Humans and animals alike all deal with joint discomfort. It’s a common musculoskeletal issue that can result from a lack of necessary nutrients or from fierce & frequent play. Proper joint care can be key to an animal’s long-term well-being. Caring for your dog’s or cat’s body is a matter of education – once you understand the issues at the musculoskeletal level, you can be better prepared to improve your pet’s current conditions and prevent further joint damage. (As always, consult your veterinarian if you have health concerns)
Elements of a canine joint:
- Two bone endings: like at the elbow, where the humerus bone meets the radius & ulna bones, for example
- Joint fluid: thick, viscous fluid that both lubricates the movement of the bone endings, and supplies nutrients to the surrounding cartilage
- A joint capsule: a membrane that keeps the joint fluid in place around the bone endings
- Cartilage: a smooth, porcelain-like surface that allows for gliding and protects the bone endings
What causes joint issues?
The synovial tissue of the joint capsule may become inflamed, causing the release of degrading enzymes that break down the thickness of the joint fluid. Thinner joint fluid equals less lubrication, which means bone endings won’t glide as smoothly. Joint cartilage can also break down, causing the surface to become rough. This creates firing of nerve endings or discomfort. When mechanical force comes into contact with a weakened joint, there is less to keep it protected. In worst cases, fractures could ensue.
What can you do about it?
Once you (and your vet) can safely rule out any major injuries, take a look at your pet’s diet and nutrient intake. Being scavenger carnivores, dogs would normally obtain joint fluids from the cartilage and bones of their prey. Now that they are domesticated, their natural source of vital nutrients is missing (especially if they now live on a kibble diet. Kibble lacks many of the necessary nutrients needed to maintain optimal health – switching to a raw diet can help!). Dogs who remain on a dry food diet will need an alternate source for these joint fluid in order to support the proper function of their joints.
Glucosamine, chondroitin, and hyaluronic acid are common joint supplements found on the market (see below for a brief overview of these three supplements). While these supplements are beneficial for your pet, a very small amount of the joint fluid components is actually absorbed into the body. Additionally, most of these supplements only work on a daily basis. For example, when ingested, glucosamine will automatically start working to thicken joint fluid. However, hydrolyzing enzymes also enter the scene and break down the fluid, a natural (but also completely counter-active) bodily response. The next day, the same thing will happen: glucosamine will thicken, enzymes will break down.
- Glucosamine: metabolizes into chondroitin and hyaluronic acid molecules (which are 2-3 times bigger than a glucosamine molecule), can help to thicken joint fluid
- Chondroitin: a structural component of cartilage, gives cartilage its “sponginess” and helps resistance to compression
- Hyaluronic acid: a component of synovial fluid that lubricates the joints
When browsing supplements to promote joint and musculoskeletal health in your dog, it’s important to look for products that not only contain glucosamine (a short-term aid), but also incorporate moderate-term aids like MSM and herbs to keep soft tissue healthy, and long-term aids like omega-3 fatty acids to keep down inflammation. The combination of these varying-term supplements will work to support and improve your dog’s joints and overall musculoskeletal health, while also preventing the likelihood of future, more severe issues. Below are some great supplements that can aid your dog’s sore or weak joints:
- An organic source of sulfur
- Anti-inflammatory effects
- Turmeric, yucca, corydalis and boswellia help to maintain healthy soft tissue
- Frankincense and ligusticum help invigorate blood and stop discomfort
- Cinnamon can warm the body and direct action to the limbs
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Fish and salmon oil, flax seed
- Prolonged anti-inflammatory effects
- Warming foods
- Ginger, molasses, basil, turkey, chicken, black beans, squash, and oats
- Help to soothe and relax joints
- Consistent moderate exercise
- Helps to maintain muscle tone & healthy joints
- For a less-traumatic exercise, try swimming
A note about glucosamine & the supplement market:
The amount of glucosamine given to an animal every day is important. Animals need a certain amount to reach levels in which the supplement becomes therapeutic (ie – properly supporting joint health). Of course, any amount of glucosamine is better than none at all, but to truly help your dog’s joints, there is a right amount to give daily (see below). Critical evaluation of supplements is completely up to the educated consumer. Presently, there are no legal distinctions between the mere presence of a substance and an adequate amount of a substance in a product. It is up to the informed pet owner to determine (and demand!) an adequate level of a substance to cause the intended effect.
The recommended daily dosage of oral glucosamine for dogs:
- Less than 30 pounds = 500 – 1000 mg
- From 30 to 50 pounds = 1000 – 1500 mg
- From 50 to 80 pounds = 1500 – 2000 mg
- Greater than 80 pounds = 2000 – 2500 mg
Take, for example, glucosamine: a 50-lb dog requires 1500mg of glucosamine a day to maintain the thickness and viscosity of joint fluid. A leading hip & joint product contains 300mg of glucosamine per 6-oz bag. When doing the math, that 50-lb dog would need to eat FIVE, 6-oz bags a day to reach a level that would benefit his joint fluid. Simply because there is the presence of glucosamine in the product, the company can legally advertise it on the label. However, it does not actually have nearly enough glucosamine to be considered a useful joint supplement. In contrast, a high-quality joint supplement would have the recommended 1500mg of glucosamine in the daily dose.
The two things to calculate to compare joint supplement products are the amount of product needed daily to reach a therapeutic level and the price per day. Do the math – be an advocate for your pet!
Herbsmith’s Joint Products:
- Sound Dog Viscosity®: a glucosamine-based formula that aids in joint support by maintaining the normal viscosity of joint fluid. Sound Dog Viscosity also contains Chondroitin, MSM, Hyaluronic Acid, and herbs to better address all aspects of joint support. MSM and the herbs in Sound Dog Viscosity – yucca, boswellia, curcumin (turmeric), and corydalis – help to maintain and support a healthy, normal inflammatory response and may help to reduce inflammation associated with normal daily exercise and activity, training, and competition.
- Young Dog Viscosity®: a glucosamine-based formula for joint support in younger dogs. With Chondroitin, MSM, and Hyaluronic Acid (and without the herbs), Young Dog is a great formula for dogs in their first 3-5 years of life, who’ve not yet sustained as much activity on their joints as an older dog.
- Sound Kitty®: a glucosamine-based formula that aids in joint support by maintaining the normal viscosity of joint fluid. Sound Kitty also contains chondroitin, MSM, hyaluronic acid, and herbs to better address all aspects of joint support. MSM and the herbs in Sound Kitty – frankincense and curcumin – help to maintain and support a healthy, normal inflammatory response and may help to reduce inflammation associated with normal daily exercise, play, and activity.
- Comfort Aches®: maintains a healthy musculoskeletal system, even in the roughest of play. This unique combination of herbs has gentle and harmonizing properties, making Comfort Aches the ideal natural alternative. Comfort Aches helps to maintain a normal inflammatory response and is great for dogs and cats experiencing occasional aches, discomfort, stiffness, or soreness with the optimum blend of herbs to enhance the body’s normal repair of connective tissues and joints.
- Soothe Joints®: Maintenance of healthy joints requires the proper function of the joint capsule, cartilage on the bone endings, and viscous joint fluid. Soothe Joints assists in the maintenance of healthy joint capsules and in the preservation of thickened joint fluid to help maintain normal movement. Soothe Joints is useful for older dogs and cats experiencing occasional joint stiffness, soreness, and tenderness associated with normal, every-day activities, especially in cold, damp weather. By supporting the structural integrity of joints and connective tissues, it helps promote cartilage development and joint health.