Arthritis refers to inflammation within a joint. There are many causes for arthritis, including trauma, injury, infection, or age. Age related degenerative arthritis is known as osteoarthritis, which is the type of arthritis addressed in this article.
Osteoarthritis is perhaps the most prevalent chronic disease that affects senior to geriatric aged dogs and cats. As such, it is not surprising that there is literally a sea of health supplements marketed for the treatment of arthritis, with each new one claiming to be better than the last. What complicates matters even further when deciding which supplements are best for our animals, is the reality the these products remain grossly unregulated by the FDA, meaning that quality control is suspect at best. In order to help pet owners make sense of what works regarding the management of arthritis, what doesn’t work, and why, I will break down the most common ingredients provided in many of the supplements available in the small animal arthritis market.
Glucosamine is a precursor involved in the synthesis of glycosaminoglycans, which are major components of the cartilaginous articulating surfaces of joints. Given this correlation, glucosamine is believed to facilitate the rebuilding of joint surfaces, helping to treat osteoarthritis.
Unfortunately, the jury is still very much out on this substance’s benefits, with success for the management of osteoarthritis in dogs and cats being at best anecdotal. At this time, there are no reputable scientific studies that prove a direct improvement of osteoarthritis cases by administration of glucosamine.
While I do not feel that glucosamine is by itself a very good supplement for osteoarthritis, I have been witness to case by case benefits in the treatment of osteoarthritis on several occasions, including one of my own pets. Although I am a big believer in non-biased scientific study and remain skeptical of its true benefits for osteoarthritis cases, there is enough case by case evidence for me to recommend glucosamine as part of any comprehensive osteoarthritis management program.
Chondroitin is a major component of extracellular matrix, and is important in maintaining the structural integrity of this and other tissues. The loss of chondroitin in cartilage is believed to be a major contributing cause for osteoarthritis, adding to the belief that supplementing the diet with chondroitin will strengthen cartilage and aid in the treatment of osteoarthritis.
Like glucosamine, however, the jury remains out on chondroitin, with no sound statistical evidence of any real benefit for canine and feline osteoarthritis patients. What’s more, chondroitin absorbs poorly in the canine and feline gut, leading to most ingested product getting defecated out of the patient, and causing diarrhea in many patients.
Combined with the lack of any unbiased scientifically proven evidence of improvement for arthritis sufferers, poor absorption in the canine and feline gut, and a propensity to cause diarrhea, I have dismissed chondroitin as a beneficial arthritis health supplement.
Perna is a type of mussel found in New Zealand waters, called the Green-lipped mussel. These mussels have particularly high concentrations of glycosaminoglycans, major components of the articulating cartilaginous surfaces of joints.
Glycosaminoglycans are believed to provide relief for osteoarthritis patients by helping rebuild and maintain damaged cartilaginous surfaces within the joints, while also inceasing the amount of synovial fluid within the joints, and easing joint pain by providing more natural lubrication.
Research based on a technique called forced plate analysis has indicated a real benefit for arthritis patients when treated with glycosaminoglycans, offering credence to the use of perna in the management of osteoarthritis. This combined with my own positive experience with perna based products makes me a believer.
In addition to a huge number of other proven health benefits, omega-3-fatty acids have been conclusively found to provide relief for osteoarthritis patients (clinically and through forced plate analysis). It is believed that relief comes from the natural anti-inflammatory action of omega-3-fatty acids, whereby inflammatory pathways are diverted to pathways that are inert, non-reactive, and non-detrimental to tissues.
With so many other proven health benefits, I am undoubtedly an advocate of omega-3’s as an integral part of any joint health supplementation program.
Given the evidence at hand, it is clear that a comprehensive osteoarthritis supplementation product should contain glucosamine (I know the jury is still out, but I think it has some benefits, and at the very least cannot hurt), perna canaliculus or isolated glycosaminoglycan, and omega-3-fatty acids. However, with virtually no FDA regulation on the myriad of products available for this purpose, pet owners must be very careful about selecting reputable supplements. A blind study reported by DVM News Magazine proved that 3 out of 4 randomly selected, pet store sold arthritis supplements were found to not have the ingredients that the labels claimed.
Therefore, it is best to select veterinary grade supplements available through your veterinarian, offering a guarantee of pharmaceutical companies with alot to lose should their products be found to not live up to their labelling. Also, pet owners should be careful about trying to save a buck by getting even reputable veterinary grade products online, as there is alot of knock off, garbage being peddled through even big name online pet med retailers.