Holistic Approaches to Arthritis Therapies for Pets last page

Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate for Pets

by Shawn Messonnier, DVM
Holistic Veterinarian and Director of Paws & Claws Animal Hospital
Article used with permission.

Dr. Shawn Messonnier is the author of The Arthritis Solution for Dogs, The Allergy Solution for Dogs, the award-winning The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats and 8 Weeks to a Healthy Dog (Rodale.) Check out Dr. Shawn’s Holistic Pet column each week in your local newspaper, distributed by Knight Ridder News Service.

Glucosamine is the most commonly used chondroprotective supplement used for the treatment of osteoarthritis while chondroitin is the second most commonly used supplement for the treatment of osteoarthritis. Glucosamine is an aminosugar that is incorporated into articular (joint) cartilage; it is supplied as a supplement in one of three forms: glucosamine sulfate, glucosamine hydrochloride, or N-acetylglucosamine. Studies show that while all 3 forms of glucosamine are effective, glucosamine hydrochloride and glucosamine were more effective than N-acetylglucosamine. Glucosamine is rapidly taken up by cartilage cells and helps stimulate the synthesis of synovial fluid and cartilage and also helps inhibit the destructive enzymes that can destroy cartilage and proteoglycans. The anti-inflammatory aspect of glucosamine may result from the scavenging of harmful free radicals. Glucosamine is used by the cartilage for the synthesis of glycosaminoglycans. A number of studies in people and pets show that glucosamine is equally effective for treating osteoarthritis when compared to NSAIDS without the side effects.

Glucosamine is very safe supplement with no side effects; mild GI upset is rarely observed. Dosages vary depending upon the product. As a guideline, a starting dose of 1000-1500 mg of glucosamine is recommended per day for a 50-100 pound dog. This dose is then lowered after 4-8 weeks.

Chondroitin sulfate is the major glycosaminoglycan found in cartilage; it also helps inhibit enzymes that are destructive to the joint and has been shown to be is an effective treatment for osteoarthritis. Since chondroitin production by the body decreases with aging, supplementation with this compound may be especially helpful for older pets with arthritis.

Chondroitin is often added to supplements containing glucosamine; 800-1200 mg of chondroitin is recommended per day for a 50-100 pound dog. While significant studies are lacking, many feel that adding chondroitin to glucosamine enhances the ability of both substances to repair cartilage.

The following points concerning chondroprotective therapy are important to maximize success when using these supplements:

1. They are equally effective when compared to NSAIDS but much safer for the pet.

2. Cost may be an issue for some pet owners. The typical daily cost of using a glucosamine-chondroitin supplement is approximately $1.50/day for a 50 pound dog. This cost can decrease as the dosage of the supplement is lowered to allow the owner to use the least amount of supplement to maintain pain relief. However, the comparable cost of the most popular NSAIDS is approximately $2-3/day for a 50 pound dog, making nutritional supplements less expensive.

3. Since these supplements nourish living cartilage cells, they are most effective when used early in the course of the disease. This requires adequate and early diagnosis.

4. Because they are not drugs but rather nutritional supplements, response may not be seen for 4-8 weeks (response to drugs is typically immediate.) During the first 4-8 weeks, an increased “induction” dose is used and then the dose is lowered as improvement is seen. Additional short term therapy (with NSAIDS, acupuncture, etc.) can be used during the induction phase.

5. The supplements can also be used effectively when no clinical signs are present but yet disease exists. In my practice, many dogs are diagnosed via screening radiographs with hip dysplasia and started on the supplements.

6. Quality of the products is important. There are many generic “knock-off” products that sell for much less than patented products. Studies that have been done showing the effectiveness of these compounds have used high quality products. Products of lesser quality, while often costing less, may also be less effective. Unlike traditional drugs these compounds are not regulated and labelling can be inaccurate or misleading; manufacturers are not required to analyze their products regarding quality, uniformity, or content. Purchase only quality products from reputable manufacturers as recommended by your doctor.

7. Because the chondroprotective supplements are so effective after 4-8 weeks in improving signs seen in arthritic pets, the diagnosis should be reevaluated after this period of time if improvement is not seen.

Dr. Shawn Messonnier is author of the Natural Vet series from Prima publishing, which includes The Arthritis Solution for Dogs, The Allergy Solution for Dogs, and the award-winning The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats. For your weekly dose of holistic pet care, read Dr. Shawn’s column The Holistic Pet, in your local paper. He can be reached at 972-867-8000, naturalvet@juno.com, or at http://www.petcarenaturally.com.

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Be sure to visit the Glucosamine Product Guide for a review of commercially available glucosamine products.