Glucosamine is an extremely common household supplement name; it wouldn’t be unusual for a stranger in the park to recommend it if you mention you have an arthritic dog. In fact, I have an arthritic dog and on occasion the conversation arises with other dog owners while I am walking her, there is a strong likelihood I will receive some gems of advice and usually glucosamine is one of them. But does it actually work?

What is glucosamine?

Glucosamine is the natural ‘building blocks’ of articular cartilage – the lining of our dogs’ joints. The theory is that when we suffer from arthritis our bodies require a little extra help in providing the key components of its cartilage so that it can help replace those damaged by the disease easier and quicker.

Glucosamine is usually extracted from animal-based material like shells or shellfish. Supplements aimed at arthritis in dogs are sold widely. And their marketing can be persuasive and often cause confusion as to the best choice for your dog.

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a progressive and degenerative disease and essentially means ‘inflammation of the joint’. Dogs can suffer from arthritis in any joint but most commonly their elbows and hips. Signs of arthritis can be quite subtle; such as stiffness, a limp, being grumpier than normal, not wanting to walk as far, behavioral changes and many more. Arthritis causes chronic (long term) pain and discomfort and requires lifelong changes to manage successfully. Often owners want to reach for the more ‘natural’ options, and as such can be tempted to investigate supplements. So, do they work?

Will Glucosamine help my dog?

There are many supplements on the market, some with fairly good evidence that they will help as part of your dog’s management plan, others with very poor evidence. What we want to do is pick something that has the biggest chance of helping; because, of course, our main aim is to have a happy, healthy and pain free dog. Will glucosamine be that supplement?

There was a study in 2006 that suggested glucosamine alone or with chondroitin sulphate did not perform better than a placebo. Since then, this has evolved into a long-term study, concluding that ‘over 2 years, no treatment achieved a clinically important difference in pain or function as compared with placebo’. Furthermore, the NHS will also no longer prescribe it following a study that looked at evidence in a number of clinical trials in humans, suggesting its use in arthritis management may be very limited.

What if it’s mixed with something else?

In most supplements, glucosamine is actually mixed with a number of other supplements, for example glucosamine and chondroitin. When investigating glucosamine and chondroitin combined, it was concluded that although glucosamine and chondroitin have benign side effect profiles, meaning they are unlikely to do any harm when given, the benefit of using these agents remains questionable. However, there is a product that has claimed dogs were significantly more mobile after just six weeks of use that contains Glucosamine alongside a number of other ingredients such as green lipped mussel, hyaluronic acid and many more. So how do we know which component caused this positive effect?

So what’s next? 

This highlights that Glucosamine supplements may not be as beneficial as we initially hoped. There may be better options and interventions for owners of arthritic dogs to channel their efforts and finances. The studies and trials highlight the questionable usefulness of this particular supplement, suggesting the evidence is not enough to recommend it as an effective anti-inflammatory, pain-relief or joint-disease modifier.

If your dog is showing any signs of discomfort associated with arthritis, bearing in mind that these signs are hard to pick up on until they are quite marked, then supplements alone are not enough. What we need is to work alongside your fantastic veterinary team to work holistically bringing in prescription medication, some supplements, home and lifestyle changes and considering other factors like diet and exercise. Once you have considered all that, you will have a very thorough arthritis management plan in place and hopefully a happier more comfortable dog too!

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