Supporting canine joint health during the winter months

With just a few dietary additions, you can offer your canine patients’ the joint support they need this winter. Consider these nutrients when making recommendations.

Winter is a tough season for joints. As the temperature and barometric pressure drop, tendons, muscles and the surrounding tissues expand, causing joints – especially those afflicted by arthritis – to become achy and hypersensitive. In addition to feeling the effects of cold, dry or damp weather, those that live in northern climates are more prone to injury due to snow and ice. Needless to say, this season – and the weeks preceding it – is a great time to recommend joint-supportive supplements for your canine patients.

Nutritional support for joints

There are multiple joint-supportive ingredients to consider for animals during the winter months (and year-round):

Glucosamine and chondroitin

Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are purported to slow or alter the progression of osteoarthritis. Glucosamine and chondroitin are precursors for glycosaminoglycans, which are a major component of joint cartilage; therefore, supplemental glucosamine and chondroitin may help to maintain or rebuild cartilage.1-6

New Zealand green-lipped mussel

Perhaps a less familiar ingredient used in supplements for joint support is the New Zealand green-lipped mussel (Perna canaliculus; GLM). The GLM is endemic in the coastal waters of New Zealand and has been a part of the staple diet of the indigenous Maori people for hundreds of years. Its use as an active ingredient in both human and animal joint supplements stemmed from the observation that these coastal communities had a lower incidence of arthritis than their European or inland counterparts.6-8

The GLM is not only a rich source of glycosaminoglycans, but it also has anti-inflammatory effects most likely derived from omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid content. Other lipid components include pro-resolving lipid mediators, bioactive peptides, and F-acids that may also play a role in some of the beneficial effects that have been demonstrated in the literature. Early studies of GLM found no significant benefits of GLM, but at the time, the extracts were not well preserved. In 1986, dried mussel extracts became available that were stabilized with a preservative. These stabilized lipid extracts used in more recent studies have been shown to be more effective than a non-stabilized extract at inhibiting inflammation. Today there are over 150 publications on the benefits of GSM with many in vitro and in vivo trials using GLM extracts to evaluate its effectiveness in alleviating the symptoms of inflammation and osteoarthritis in rodents, humans, dogs, cats, and horses.6-8 Several studies indicate that GLM extracts are a safe, logical supplement for the veterinary patient with osteoarthritis:

In a randomized controlled clinical study of 31 dogs with arthritis, GLM powder was added to a test diet. When compared to control groups, dogs on the GLM test diet had significant improvement in subjective arthritis scores, joint swelling, and joint pain.10 Another randomized-controlled study of 45 dogs with osteoarthritis reported dogs receiving GLM had improvement in mobility when compared with placebo.11 A study of 81 dogs with presumptive osteoarthritis reported improved clinical signs on day 56 of the study in dogs receiving GLM.12 An uncontrolled study of 85 dogs fed a GLM supplemented diet for 50 days showed reduction of a composite arthritic score when compared with baseline scores on various diets dogs were consuming.13

Boswellia serrata

Another ingredient that has found its way into joint supplements are extracts from Boswellia serrata, a medicinal plant found in the mountainous regions of India, Northern Africa and the Middle East. B. serrata is also commonly known as guggul, Indian olibanum, loban, or kundru. Since ancient times, Boswellia has been an important traditional medicinal plant used for the treatment of various ailments. More recent in vitro and in vivo studies have demonstrated the immense therapeutic potential against several conditions especially those involving inflammation.14-15

Extracts of the gum resins of Boswellia contain numerous pentacyclic triterpenic acids, with acetyl-11-keto-boswellic acid (AKBA) and 11-keto-β-boswellic acid (KBA) being primarily responsible for its anti-inflammatory effects. Studies in vitro and in vivo suggest these active components in Boswellia extracts (BSE) may inhibit the 5-lipoxygenase pathways as well as microsomal prostaglandin E2 synthase to reduce inflammation in body tissues.14-15 Studies in humans with osteoarthritis in the knee have reported some beneficial effects in mobility and pain management.16-17 A non-placebo-controlled study demonstrated a reduction in clinical signs of naturally occurring osteoarthritis in dogs supplemented with an oral BSE formulation.18 Another study evaluated two BSE containing supplements compared to placebo in a random, controlled clinical study of 32 client owned dogs with osteoarthritis. This study demonstrated an improvement in clinical signs.19 These studies in osteoarthritis as well as other studies in other chronic disease states demonstrate BSE can have some efficacy and seems safe and well tolerated.19-22

Omega 3 fatty acids

Omega 3 fatty acids such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) have been shown to help with resolving inflammation in joint and connective tissue injuries as well as osteoarthritis. Studies evaluating inflammatory mediators (thromboxane, leukotriene, and matrix metalloproteinase) within the joint fluid documented a reduction of these inflammatory mediators with omega 3 supplementation.23-24 Improvements in mobility and a reduction in lameness was reported in two studies in dogs fed a therapeutic diet supplemented with omega 3 fatty acids.25-26 Improvements in mobility (i.e. increased activity and jumping) with a reduction in lameness and stiffness was documented in cats fed a therapeutic diet containing omega-3 fatty acids.27

When is supplementation necessary?

Though some diets may contain small amounts of the above listed nutrients, most of them need to be supplemented for a therapeutic effect. Unfortunately, many pet parents don’t think to support their dog’s joints until they are showing signs of discomfort, so being proactive and recommending these dietary additions early on can be beneficial. Large breed dogs in particular can benefit since they tend to be prone to joint issues as they age.

The onset of cooler weather is a great time to reassess your patients’ diets to determine whether or not it’s sufficiently supporting the health of their joints. And for clients who are equipped to offer it, year-round support is preferred!

*This blog is sponsored by Standard Process.


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Jody has been providing clinical support for veterinarians, technicians and staff members at Standard Process for over 12 years. She is passionate about the importance of nutrition and enjoys educating veterinary professionals on the benefits that whole food-based supplements can provide to their patients. She earned her veterinary technician certification after receiving her associate's degree from Madison Area Technical College, in Madison, Wisconsin and worked in a mixed animal practice for 11 years prior to joining the Standard Process team. When not at work, Jody loves spending time with her husband, their 7 children, their chocolate Lab Kona and their black Lab Echo.


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