By their nature, nutritional supplements (also called 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. Side effects are almost unheard of as long as they are used in reasonable amounts. Stomach upset is possible, particularly at higher doses, but generally resolves as a dog’s digestive system adjusts.
Today, the most commonly used nutraceuticals in pet health care are glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. With traditional drugs, dogs typically demonstrate improved comfort almost immediately. Conversely, nutraceuticals may take several weeks to months of administration before noticeable improvement in mobility and attitude are apparent.
Glucosamine is a naturally occurring compound that may improve the body's production of joint lubricants and the health of shock-absorbing cartilage within joints.
Glucosamine sulfate is also beneficial to 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 usually extracted from crab, lobster, or shrimp shells. There are three forms of glucosamine, so when purchasing it, look for glucosamine sulfate 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. The presence of a National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) seal on the label is a good indicator that the product you’re buying is of high-quality.
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 and possibly the bone that underlies cartilage within joints. Chondroitin sulfate may inhibit destructive enzymes in joint fluid and cartilage and help the body repair damaged cartilage and 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. Chondroitin supplements are manufactured from the cartilage of animals such as pigs, cattle, and fish.
3. Other Joint Sparing Products
The green-lipped mussel (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. The anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fatty acids can also help arthritic dogs.
Additional Arthritis Treatment Options for Dogs
Prescription medications and nutritional supplements aren’t the only forms of treatment available for arthritis in dogs. Physical therapy, weight loss, acupuncture, cold laser treatments, surgery, and other options can also improve a pet’s comfort and mobility. Talk to your veterinarian about how your dog might benefit from all the different options in arthritis treatment that are available today.