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Pet Joint Supplements 101

Many of us see our darling dogs and cats as our “forever babies”. No matter how old they get, no matter how grey their muzzles turn, we continue to adoringly call them “pup” or “kitten”. I called my cranky senior cat, “Baby Girl” well into her teens – 70s in human years. My dog was “Hey pup!” all through his 15 spunky years.

And while may of our senior pets remain young at heart, stiff, achey joints can be one of the first things to slow them down.

Luckily there a lot of products out there that can not only slow the deterioration of their joints, but can even repair them to some degree. And when I say there are a lot, I mean there really are A LOT. Choosing a joint repair/protection product for your pet can be overwhelming.

But just like in choosing foods for your pet, the more you know about joint-healthy ingredients, and know what ingredients might best serve your pet, the better decisions you can make.

Just remember, before you give your pet a joint care supplement:

  • Check with your vet. Better yet, bring your dog or cat in for a check up if you suspect they are having joint problems. It’s always best to rule out more serious physical problems, and to get your vet’s recommendation for which products to look for. Additionally, your vet might tell you how high or low a dose to administer, depending on the product.
  • Be sure that you are giving your pet a supplement that is safe for them. It’s always best to choose a supplement that is for pets. While it may seem easy to just share something like your glucosamine supplement with your dog, many human vitamins and supplements can contain ingredients that are not safe for pets. Plus, the dosage in your supplement may not be at a therapeutic level for your cat or dog. When choosing a joint supplement for your pet, it’s best to choose one that has been formulated for optimal absorption in your pet’s body, otherwise you may just be wasting your money or worse, risking their health. In some cases it’s fine to give your pet a human supplement, just be sure it is okayed by a vet and that you have discussed the correct dosage with them.
  • Know if your pet has any food allergies or sensitivities. Many supplements for joint health are derived from, or formulated with, such things as shellfish, eggs, soy, or dairy. You may want to avoid feeding your pet products containing such ingredients, if they have a history of sensitivity.
  • Most of all, be realistic about your expectations. If you have a middle aged or young senior that’s just starting to get a little stiff, a supplement might very well put a spring right back in their step. But if you have a pet that has severe arthritis, know that supplementation may improve their comfort and mobility, but it will not cure them. Not all forms of arthritis are the same, and not all pets respond the same way. However, any improvement on a pet’s quality of life, especially when managing chronic ailments, is worth looking into.

So to demystify pet joint supplements, here are the some of the most popular joint health ingredients, and how they may impact your pet’s joint health.

Glucosamine

A naturally occurring substance found in the joints of your dog and cat’s body, glucosamine is a building block of cartilage. Cartilage is the smooth, elastic tissue that surrounds the ends of bones in a healthy joint. It allows the joint to glide smoothly, allowing for full range of movement. Because of injury or age, cartilage can become damaged or ragged, causing pain and impairing movement. Preserving and repairing cartilage and the surrounding synovial fluid, the viscous fluid between bones that reduces friction and lubricates the joint, is vital to a pet’s joint health.

Comprised of sugar and an amino acid, glucosamine can possibly stimulate the production of glycosaminoglycans, proteins that can aid in rebuilding damaged cartilage, as well as the formation of synovial fluid. It attracts water and also has some anti-inflammatory properties within a joint. Glucosamine is typically made from shellfish, though it can also be produced using plant-based sources like corn or avocados.

One of the most widely prescribed treatments for joint ailments in pets, glucosamine has been reported to improve the lives of many dogs and cats.

Chondroitin

Very often used in conjunction with glucosamine, chondroitin is another building block of cartilage that naturally occurs in a pet’s joints. In the cartilage, chondroitin absorbs water and contributes to the ability of cartilage to bounce back under compression. Like glucosamine it might also rebuild cartilage, however unlike glucosamine, chondroitin’s primary value is that it is believed to stop the deterioration of cartilage by inhibiting destructive enzymes that exist within all joints. While glucosamine and chondroitin are most often paired together, and many believe they work best together, both supplements can be used independently of each other and still have therapeutic benefits.

Chondroitin is most commonly sourced from cow, pig, or shark cartilage.

Hyaluronic Acid

Naturally occurring in synovial fluid, hyaluronic acid makes the fluid thicker, more viscous, allowing for greater joint “padding” and lubrication. When a pet has arthritis or joint damage, the synovial fluid in the joint may be affected, becoming thinner, less able to properly lubricate the joint. When taken as a supplement (either orally or via injection directly into the joint), hyaluronic acid can restore the viscosity of a joint’s synovial fluid, help repair the cartilage, inhibit enzymes that might break down cartilage, and even teach the body to manufacture healthy lubrication again.

Hyaluronic acid for supplementation is often sourced from rooster combs, chicken cartilage, bovine eyes, and even some plant sources. It can also be synthetic (made in a lab).

Methylsulfonylmethane or MSM

MSM provides vital sulfur for your pet’s body, allowing it to produce glucosamine, chondroitin, and collagen – all needed for healthy joints. Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, MSM can also help a pet’s joint pain by restoring flexibility to cell walls and connective tissues. Additionally, as an antioxidant, it can scour the body for free radicals that can break down cartilage, cause inflexibility, and exacerbate arthritis.

All MSM for supplementing (capsules, powders, etc.) is made from chemical synthesis i.e. it does not have a plant or animal-based source.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

An essential fatty acid that your dog or cat cannot biologically synthesize on their own, omega-3s regularly added into a pet’s diet can help soothe joint pain due to significant anti-inflammatory properties. Because of this, range of movement and stiffness can be improved.

While omega-3s can be sourced from plant sources like flaxseed or algae, with moderate results, the most absorbable and effective source is from fish oil.

Avocado Soybean Unsaponifiables or ASUs

Made from avocado and soybean oil extract, ASUs can inhibit the breakdown of synovial cells which line joints. Also due to its anti-inflammatory properties, ASUs can relieve pain in pets suffering from arthritis. Pets who have taken ASUs have been shown to have less of a reliance on NSAIDS or painkillers. ASUs can work well in conjunction with glucosamine and chondroitin.

While eating avocados can be toxic to dogs and cats (some dogs can eat avocados, cats should never be fed avocados), since ASU is sourced from the pure oil of the avocado, it has been proven to be safe for dogs and cats.

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While these are not all the joint care supplements you may encounter – there are more and more being introduced to the market all the time – these are the most common. By working with your vet, pet parents have more options than ever to find a supplement, or regimen of supplements, that can improve your Forever Baby’s comfort and well-being.

Now, go out and play with your pup or kitten!

~ Your Loyal Calvin & Susie Blogger

Featured image “Jack Russell with ball.” by Emery Way via Creative Commons

Note: Always check with your vet before making any changes to your pet’s diet. The Calvin & Susie Blogger always researches to the best of her ability, but she is not a vet. This blog is not in any way meant to replace veterinary advice or care. When in doubt, always ask a vet.