Every day dogs give their joints a real pounding. Each time their paws hit the ground as they bound after a tennis ball, or they land on the shore after jumping off the back deck of a boat, or they just run in the park, they put their limbs under intense pressure.
For some dogs, this causes a problem. The more they use their legs the more injuries they potentially sustain. This can end up with joint problems, including anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears and osteoarthritis.Indeed, the two top joint problem categories that vets come across in dogs are developmental and degenerative.
These include hip and elbow dysplasia, where a joint fails to develop correctly in a plethora of different ways.
The most common degenerative problems – and the biggest cause of arthritis in dogs – involve the cruciate ligaments, where the ligament degenerates over time and triggers instability and secondary osteoarthritis.
The goal of every active dog owner should be the preservation of the animal’s fitness and physical and mental faculties, so you both can enjoy activities for as long as possible. Preventing injury and the breakdown of the structure of a dog’s limbs, which can accompany the ageing process, is a huge challenge.
The Benefits of Glucosamine
Recently one nutritional supplement in particular has been embraced by dog owners and vets for its ability to meet these particular challenges: Glucosamine.
It is the most commonly used supplement for prevention of lameness due to osteoarthritis (which is also known as degenerative joint disease or DJD).
The thing is the joint!
For active dogs, mobility is about the health of the cartilage that forms the protective cushion between their bones where they meet at the joint. Cartilage provides a watery, spongy pad where the shoulder, knee, hip, wrist, elbow and other bones meet. It acts as a shock absorber between the bones when in motion.
Cartilage, because it lacks a blood supply; relies on the joint’s motion to pump liquid in and out, pulling the necessary nourishment into the tissue. Over time, cartilage becomes thinner, drier, and less effective at cushioning the bones.
Joint problems happen when the rate of a joint cartilage’s degrading exceeds the rate at which the dog’s body replenishes it. When the supply of cartilage is inadequate, bone grinds against bone, and the bone becomes inflamed along with surrounding nerves, which triggers pain and reduces mobility.
Cartilage is dynamic. It constantly turns over and renews itself, especially when a dog is still a puppy. It is important that this cartilage tissue gets proper nourishment at every stage of a dog’s life – especially if it active. If you leave this nourishment when you see visible signs of degenerating joints it will be too late.
The causes of lost cartilage are many and varied. Hip dysplasia, which describes the hip’s ball and socket joint when it has developed incorrectly, and weak bone structure (osteochondrosis) that can be caused by poor breeding, are at the top the hereditary condition list.
Accidents like dislocations, torn ligaments, or even the trauma of surgery, have been known to trigger cartilage to deteriorate. Also common are growths of bone material in the joint (called spurs),which cause joint inflammation that breaks down healthy cartilage.
Lyme disease and other inflammatory and degenerative joint diseases can affect dogs of all ages. And osteoarthritis – which is the result of an erosion of cartilage as part of the ageing process and over exercising – is now one of the most frequent health problems diagnosed in highly active or older mature dogs.
Glucosamine’s Role in Joint Health
The reason Glucosamine has been recognised as the nutritional supplement of choice is that it is an essential element in joint cartilage. Composed of an amino acid and a sugar it occurs naturally in the bodies of many mammals.
Because the molecules are hard to compress, they are fantastic shock absorbers. They also hold water, making them great lubricants. When cartilage is damaged it triggers a downward spiral: the joint becomes inflamed, releasing enzymes into the joint, that break down the cartilage further, thinning the lubricating fluid, which makes joints more susceptible to injury over time.
Adding glucosamine as a supplement to a dog’s diet tips the balance in favour of healthy cartilage, halting the cycle of cartilage loss due to injury, overuse, or joint disease. Glucosamine helps with the aim of providing cartilage tissue with lots of what the body needs to generate healthy cartilage cells to replace damaged or lost cells, by creating the environment which supports cell formation and thickens joint fluids.
To stave off joint issues in active dogs, dog owners need to start a programme of joint maintenance and injury prevention when an active dog is just one or two years old. Many don’t – not least because they perceive the price of glucosamine supplements to be too much.
There is a huge variety of glucosamine supplements to choose from. – and a large choice of delivery methods including pills, liquid, capsules, powder, and even intramuscular injection.
Many contain ingredients that purport to enhance glucosamine’s positive effects. A lot of the available products contain “synergistic” ingredients like vitamins C, D, and E, manganese, Omega-6 fatty acids, Omega-3 oil, and herbs like alfalfa and yucca. Some also contain chondroitin sulfate that medical professionals believe can aid the retention of fluids in the cartilage.
Vets who have used both glucosamine and chondroitin report huge clinical success with glucosamine, and some clinical improvement with chondroitin. They also advise that you ensure the manufacturer of your chosen product provides a “guaranteed analysis” of the amount of glucosamine in each dose.