Nutraceuticals for animal arthritis

Medications aren’t only way to manage arthritis. From chondroitin to yucca, these nutraceuticals can work on many levels to relieve discomfort and improve mobility in cats and dogs.

If you have arthritis, or know someone who does, you’ll recognize how miserable and debilitating it can be. Like us, many companion animals also develop arthritis as they age.

The discomfort and decreased mobility characterizing the condition arise from inflammatory and degenerative changes occurring inside affected joints. Although arthritis is irreversible, its progression can be slowed, and the associated discomfort drastically reduced, with a consistent well-thought-out therapeutic plan.

Prescription medications may be required to control moderate to severe pain, but these agents can produce a constellation of side effects, ranging from gastrointestinal upset to life-threatening perforation of the stomach wall, or dangerous blood clot formation in the lungs. Nutraceuticals offer a safer way to give your dog or cat relief.

Oral and injectable joint health supplements are now widely available for dogs and cats. They often function as a safe alternative or complement to veterinarian-managed drug therapy. These dietary supplements are effective and relatively inexpensive, and side effects are very rare and extremely mild. In mild cases of arthritis, these natural supplements may be all that are required to control an animal’s clinical signs. In more advanced cases, when a drug or combination of drugs is required, regular nutraceutical use can significantly lower the dosage of drug needed.

Certain nutraceuticals are prized not only for their ability to reduce pain, but for their influence on joint architecture over time. For example, the regular consumption of oral chondroitin, glucosamine, hyaluronic acid, MSM, green-lipped mussel extract and an antioxidant blend can potentially repair and strengthen the padded cartilage covering the bone surfaces involved in joint articulation. Further benefits include the nourishment of synovial fluid in joint spaces, resulting in more uniform joint movement and less pain with joint flexion and extension. These anatomical changes can be maintained with regular supplementation, improving joint health and quality of life.

14 supplements for arthritis relief

Use supplements specifically developed and packaged for use in dogs and cats, as opposed to those marketed for humans. The advantages of species-specific products include easy and safe dosing, improved palatability and better bioavailability. Consult with an integrative or holistic veterinarian before starting your animal on any new supplement.

1. Glucosamine HCl is a special type of sugar found in various body tissues, including bone. It helps prevent the formation of damaging inflammatory substances within joints, protect the health of cartilage cells, and encourage the production of important proteins that maintain joint health.

2. Chondroitin sulfate is a complex sugar naturally found within joint tissue. Chondroitin binds with certain proteins and other molecules, resulting in complexes that form the cushiony, shock-absorbing tissue found in joints. Chondroitin-deficient joints are prone to degenerative joint disease (arthritis).

3. Hyaluronic acid (HA) is another complex sugar needed by the body to form healthy cartilage. This large molecule is capable of scavenging free radicals within joints, providing improved joint fluid viscosity and alleviating joint pain.

4. Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is a sulfur containing compound with potent anti-inflammatory properties. In addition to reducing inflammation, MSM is recommended for maintaining healthy, supple cartilage.

5. New Zealand green-lipped mussel (Perna canaliculus) extracts are formulated from a shellfish and contain potent anti-inflammatory properties. The compounds in the mussel can directly inhibit substances that signal the body to mount an inflammatory response. Supplements containing Perna extract have been shown in scientific studies to reduce pain in dogs with osteoarthritis.

6. Omega-3 fatty acid (DHA/EPA) supplementation from fish oil improves cardiovascular health, say medical researchers. In veterinary medicine, Omega-3 fatty acids tend to be used as an anti-inflammatory agent in patients with allergic skin disorders and osteoarthritis.

Flaxseed oil is loaded with Omega-3, 6 and 9 fatty acids, in specific ratios to each other. Although this plant-derived oil can provide some anti-inflammatory support, it is probably best to choose concentrated Omega-3 fish oil supplements for osteoarthritis.

7. Olive oil contains a moderate amount of vitamin E and other important antioxidants and nutrients, so adding it to an arthritic animal’s diet can be beneficial. If it is given for arthritis, it should be combined with, and not used in place of, Omega-3 fish oils.

8. Avocado soybean unsaponifiables, isoflavones and isoflavonoids are a group of plant-derived compounds showing promise in the management of degenerative joint disease in animals and humans. These bioactive, concentrated, natural compounds support healthy cartilage formation and may reduce pain associated with joint inflammation.

9. Tart cherry extract is a popular supplement that has been used for decades by arthritis sufferers to relieve chronic pain. It is thought that tart cherries, in the form of juice, fruit flesh or dried extract (which can be found in certain pet joint health products), contain anti-inflammatory compounds that can reduce joint swelling and discomfort.

10. Modified milk protein is a specialized dairy protein patented by VPL under the name Duralactin®. This protein is derived from the milk of heavily immunized cows, and has been shown to profoundly inhibit pro-inflammatory substances within joints. Dogs and cats with arthritis pain may find significant relief when this product is given regularly, in conjunction with other joint health supplements.

11. Manganese is a trace mineral. It plays a well-recognized role in certain antioxidant pathways that must occur to maintain the health of cells throughout the body. Some canine and feline arthritis sufferers may benefit from restricted supplementation on a daily basis. Avoid over-supplementation by using a product with a pre-measured quantity of manganese in each serving.

12. Vitamins C and B are water-soluble, vital compounds that should always be provided to older arthritic animals. The recommended daily value can be reached by offering a well-rounded diet and a quality, animal-specific vitamin/ mineral/antioxidant blend.

13. Yucca is a Latin American plant with anti-inflammatory properties. A freshly-boiled, soft yucca root is a great afternoon snack for a slow-to-rise, geriatric golden retriever. Dried yucca stalk extracts can be found in health food stores, and can also be used in animal patients.

14. Herbs that can help with arthritis are too numerous to discuss in detail. Some dried herbs and herbal preparations that might be useful for an arthritic animal include Arnica, Cartilago suis, Dulcamara (bittersweet nightshade), Embryo/placenta suis, Funiculus umbilicalis suis, Alpha lipoicum acidum, Nadidum, Natrum oxalaceticum, Rhus toxicodendron, Sanguinaria canadensis, Silicea, Symphytum officinale, white willow, Lobelia and Boswellia.

Nutraceuticals are only one spoke in a giant wheel of treatment options for arthritis. In my opinion, a broad treatment plan should include chiropractic care, acupuncture, massage therapy, low heat therapy and physical therapy (passive range of motion exercises or low impact exercise such as swimming). A heavily-padded (preferably heated) high quality animal bed is also a must.