Joint Supplements for Pets
As old age creeps up, you may notice the first signs of mobility problems in your pet such as reduced activity, stiffness, limping, and (particularly cats) struggling to jump up onto furniture. The likely cause of this is osteoarthritis, a common diagnosis in older pets and also some younger ones too. At the first sign of issues, you may find an over-the-counter solution such as a joint supplement can help.
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Food supplements are a billion-dollar business and there are countless products marketed for pets. It’s worth noting that joint supplements (and other food supplements) are not considered medicinal products and are consequently not regulated by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Manufacturers are not required to provide scientific information to legal authorities for approval, so this can lead to exaggerated claims on marketing information.
The choice of pet joint supplement products is bewildering so here’s a quick guide to what they are, how they work, and a look at the evidence to show how they may benefit your pet.
Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate
Glucosamine regulates the synthesis of collagen in cartilage, which lines the bone within your pet’s joints. In arthritis, cartilage weakens and becomes very brittle. Glucosamine supplements may provide mild anti-inflammatory effects while chondroitin sulfate supplements inhibit destructive enzymes in joint fluid and cartilage.
Together, glucosamine and chondroitin also contribute to the synthesis of building blocks for the formation of cartilage. In a test-tube (in-vitro) they’ve had some great results but in real life (in-vivo,) they haven’t shown the same benefits. The results of these trials are questionable.
Potential side effects are usually mild such as flatulence and stool softening. In other words, these supplements probably won’t do any harm to your pet, but the benefits aren’t completely proven.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s)
EFA’s are contained in fish oils. There are many EFA’s but the ones that have shown a small, positive effect on arthritic pets are EPA and DHA.
These EFA’s are thought to act through their antioxidant effects within the joint. Multiple scientific trials noted improvements in mobility and other patients were able to reduce the dose of their prescription arthritis medications.
The reported dose range of omega-3 fatty acids is 230 to 370 mg of EPA and DHA/kg of body weight for dogs with osteoarthritis. For large dogs, this can mean giving quite a large number of fish oil pills daily. For this reason, there are now some prescription diets that contain high levels of EPA and DHA. Dogs with osteoarthritis that were fed these diets (3.5% fish oil) had significant improvements in the degree of lameness according to some studies. There is probably more evidence of benefit from EFA’s than other joint supplements.
Green-Lipped Mussel (GLM)
Dogs and cats that had dietary supplementation with GLM were found to have an improvement in arthritis scores, joint swelling, and signs of joint pain. However, the evidence for this was weak. Supplements with GLM are commercially available for veterinary use, and although recommended dosages have not been clearly established, amounts needed for large patients may be expensive.
CBD is the non-psychoactive part of cannabis. It is reported to act on a wide range of receptors in the body, and some of these receptors are involved with the perception of pain.
It has been theorized that using CBD can reduce pain in patients. Small-scale trials have been carried out by CBD manufacturers and have had some positive results. There is much more work to be done to convince veterinary professionals that this can be safely and effectively used for arthritis. This is especially true because not all preparations of CBD are adequately absorbed into the bloodstream from the digestive tract, particularly in cats.
Dose and Quality of Ingredients
The quality, stability, and amount of product in joint supplements are not identical but it’s worth looking at the small print to find out more about the product before purchasing. It could be worth a chat with your vet to see if they have any recommendations.
Be Objective About the Result
How about running your own clinical trial at home? Try using this questionnairebefore, then one month after using the supplement. Try to be as honest with the results as possible. If there is really no noticeable difference, it’s worth pursuing different or additional lines of treatment, and it’s certainly worth consulting your vet.
This article has been written using an Evidence-Based approach. This looks at the quality and quantity of information available about joint supplements. The author has used many references to compile this information, for further reading, see
Vandeweerd JM, Coisnon C, Clegg P, Cambier C, Pierson A, Hontoir F, Saegerman C, Gustin P, Buczinski S. Systematic review of efficacy of nutraceuticals to alleviate clinical signs of osteoarthritis. J Vet Intern Med. 2012 May-Jun;26(3):448-56. doi: 10.1111/j.1939-1676.2012.00901.x. Epub 2012 Mar 9. PMID: 22404506.
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