A look at horse oral joint supplement ingredients

A look at oral joint supplement ingredients that are backed by science

Supplement in Container

Can you name one of the most common causes of lameness in horses? If you said osteoarthritis (OA), you’re right. As common as it is, OA remains an incurable disease, and once it presents itself in a joint, there’s no going back.

Knowing this might cause you to sprint over to the supplement aisle of your local feed or tack store, only to be met with an overabundance of oral joint supplements, each label touting an ability to prevent or slow OA progression. But, believe it or not, most of these supplements’ ingredients have no scientific backing in horses, with label claims relying on data extrapolated from research performed in humans and other animals. So which oral joint ingredients do have published results specifically in horses? Let’s find out.

Glucosamine & Chondroitin Sulfate

Glucosamine is an amino monosaccharide (sugar attached to the amino acid glutamine). Chondroitin sulfate is a glycosaminoglycan (GAG), an important component of articular (joint) cartilage.

Mode of Action Both glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate help protect and provide nutrients to joints. Glucosamine is a precursor to (it transforms, chemically, into) GAGs such as chondroitin sulfate. Chondroitin sulfate gives articular cartilage resistance to compression.

Research Researchers have performed many in vitro (in the laboratory, on tissue samples) studies to better understand glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate’s mode of action at the cellular level, either alone or combined. Note that unlike in vivo studies performed on living animals, these experiments do not precisely mirror the conditions found in nature. One involved corticosteroid joint injections, which veterinarians commonly administer to promote joint health. However, some corticosteroids can inhibit proteoglycan (basically a chain of GAGs with a core protein molecule) production, negatively affecting articular cartilage. At the University of Illinois in 2008, Byron et al. found that glucosamine helped protect proteoglycan production when the cartilage was exposed to a corticosteroid.

Using articular cartilage from horse cadaver limbs in 2003, researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) found that glucosamine reduced the expression of genes for matrix metalloproteinases (enzymes responsible for cell degradation) and could help protect joint cartilage.

Another team of MSU researchers took articular cartilage from cadaver limbs and exposed it to mechanical impact to simulate a joint injury. By culturing the cartilage with a combination of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate (GC), they concluded that GC could help mitigate some of the inflammatory response following joint trauma (Harlan et al., 2012).

Outside of the lab, Martha Rodgers, VMD, of Shephard Hill Equine, in Kentucky, followed 10 hunter/jumper and eventing horses for eight years in a published field study looking at a glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate supplement’s effects on hock injection frequency. Before starting on the supplement, the horses averaged 1.7 joint injections per year at 6.8-month intervals. During the six years they consumed the supplement at the manufacturer’s recommended dose, the horses’ average number of joint injections dropped to 0.85 every 9.98 months. Rodgers did note that six to eight months of consistent GC supplement use is necessary prior to seeing results. It’s also important to note that the level of evidence in this small-scale study is not as strong as that of a placebo-controlled and blinded trial.

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Glucosamine For Dogs?

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Glucosamine is a compound that is produced naturally in dogs’ bodies and is mostly found in healthy cartilage. It can also be given to dogs in the form of supplements, or it can be present in the food that dogs eat. Generally, it is used to treat arthritis in dogs, though it can be used to treat other painful joint and bone conditions, as well. If you are considering supplementing your dog’s glucosamine intake, there are several things you should consider, including the delivery method of the glucosamine, the dosage, and the possible side effects. Here is what you should know about glucosamine for dogs.

What Is Glucosamine?

Glucosamine is a natural compound that is made up of the amino acid glutamine and sugar, called glucose. It is produced by dogs’ bodies and aids in the formation of molecules that make up cartilage in the joints. The compound is necessary for repairing the wear and tear that happens to the joints over time. When the body ages, it produces less glucosamine, which can lead to joint problems like arthritis. Supplementing glucosamine for dogs can help maintain the body’s ability to repair joints.

There are three major types of glucosamine. Glucosamine sulfate is the most commonly used in supplements. It is extracted from shellfish shells or produced synthetically and contains sulfur, which helps in cartilage repair. Glucosamine hydrochloride also comes from shells, but doesn’t have sulfur and has been shown to be less effective. N-acetyl-glucosamine is the the third type and is derived from glucose, which helps in the production of the synovial fluid that lubricates joints.

What Does Glucosamine Do?

Supplemental glucosamine can be used to provide relief from a number of health concerns in dogs. In addition to aiding in the repair of cartilage, it also has anti-inflammatory properties, which helps to further reduce the pain caused by the degradation of cartilage in the joints.

Glucosamine can be used to treat conditions in dogs such as hip dysplasia and spinal disc injury in addition to arthritis. It can also be used to aid in recovery after joint surgery and slow the aging process in joints. N-acetyl-glucosamine in particular can be used to improve and maintain gut health. It does so by aiding in the creation of connective tissues in the gastrointestinal system. This form of glucosamine can reduce inflammation in the digestive system and improve the symptoms of irritable bowel disease.

How Should You Give Your Dog Glucosamine?

Glucosamine is available for dogs in the form of supplements that can be tablets, pills, powders, or liquids. These are usually meant to be given daily. They can be expensive and are sometimes made synthetically, rather than naturally extracted from shellfish shells. Synthetic supplements can sometimes lose their effectiveness more quickly than natural sources. If you decide to give your dog supplements, you should ask your veterinarian about proper dosage. Some dog foods claim to be a source of glucosamine, but the amount they contain is often far less than what your dog needs to maintain joint health.

Glucosamine supplements are often given to dogs along with chondroitin sulfate, which is extracted from the cartilage of cows or sharks, or methylsulfonylmethane (MSM). Chondroitin helps cartilage retain water, and MSM improves joint flexibility and reduces pain and inflammation.

Another way to give glucosamine to your dog is through the food they eat. Foods that are high in cartilage often contain high levels of glucosamine. Trachea, chicken feet, ox or pig tails, beef knuckle bones, bones that have a lot of cartilage, shellfish shells, green lipped mussel, and bone broth are all great sources of glucosamine. You should ask your veterinarian before making any dietary changes for your dog.

Are There Side Effects?

Some side effects have been seen in dogs that take glucosamine supplements. These are generally uncommon and mild, though if you see symptoms that are concerning, contact your veterinarian right away. Here are a few common side effects of glucosamine.

  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Excessive thirst or urination

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