Pittman said. "When you think of the price of medicine compared to the price of a HipHug, it's really very inexpensive. No one wants to see their animal hurting, and this is an all-natural, wholesome way to help your pet."

For more information, call Pittman at 770-365-9346 or e-mail thepittman@comcast.net.