Osteoarthritis (degeneration of joint cartilage resulting in pain and loss of mobility) is so common in pets, dogs especially, that you would think it’s an inevitable, natural part of aging. It isn’t. To preserve the cartilage cushion between bones, a well-balanced, wholesome diet is the first line of defense. “And don’t forget the importance of proper weight control, massage [to enhance circulation], and regular exercise,” says holistic veterinarian Susan Wynn, DVM. “But if these bases are covered and your companion animal still has trouble climbing stairs, jumping up on the sofa, or arising from or getting into a resting position, it’s time to consider supplements,” explains Wynn, who is executive director of the Veterinary Botanical Medical Association and vice president of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association.
The earlier in the condition you begin treatment the better your pet’s chance of reaping the benefits of two powerhouse nutrients–glucosamine hydrochloride and chondroitin sulfate–that together maintain cartilage structure and prevent damage. Other supplements Wynn suggests include antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, the mineral selenium, fish-oil–derived omega-3 fatty acids (for their anti-inflammatory activity)–and proteolytic enzymes (to reduce inflammation and support cartilage repair by enhancing protein digestion and absorption). Anti-inflammatory herbs such as meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) or ginger (Zingiber officinale) may also offer relief. “Combining several ingredients with different mechanisms of action maximizes potential synergistic effects,” Wynn notes, “but even so, benefits may not show up for a couple of weeks, so be patient.” Start with suggested label dosages, but check with an experienced veterinarian to ensure the proper amounts for your pet.
A note of caution: Herbs and nutraceuticals may have side effects, and because the science in that area is still emerging, Wynn says it’s a good idea to monitor blood work every six to 12 months when animals are on any chronic medication–even supplements.
Merchandise bearing the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) seal is manufactured by companies screened by the NASC, and you can find NASC supplier members by visiting NASC or calling 760.751.3360. Consult a holistic veterinarian for questions about specific products, though, because the animal supplement industry is still young and even products that don’t yet carry the NASC seal may be effective.