Glucosamine and Chondroitin for Pets

Research evidence suggests pets taking joint supplements develop less joint damage whenever they experience joint trauma. While it is recommended to give your pet glucosamine and chondroitin supplements when a joint is injured, consider giving joint supplements early in your pet's life as a preventive measure. Estimates are that 80-90% of senior pets have arthritis, so it's likely the majority of pets would benefit by receiving joint supplements.

Bone and joint diseases are the most common reasons pet owners give their dog or cat a daily joint supplement. They are used for arthritis, knee ligament injury (anterior cruciate ligament disease or ACL), canine hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, dislocating knee cap (patellar dislocation), rheumatoid or septic arthritis, abnormal joint cartilage development (osteochondritis dissecans or OCD), and spinal arthritis (spondylosis deformans).

Joint supplements (chondroprotectives) have also been used to help dogs and cats with inflammation throughout the body, especially areas bathed by fluid or mucus. For example, a hacking kennel cough due to an inflamed trachea, which is simply cartilage with a mucous lining, can be eased with joint supplements. Inflammation of the eye (anterior uveitis) can benefit from glucosamines and chondroitins. A pet that urinates frequently due to an irritated bladder lining can benefit from products containing glucosamine and chondroitin. Research suggests that pets with the potential to develop stomach ulcers due to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Rimadyl, may benefit from glucosamine and chondroitin in joint supplements. The stomach, like the eye, the bladder, and the trachea, is an area of the body with a mucous or fluid layer of protection. Areas with this structure and function appear to benefit from chondroprotective nutraceuticals.

What is a chondroprotective?

Chondroprotectives are nutrients found in joint supplements that have become popular because of their amazing ability to resolve joint pain. Many pet owners prefer to use chondroprotectives like glucosamine and chondroitin because they work to help the body become healthier rather than mask symptoms. They also have relatively few side effects and allow pets to take fewer prescription drugs. In addition, most nutraceuticals (antioxidants, fatty acids, and chondroprotectives) can be taken before injury occurs so that pets are predisposed to have a less significant loss of function. Because they work naturally, changing the body one cell at a time, it generally takes several weeks before we observe the benefit from taking joint supplements in your pet's body. Just as benefits are slow to materialize, they are also slow to leave if the nutraceutical is stopped; that is, they have a carry-over effect and there is continued improvement over time. Fortunately, chondroprotective supplements, unlike many drugs, are generally safe to use for long periods, even for a lifetime.

Recommended glucosamine and chondroitin joint supplements for dogs and cats
Joint supplements (chondroprotectives) used for pets

Most joint supplements contain chondroprotectives such as glucosamine, chondroitin, SAMe, and perna. Examples of chondroprotective joint supplements are Super Joint Enhancer for Dogs, Super Joint Enhancer Bite-Sized Chews (for dogs & cats), Cosequin for Dogs, Cosequin for Cats, Glyco-Flex, SynoviG3 Chews (for dogs).

If your pet has pain, use joint supplements with MSM. We recommend these products containing chondroprotectives and MSM: Super Joint Enhancer for Dogs (glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM), SynoviG3 Chews (for dogs), Glyco-Flex II, and Glyco-Flex III (dogs only) for maximum joint pain relief.

How does chondroitin benefit dogs and cats?

Chondroitin has three major functions:

  1. Inhibits the white blood cell enzymes that damage cartilage
  2. Facilitates the absorption of nutrients into cartilage
  3. Stimulates, or up-regulates, cartilage synthesis

There appears to be a synergistic benefit from using glucosamine hydrochloride and chondroitin sulfate together; that is, the benefit is greater than obtained when using them alone. Chondroitin comes from cartilage in cattle and sharks. Usually the trachea and lung tissue is used. Chondroitin is a large molecule, and its size is measured in "daltons." Some products, such as Cosequin for Dogs and Cosequin for Cats contain a smaller molecule or a low-molecular-weight form of chondroitin that may be more easily absorbed and transported to the joints.

What are the benefits of glucosamine for dogs and cats?

Glucosamine has three major functions:

  1. Stimulates cartilage to produce the mortar (glycosaminoglycans) that holds moisture around the bricks (cartilage cells)
  2. Stimulates cartilage to produce collagen, which is similar to reinforcing fibers, within cartilage
  3. Can be used to produce hyaluronic acid in synovial fluid

Glucosamine comes from the chitin or exoskeleton of crab, lobster, and shrimp. It is generally safe for pets that are allergic to fish. These pets typically have allergies to fish protein, but not to the shell.

SAMe for dogs and cats

SAMe (S-Adenosylmethionine) has been shown in European studies to benefit humans with arthritis. It protects the joint by:

  • Decreasing inflammation
  • Decreasing pain
  • Scavenging free radicals that damage cartilage

We recommend Denosyl for pets that should have SAMe.

Perna for dogs and cats

If cartilage consists of bricks (cartilage cells) and mortar (the glycosaminoglycans matrix), Perna provides mortar material. Perna canaliculus is a sea mussel that contains naturally occurring glycosaminoglycans, including chondroitin and hyaluronic acid. It also provides amino acids, enzymes, nucleic acids, and chelated minerals. It helps increase synovial fluid viscosity and relieves pain and stiffness.

Recommended joint supplements (chondroprotectives) with perna for dogs and cats
Why does cartilage need protecting?

Cartilage needs protection since bone is subjected to concussive force. Cartilage works like a padded boxing glove absorbing blows to the bone. Cartilage protects our pets' joints when they jump down from cupboards, off beds, and out of vehicles. Imagine how your joints would feel taking the same leap. Many of us don't dare do what our pets do every day. Without protection, the cartilage deteriorates and bone contacts bare bone. While cartilage doesn't have nerves, bone does; and without cartilage cushioning, this contact is painful.

How do joint supplements (chondroprotectives) work?

Joint supplements (chondroprotectives) provide essential ingredients needed to repair cartilage and synovial fluids, and they help prevent inflammation that causes pain and swelling. It has been proven that pets don't always make enough of their own joint repair building blocks, especially when they have arthritis, and it can be helpful to supply these building blocks in the form of chondroprotectives.

Using chemically marked joint supplements (chondroprotectives), research has shown these molecules are absorbed by your pet's digestive system and delivered to the joints. Inside the joint, the cartilage cells (chondrocytes) rest like bricks in a glistening mortar made of resilient material. Joint supplements affect both the bricks and the mortar. They hold onto water molecules that keep cartilage flexible, and they stimulate the chondrocytes to remove debris and to form new cells.

Nature designed a cartilage protection and lubrication system consisting of synovial cells and synovial fluid that is sealed inside a synovial membrane. Damage to the joint causes white blood cells to migrate into this system. Although white blood cells intend to attack an intruder and help the body, in fact, they release enzymes that are destructive to the inside of a joint. These enzymes thin the synovial fluid so that it no longer offers protection to concussive force because it is thinner and has less viscosity. Cartilage is also damaged by white blood cells; it thins and pits, no longer providing the padded protection of a boxer's glove. Chips and slaps of cartilage erode and expose bare bone. Now bone touches bone. Because bone contains nerves (cartilage does not) the joint aches.

How much glucosamine and chondroitin should I give my pet?

Dr. Michael Dym recommends 25 mg per pound of glucosamine to a pet once to twice daily. If your pet is on other supplements and/or prescription medications, it is important to be under supervision of a veterinarian, as some of these medications, including glucosamine, slightly decrease blood clotting abilities.

Joint supplements vs. NSAID pain medications

In general, NSAIDs stop acute joint pain more efficiently than glucosamine and chondroitin, but joint supplements are better at relieving joint pain over the long term. Because the chondroprotective is absorbed and incorporated into the joint cells, it takes several weeks before the joint has improved to the point the pet feels less pain. Adding MSM to the chondroprotective increases the supplement's ability to relieve joint pain immediately. These joint supplements contain MSM: Super Joint Enhancer for Dogs, Glyco-Flex Soft Chews, and SynoviG3 Chews (for dogs).

In the long run, joint supplements and NSAIDs are equally able to relieve pain. Because NSAIDs tend to have more side effects and they make no permanent improvement in the joint, it may be safer for some pets to be given joint supplements.

Is there research to support joint supplements work?

In research studies of Labrador Retriever puppies genetically inclined to develop hip dysplasia, those given injections of joint supplements twice a week until eight months of age had significantly more normal hips than the puppies not given joint supplements.

Evidence of joint supplements working for pets

Dogs benefiting from joint supplements demonstrate:

  • A more normal gait
  • No limping
  • Increased thigh muscle mass
  • Increased range of motion so the hind limbs extend farther
Joint supplements interactions with other pet medications

Joint supplements (chondroprotectives) can be used with many other medications and supplements: NSAIDs, corticosteroids, and Omega 3 fatty acids. When pets use joint supplements with NSAIDs, they can usually decrease the amount of NSAID needed, or the frequency with which it is needed. The same is true of prednisone and the other corticosteroids. Supplementing with joint supplements often reduces the frequency and amount of steroid a pet needs to stay comfortable.

Joint supplements are often used with Omega fatty acids. In fact, some supplements have been formulated to contain both chondroprotectives and Omega fatty acids, such as The Missing Link.

We recommend supplementing with enzymes like NaturVet Digestive Enzymes Plus Probiotic to increase the digestion and absorption of these valuable supplements.

Max's Tip

Because of the high fiber content, when giving your pet Missing Link products, start with small amounts and gradually increase to the recommended level over the course of a week or two.