By T.J. Dunn, Jr., DVM
Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate supplements are fast becoming the most widely used supplements in dogs' diets. The reason is this: Arthritis in dogs is one of the most common health problems seen by veterinarians. Unfortunately, dog owners and veterinarians rarely notice the early warning signs of arthritis in dogs because these animals have the character to ignore soreness and discomfort until the arthritic changes in the joints have progressed significantly.
But before we discuss Glucosamine and Chondroitin sulfate and their effects on arthritis, it is important to note that no amount of consumed nutrients will correct structural damage to a dog's joints (this is true in humans as well).
If there are calcium deposits, scar tissue, cartilage tears and dissolution, or contour changes to the bones at the joint surfaces from long-term abnormal forces being applied, these abnormalities will remain present and will continue to affect the animal regardless of nutritional intake.
Supplements to the dog's diet, such as Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate, Omega Fatty Acids, Vitamin E, Selenium, and MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane) all assist in decreasing inflammation and improving the body's ability to repair and strengthen tissues. Supplements, however, will not reverse structural changes in a joint such as torn cartilage, calcium deposits, and advanced scar tissue.
Treatment of Arthritis
Since it is difficult to remodel the joint without surgical intervention, attempts are usually made to reduce the inflammation at the nerve endings. This will at least make the dog a bit more comfortable, even if range of motion is compromised. Such treatments include the following...
Prednisone, Dexamethasone, and other corticosteroids will markedly reduce swelling and inflammation to affected joints. But there is a downside to the use of steroids for long-term palliation of arthritis: they can can actually contribute to additional joint damage and breakdown.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen, Rimadyl, and Etogesic can have noticeable beneficial effects on the arthritis patient. However, these medications can also have a downside in some patients and must be very carefully regulated to avoid bleeding disorders, gastric ulcers, and liver and kidney dysfunction.
By their nature, nutraceuticals are substances that are consumed orally as an addition to a normal diet. These substances are much safer than traditional "drugs" in that they can be considered a form of food or nutrient. Toxicity levels are rarely a problem as long as they are used in reasonable amounts.
Today, the most commonly used nutraceuticals in pet health care are glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. Although with traditional drugs dogs would demonstrate improvement and apparent comfort almost immediately, many have undesirable side effects. Conversely, nutraceuticals have little to no side effects but may take several weeks to months of administration before noticeable improvement in mobility and attitude are apparent.
Glucosamine is a naturally occurring compound composed of a sugar and an amino acid and is involved with the body's production of joint lubricants and shock absorption necessary to maintain healthy cartilage and joint function. It is manufactured in the body in the joint cartilage and is one of the major components involved with the formation of the critical lubricants and shock absorbers necessary to maintain and restore healthy joint performance. Glucosamine sulfate is also one of the building blocks of articular cartilage and aids in the rebuilding of damaged cartilage.
Glucosamine sulfate is also beneficial to other other body structures besides joints. It is involved in the formation of nails, tendons, skin, eyes, synovial fluid, bone, ligaments, heart valves, and in mucous secretions of the digestive, respiratory, and urinary tracts. It is created in the production of proteins associated with cellular growth and structure.
Glucosamine as a nutritional supplement is extracted from crab, lobster, or shrimp shells. There are three forms of glucosamine, so when purchasing it, look for the sulfate form because it seems to be absorbed and utilized the best. Because dietary supplements are unregulated, the quality and contents may vary widely. Be sure to choose a product sold by a well established company and consult your veterinarian as to which would be best for your dog.
2. Chondroitin Sulfate
Research on chondroitin sulfate suggests it may be beneficial in preventing stress injuries to joints as well as aiding in the repair of damaged connective tissue. Unlike pain killers, which only serve to dull the pain, chondroitin sulfate addresses the disease process itself. Chondroitin sulfate may actually help the body to repair damaged cartilage and help restore joint integrity. It may also protect existing cartilage from premature breakdown as well as keep cartilage tissue hydrated and assist in cushioning impact stress.
Some studies suggest that supplementation with chondroitin sulfate can reduce joint pain significantly. Other studies have shown that combining chondroitin sulfate with glucosamine might improve each substance's beneficial effects, though this is not universally accepted.
Because chondroitin production by the body decreases with age, supplementation with this compound may be especially helpful for older dogs with arthritis.
Other Joint Sparing Products
The green-lipped mussel called Perna canaliculus is a source of chondroitin and other beneficial nutrients, and the sea cucumber is believed to provide assistance in the elimination of pain. They provide essential nutrients required by cartilage. Another arthritis fighting supplement is called methylsulfonylmethane (MSM). It provides sulfur compounds that may inhibit pain.
Image: Lovro Rumiha / via Flickr