Is there anything more miserable for a pet parent than living with an active dog that can’t live life to the max because of debilitating joint disease?
Sadly this heart-breaking scenario is all too common, especially amongst dogs such as German shepherds, Labradors, and Border collies.
This is because these breeds have a genetic tendency to joint conditions such as hip or elbow dysplasia.
If you are an owner whose previous dog has suffered the misery of developing early arthritis (or own an older arthritic dog) then you’ll be keen to do what you can to protect the joints of your next dog.
On weapon in the fight to preserve healthy that you may wish to consider is glucosamine for dogs.
No one wants to give their dog drugs unnecessarily, and this is doubly so when you own a young puppy.
However, if you wish to invest in the long term health of your puppy’s joints then you can breathe easy with glucosamine for dogs because it’s not actually a drug.
So if glucosamine isn’t a medication, what is it?
The answer is a glucosamine is a nutraceutical, in other words a food supplement with a beneficial medical effect on the body – in this case on the joints.
The glucosamine molecule is an amino acid (a building block of protein).
When taken regularly it helps protects the cartilage lining of joints or in science-speak has a ‘chondroprotective’ action.
The main uses of glucosamine as a dietary supplement are to keep the joints in the best possible condition and to have a mild anti-inflammatory effect…but more of this later.
What do you need to repair a damaged brick wall?
The answer is obvious: bricks and mortar.
To repair damaged joints you need supplies, in the form of the building blocks of cartilage and slippery joint fluid to nourish them and aid smooth movement.
It is glucosamine that delivers these consumables.
In other words, glucosamine supplies the basic ingredients that help to nourish chondrocytes (the cartilage cells lining a joint) and make joint fluid the best lubricant it can be.
At the risk of getting too technical, glucosamine supplies the ingredients for manufacturing substances vital to the health of the joint, such as hyaluronic acid and the GAG (glycosaminoglycan’s) layer.
These substances have both a protective and a lubricating effect in joints, much like using a high grade engine oil to keep the moving parts of your car engine running sweetly.
Glucosamine is not a painkiller.
If your dog has arthritis, then by all means use glucosamine to aid joint repair but don’t expect it to take away discomfort – for this your fur-friend must take a painkiller.
Indeed, the role of glucosamine is as a preventative, a long term investment in joint health.
Instead, glucosamine role is to keep joints healthy, protect them from damage, and encourage repair.
So if your dog has early signs of arthritis or advanced joint disease, use glucosamine to slow up the deterioration but be sure to give the dog pain relief (as prescribed by your vet).
It needs to be said that glucosamine can only do so much and is never going to reverse the changes in a severely damaged joint.
Neither does it act quickly; in fact the best way to use glucosamine is to give it long term, starting when the dog is still young, in order to delay the onset of arthritis.
Hence why it’s a useful product to use if your pup belongs to a breed linked to hip or elbow dysplasia.
To understand the benefits of glucosamine it helps to understand how arthritis damages a joint.
Imagine your Labrador starts to limp.
It might be he has sprained a joint or it could be he’s in the early stages of arthritis.
You take the dog to the vet.
They confirm the dog’s hips are painful and suggest taking x-rays.
But there’s one problem with this…
The problem being that the early stages of arthritis won’t show up on x-ray.
This is because the first stage is inflammation of the lining of the joint capsule, which radiographs are sensitive enough to detect.
And that’s how arthritis starts – with inflammation.
A supple, healthy joint consists of bones that move against each other, with a coating of smooth, shiny cartilage and a good dollop of nicely lubricating joint fluid.
When that cartilage lining becomes inflamed it swells, plus the joint fluid becomes thinner.
Think of what happens when you scratch sore skin, and you get an idea of what happens inside the joint.
The load bearing weight on each joint means it’s almost inevitable the cartilage chips and flakes, leading to further pain and inflammation.
Over time the body tries to heal itself, but it does this by laying down new bone, which can get in the way and reduce how well the joints move.
But what if there was a way, not only to decrease this vicious cycle but to equip it with the building blocks of repair.
This is where glucosamine comes in.
It has a mild anti-inflammatory action but it also supplies the molecules necessary for the joint to heal itself.
Imagine how this would benefit a young dog of a breed prone to degenerative joint disease?
Much like doing remedial work on that brick wall by repointing regularly, glucosamine can postpone more serious damage.
In the race between the tortoise and the hare, think of glucosamine as the tortoise and pain relief as the hare.
It takes a while for the benefits of glucosamine to be noticed, plus you start with a higher loading dose for 4 – 6 weeks, before dropping down to a maintenance dose.
Different glucosamine supplements contain either the sulfate salt form of the molecule or the hydrochloride form.
Of these, the latter is better absorbed from the stomach and so the best glucosamine for dogs in the hydrochloride (or HCl) form and it’s worth purchasing this in preference.
In addition, the beneficial effects of glucosamine are amplified in the presence of another nutraceutical called chondroitin.
This is why so many joint supplements are a combo of glucosamine and chondroitin.
However, a word to the wise at this point.
There are no strict controls on what’s in a nutraceutical, in the same way medicines are put through rigorous testing.
This means that the strength and purity of the supplement as claimed on the packaging is not guaranteed.
Thus, although the pack you bought from the pet superstore may appear a bargain, you have no guarantee that it’s as strong as the packaging claims.
This is why vet-retailed products are more costly, because some trusted manufacturers do pride themselves on testing their supplements and are able to back up the label claims.
When wondering how much glucosamine for dogs you need to give, the recommended amounts are:
If you own a 35 kg Labrador this means looking for a supplement containing at least 770 mg of glucosamine and 308 mg of chondroitin.
Remember this is the maintenance dose given each day, so double this up for that initial 4 – 6 week loading.
Happily glucosamine is extremely safe as it is a food supplement, and can be given alongside pain relieving drugs.
There is some debate about whether it’s safe to give to diabetics, so if your dog has diabetes it’s best to talk things through with your vet.
It’s hard to overdose your dog with glucosamine, but if you did the dog might become flatulent and have soft stools.
The good news is that all you need to do is stop the supplement for a day or so, and then restart at a lower dose.
Simple as that!
So remember, the key points to take home about glucosamine are that it’s a long term investment in your dog’s joint health.
If you are concerned about keeping your dog mobile into old age, then consider starting a glucosamine supplement sooner rather than later.
Dr Sarah Robinson attended veterinary school at Oklahoma State University receiving a D.V.M. in 2008. Sarah’s longtime interest is to help people to better communicate with their pet companions, and in doing so, to help them to strengthen their relationships with their dogs and cats. Sarah has published numerous articles on canine feeding in pet related magazines, veterinary journals and leading natural health web sites.