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Product Review: Joint Health Supplements for Pets with Glucosamine, Chondroitin, MSM & Boswellia

Initial Posting: 5/21/16  Updated 6/24/16 
Glucosamine, Chondroitin, and MSM for Pets Reviewed by
(See Separate Review of Joint Health Supplements for People >>)

What It Is:
Glucosamine and Chondroitin:
Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate occur naturally in the body. The glucosamine used in supplements is typically derived from the shells of shrimp or crabs although a corn source is also available and becoming more prevalent in the market. Glucosamine is available in a variety of chemical forms, such as glucosamine hydrochloride and glucosamine sulfate. These vary in terms of the amount of actual glucosamine available for use in the body from an equal weight of each form (See ConsumerTips™ for Glucosamine for more information). Chondroitin sulfate is generally derived from pig and cow cartilage, but even shark and chicken cartilage have been used. Chondroitin-like mucopolysaccharides from algae are also available.

MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) occurs naturally in the body but MSM in supplements is produced synthetically.

The gum resin of the Indian frankincense tree (Boswellia serrata) contains compounds (boswellic acids) thought to have anti-inflammatory properties. Most supplements contain an extract of this resin, often standardized to contain specific amounts of one or more of these boswellic acids, such as AKBA.

What It Does:
Glucosamine and Chondroitin:
Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate supplements are used to slow the progression of osteoarthritis (also referred to as degenerative joint disease or DJD) — the deterioration of cartilage between joint bones common in older dogs and cats as well as in horses. They may also reduce associated pain. Clinical signs in animals may initially include stiffness, difficulty rising, and reluctance to exercise and progress to loss of joint range of motion, lameness, and muscle loss. 

Glucosamine is thought to promote the formation and repair of cartilage. Chondroitin is believed to promote water retention and elasticity in cartilage and inhibit enzymes that break down cartilage.

Most of the clinical research on glucosamine and chondroitin has been conducted in humans (see separate report on Joint Supplements for people) which has found that the combination of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate seems to be effective in osteoarthritis patients with moderate to severe knee pain, but not those with mild pain — although not all studies show benefit. 

Animal studies have been limited. However, in experimental models of osteoarthritis in small animals, such as dogs, both preventative and therapeutic benefits have been seen. Results in horses have been more variable. One study in horses with osteoarthritis showed improvement in lameness, flexion, and stride length within two weeks of treatment with glucosamine, chondroitin and manganese, although there were no further improvements after four weeks. Results of other studies using this combination have varied. As summarized in a 2005 article in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (Neil, 2005), "Results of clinical trials of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate in horses suggest possible improvement in clinical signs; however, rigorously designed long-term trials are needed."


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