Glucosamine Can Help Minimize Arthritis Damage in Pets
Kim Marie Labak
University of Illinois
College of Veterinary Medicine
Glucosamine is a popular nutritional supplement for humans and animals with arthritis, but what exactly is glucosamine, and how can it help four-legged arthritis sufferers?
According to Dr. Christopher Byron, veterinary surgery specialist at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, glucosamine is a sugar very close in structure to glucose. Glucosamine is ever-present in joints; it is a component of both chondroitin, a building block of cartilage, and hyaluronic acid, a component of the "gel" in the joint capsule that provides cushioning and protection for the joint.
Dr. Byron explains, "Osteoarthritis, the type of arthritis common in dogs and horses, causes inflammatory cells to produce enzymes that degrade cartilage, resulting in irreversible damage."
Studies conducted by Dr. Byron have demonstrated that glucosamine can inhibit these enzymes that degrade cartilage, slowing the damage caused by osteoarthritis. In addition, glucosamine also reduces inflammation, thus reducing pain, and enhances the beneficial activity of chondrocytes, the cells that play a major role in rebuilding cartilage.
Osteoarthritis is a main cause of lameness in horses, and although more common in race horses and other performance horses, Dr. Byron asserts, "most horses will get it somewhere at some point in their life."
The wear and tear that comes with age can contribute to the development of osteoarthritis, so this disease is also commonly seen in middle-aged dogs, especially amongst large breeds. Dr. Byron points out that chronic osteoarthritis can cause lameness, discomfort and pain that can affect the quality of an animal's life.
"Currently, the main group of drugs used to treat osteoarthritis are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)," explains Dr. Byron. "These help alleviate pain, but they don't actually slow the progression of the disease."
Once osteoarthritis is diagnosed, Dr. Byron recommends not only treating the symptoms with NSAIDs, but also using glucosamine supplementation to slow the degradative processes and minimize damage to the cartilage.
Glucosamine is made by the body and is not abundant in the diets of dogs and horses. Dietary supplementation can help provide higher, therapeutic amounts to both dogs and horses. There are many over-the-counter products specially formulated for animals, all with different ingredient combinations. Dr. Byron recommends products that also contain chondroitin sulfate, since it works synergistically with glucosamine. He also recommends reading product labels carefully and following label directions, since products vary.
Dr. Byron points out that glucosamine supplementation can help slow progression of osteoarthritis if used in the early stages of the disease, but for advanced arthritis it may not be as helpful, since damage to the cartilage is already severe.
Although clinical research has not yet confirmed ideal dosages for glucosamine supplementation as an arthritis preventive, Dr. Byron explains that using a supplement prior to the onset of osteoarthritis indications is more likely to help than to hurt. Aside from some mild gastrointestinal signs in horses, glucosamine has very few side effects and little potential for toxicity.
"I think it may be good to supplement an active animal earlier in life, before signs of the disease develop. If an owner is willing to put up with a little added expense, it may be worth minimizing the discomfort and expense in the long run."
For more information about glucosamine supplementation for your pet, consult your veterinarian.