It typically begins with a little stiffness after vigorous exercise. You may notice that your usually energetic pit bull is resting more than normal and experiencing difficulty rising from a lying position. He may have trouble climbing stairs or jumping on the couch to take his favorite spot next to you.
The likely diagnosis is osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease, and it affects at least one in five dogs. If left untreated, your companion's joints can quickly deteriorate to the point where even a short romp around the yard entails significant pain and discomfort.
The Problem with NSAIDs
The standard treatment for canine degenerative joint disease consists of a prescription for a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as carprofen (Rimadyl) or meloxicam (Metacam). However, while osteoarthritis is characterized by the breakdown, inflammation, and eventual loss of joint cartilage, the efficacy of NSAIDs is limited to pain management. In fact, the drugs can hasten the disease's progression by interfering with cartilage synthesis.
And while NSAIDs are generally better tolerated than their steroidal counterparts, a long list of side effects -- including gastrointestinal bleeding, kidney damage, liver failure, and death -- has been linked to NSAID use in dogs.
An Alternative to Drugs
What if there was a way to repair some of that damaged joint cartilage and provide anti-inflammatory benefits without adverse side effects? Well, placebo-controlled clinical trials have demonstrated that the following supplements are capable of doing exactly that:
- Glucosamine: This amino sugar stimulates cartilage production, helps prevent the breakdown and erosion of existing cartilage, and reduces joint pain and inflammation. However, not all types of glucosamine are equally effective. Glucosamine sulfate is generally considered the best choice, followed by glucosamine hydrochloride (HCl); avoid supplements containing n-acetyl-glucosamine (NAG), glucosamine KCl, or glucosamine NaCl.
- Chondroitin: Like glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate is a natural component of healthy cartilage. In addition to lubricating joints and providing the building blocks for the formation of new cartilage, chondroitin is believed to inhibit the production of destructive enzymes responsible for joint damage.
- MSM: Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), a naturally occurring sulfur compound, is an effective pain killer and anti-inflammatory agent that also contributes to skin, coat, and joint cartilage health.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: These essential fatty acids, specifically EPA and DHA, provide a myriad of health benefits, including significant anti-inflammatory activity. The best source of EPA and DHA is molecularly distilled (to remove environmental contaminants) fish body oil.
- Cetyl myristoleate: CM (or CMO) is an ester of the fatty acid myristoleic acid; it functions as a joint lubricant, an anti-inflammatory agent, and a pain reliever.
- Boswellia serrata: The anti-inflammatory properties of this herb rival those of NSAIDs with none of the drugs' harmful side effects. For maximum effectiveness, look for a version standardized to 65% boswellic acids.
- Manganese: This trace mineral is essential to the synthesis of cartilage and should be taken with glucosamine/chondroitin formulas; however, high levels of manganese are toxic, so it's important to exercise caution (see dosage information below).
Other supplements that may be effective in the treatment of canine osteoarthritis include bromelaine, yucca root, curcumin, hyaluronic acid, green-lipped mussel, sea cucumber, devil's claw, cat's claw, aloe vera, and various antioxidants; however, more studies are necessary to confirm the preliminary findings.
Putting It All Together
Now you know what works, but what's the right dosage? This supplement cocktail is recommended for a 50-60 lb pit bull:
Glucosamine Sulfate or HCL: 1200 mg
Chondroitin Sulfate: 800 mg
Opti-MSM (99.9% purity): 600 mg
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: 1500 mg
Cetyl Myristoleate Complex: 1500 mg
Boswellia Extract: 1000 mg
Manganese: 5 mg
Divide the above into two daily doses and mix the liquid, powder, and/or softgel supplements with a little yogurt. Most pits will lap it right up.
It's hard to find Glcosamine without Chondroitin these days, or vice versa. And typically you can find most of these in a single product, which is much more convenient.
While they do not represent a cure for degenerative joint disease, some of these supplements can indeed rebuild joint cartilage in addition to providing pain relief. You may notice decreased stiffness and increased mobility in as little as 7-10 days of starting your pit bull on these supplements. Depending on the amount of damage to your dog's joints, it could be a couple of months before long runs and the like are back on the agenda.
For best results, continue treatment for at least 8-12 months.
We put our girl on this supplement cocktail about a year ago and started seeing results after only ten days. Within 4-6 weeks, she was back to going on hour-long runs. We were thrilled, but we couldn't help wondering: Were the supplements actually rebuilding her joint cartilage or merely providing pain relief? There was only one way to find out. After eight months of treatment, we decided to temporarily discontinue all supplements. Well, it's been over four months, and we're happy to report that our girl continues to enjoy long daily runs and vigorous exercise with our younger dogs. We plan to resume her supplement regimen for preventative reasons when we reach the five-month mark, but as far as we're concerned, the evidence is clear: Glucosamine & co. really are capable of regenerating damaged joint cartilage.
Jason Harrington (Nina's human), CA
Always consult your veterinarian before starting your dog on any supplement regimen.