Your senior dog is starting to show his age. He is less mobile, doesn’t want to jump up on the couch next to you anymore and suggests you turn back early on his daily walks. What should you do?
If your dog is showing signs of arthritis, it is definitely worthwhile to ask your veterinarian about a joint supplement with glucosamine to help keep him happy, healthy and active for years to come.
I was in that situation with our Australian Shepherd, Baloo, three years ago. Baloo was still quite active even at 12 years of age. He was diagnosed with mild hip dysplasia as a young dog but staying fit and active had kept him off any medications. He would go for long runs and walks on our farm. Then he got involved with the sport of barn hunt, which he loved as a senior. For barn hunt competitions, Baloo had to go through straw tunnels and climb on bales of straw hunting for the rat tubes. I was suddenly seeing stiffness in his movement and hesitation about some of his activities. From radiographs (x-rays) I knew he had some arthritic changes in his joints. Clearly Baloo had arthritis issues.
There are many prescription drugs and supplements you can offer your dog to try and ease his joint discomfort. Since Baloo was showing minor signs, I decided to go with a supplement before moving onto prescription medications. I wanted to save the “big guns” for when we really needed them.
Arthritis is often caused by the wearing down of cartilage so that a joint has bone-on-bone rubbing or close to that. Normally cartilage acts as a cushion between bones, helping to prevent friction and any pain. There are immune mediated conditions that can also cause destruction of cartilage, but luckily those are not common. I wanted a supplement that would help to keep Baloo’s cartilage that he still had healthy and encourage the growth of more cartilage, if possible. Healthier cartilage would be less painful, and hopefully I could avoid the need for pain medications, at least for a while. One of the supplements I chose was a combination of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate.
What Is Glucosamine?
Glucosamine is usually a natural product, made from shells of various shellfish such as oysters and crabs. It can also be produced synthetically from plant materials. Glucosamine is an important component of the substances called glycosaminoglycans. Glycoaminoglycans, along with hyaluronic acid and collagen, are all essential components for building new, healthy cartilage.
The chondroitin sulfate that glucosamine is frequently combined with is a derivative of shark or bovine cartilage. Chondroitin works on the enzymes that act to destroy or damage cartilage. Some form of ascorbic acid may also be included in a supplement to help increase absorption of the glucosamine.
What Results You Can Expect To See
Joint supplements like glucosamine are not immediate fixes. That is the difference between a supplement, like glucosamine, and a pain medication, which will work immediately but not give long-term improvement. It takes time for new cartilage to grow and damaged cartilage to heal. Most dogs show improvement in six to eight weeks, but it could be up to three months before you see the full benefit of your supplement.
Glucosamine can help an arthritic dog, but it is not a cure. Your goal is to make your dog comfortable and slow down the progression of the arthritis.
Do Studies Back Up Use Of Glucosamine?
There have not been many clinical trials done on arthritis supplements, including glucosamine, as an aid in arthritis in humans or pets. Human studies have shown that glucosamine can help, particularly in combination with some other supplements. Other studies were equivocal. A veterinary study done in 2007 showed that there is some benefit to arthritis patients from glucosamine, especially if combined with chondroitin sulfate and manganese ascorbate. I figured one peer reviewed study was better than none!
Choosing A Glucosamine Supplement
Supplements are not under strict guidelines by the Food and Drug Administration. However, the National Animal Supplement Council does offer membership to companies that meet their standards, so there is some oversight, even though it is voluntary. Before purchasing a joint supplement, check with your veterinarian for brands they trust and are comfortable with. You can also look at the NASC website for companies that follow their protocols.
How To Offer Glucosamine To Your Dog
Many companies offer flavored/chewable versions of the glucosamine supplements. As long as your dog is not allergic to any ingredients, this is often the easiest way to go. Baloo enjoyed his flavored joint supplement with the glucosamine as a treat. With the supplement added to his diet, his symptoms disappeared except for trial weekends when he was working hard and having to rest in a crate for periods of time. For those occasions, he got a short-acting pain medication.
Safety Concerns And Side Effects
It’s important to evaluate the supplement for safety and for any concerns about interactions with other drugs or medications. Many senior dogs are on a variety of medications so those are very important points to check with your veterinarian before you start any new medications or supplements with your dog.
Side effects to glucosamine are minimal. Since most preparations are derived from natural shellfish products, a dog with allergies to shellfish should avoid glucosamine. At very high doses, some dogs show increased drinking and urination. At normal doses that has not been observed. Luckily Baloo had no allergies and he never showed any undesirable side effects from his joint supplement.
Before you add a glucosamine supplement you should also check the food you are feeding. Many senior dog foods now have joint supplements formulated into the diet. More is not better, so you want to stick to a reasonable dose. Baloo’s basic diet did not have any joint supplements in it, so I knew I could safely give him one.