The Benefits of a Canine Joint Supplement for Working, Active and Older Dogs
John A. Mulnix, DVM


There are several factors to consider when using chondroprotective agents for dogs. The ideal formula should contain quality ingredients that encompass a wide range of activities and functions. Does the formula contain nutrients that will supply the building blocks for tissue building and rehydration of the joint? Does the formula also contain ingredients that can help your dog’s body minimize the impact of the aging process and the impact to the joints and articular surfaces? Is the dog an active dog that hikes, does agility training, or dock jumping, putting more stress than usual on the joints? Are there any new and safe nutrients that can be used to make a truly complete formula? Is it easy to administer, since dogs may be taking the product for extended periods?

First, consider the basics of joint health and the reasons for use of a chondroprotective agent.

Some animals are predisposed genetically to joint issues and degeneration of joint tissue may occur at a very early age. Other animals may experience abnormal wear and tear on joints due to poor conformation and/or excess mechanical stress to the musculoskeletal system and therefore the joints. Yet another group of animals may experience damage due to the aging process and insufficient healing mechanisms. Whatever the reason for mobility issues, a chondroprotective agent could be helpful to maintaining joint health. This is especially important for active, larger breeds, or older dogs.

Free radicals are a necessary component of all living systems but are also a major contributor to joint damage. They are energetically unstable molecules that are missing electrons or have unpaired electrons. Free radicals travel in the body until they can steal an electron from another molecule. The free radical has now been quenched (stabilized) but has left the other molecule as a free radical. This reaction cascades and forms a path of destruction, usually to cellular membranes. If the cellular membrane is damaged over a great enough area, it can kill the cell and genetic material can be lost or damaged. Free radicals have also been shown to contribute to cartilage damage by irreversibly breaking down cartilage matrix proteoglycans. Free radicals can be a beneficial player in the body’s defense mechanisms by destroying bacteria, but if left unchecked can damage normal cells and tissue of the body.

The damage caused by free radicals is called oxidative damage. Tissue, such as cartilage, may be placed under oxidative stress in many conditions including injury and normal metabolic processes. Active dogs create more free radicals during exercise because they are using more oxygen. The body does have antioxidant systems built in, but in times of stress, they may not be sufficient. Antioxidants from plant extracts containing oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPC) can make insignificant difference in joint strength and mobility when taken as part of a joint supplement.

How can joint supplements help?

Joint supplements can rehydrate and rebuild cartilage as long as there is still a good amount of cartilage in the joint to serve as base material. Supplements with beneficial antioxidants including plant extract polyphenols are especially helpful for maintaining healthy joint tissue. A complete formula will contain polyphenol antioxidants, glucosamine HCl, chondroitin sulfate and hydrolyzed collagen, an innovative nutrient for keeping cartilage healthy and strong. Using these ingredients may result in stronger, more youthful joints with greater ranges of use.

It is important to take joint supplements consistently. Why? Because cartilage is a non-vascular tissue. The only blood supply to cartilage is provided by vessels embedded in the inner layer of a fibrous membrane (perichondrium) that covers the outer surface of all cartilaginous structures. The cartilage cells (chondrocytes) within the matrix must rely on diffusion to attain the nutrients they need. Supplementation is important for boosting the number of nutrients available to each cell. Feeding chondrocytes what they need can stimulate reconstruction of cartilage and matrix. Without capillaries supplying the joint health nutrients directly into cartilage, the joint building amino acids, peptides, trace nutrients and co-factors must slowly diffuse through the structural matrix from joint-lubricating synovial fluid and from the capillaries of the perichondrium. If the animal is given a joint supplement daily, you will increase the flow of nourishment, urging more of the nutrients into the cartilage. They will diffuse to the chondrocytes, and healthy joint tissue construction will begin.

Joint health changes you may see include changes in strength and mobility that may be noticeable in less than four weeks. Each dog is different, particularly in the highly individual realm of joint health. Many animals may respond much quicker. A key factor to remember is that for any chondroprotective product to maintain healthy joint tissue, there must be an existing base of cartilage. Our experience shows that better mobility may be noticeable in two weeks, but the actual process of building healthy joint tissue may take longer and will be ongoing. Each animal has its individual genetic script to follow and has used its body differently over the years.

Glucosamine and chondroitin have been heralded as the supplements for rebuilding cartilage. In fact, glucosamine is a major constituent of hyaluronic acid and is preferentially utilized in the synthesis of that substance. Hyaluronic acid is an acidic mucopolysaccharide present in the extracellular matrix of connective tissues. Its primary function is attracting and holding moisture in the joint capsule. Glucosamine also forms complexes with other protein-sugars during construction of the matrix. Dietary glucosamine then is notable for its ability to increase hyaluronic acid supplies, leading to rehydration of cartilage and the build-up of the adhesive ground substance (matrix). The re-infusion of water into cartilage caused by glucosamine will plump it up to restore much of its shock-absorbing properties along with chondroitin sulfate. Because specific nutrients are utilized by chondrocytes to build new cartilage, a complete joint formula, not just a glucosamine and/or chondroitin product, is important for joint health and strength.

Cartilage regeneration requires collagen built from the amino acids hydroxyproline, proline, hydroxylysine, and glycine. Hydrolyzed collagen supplies these and more for healthy joints. Glucosamine stimulates chondrocytes to fuller activity, and helps maintain cartilage matrix, but if the other raw materials are not present in sufficient quantities, cartilage will not be constructed. If, for example, an animal is given even 100 milligrams of glucosamine HCl each day forever, some restoration of cartilage may occur. However, the rate of restoration will be reliant upon the availability of all the required nutrients and on the condition of the cartilage in the joint needing healthy tissue support, not just the amount of glucosamine and chondroitin.

The synergistic balance of a complete joint supplement extends into the vitamin/mineral pack of vitamin C, manganese and cysteine. Vitamin C is necessary for proper collagen synthesis. Manganese is important to proteoglycan synthesis. Deficiencies of manganese can lead to bone loss and connective tissue fragility. Cysteine is an important source of sulfur and supports the body’s glutathione supply. All three are excellent antioxidants as well, which is important for healthy connective tissue.

The plant polyphenol containing oligomeric proanthocyanidin (OPC antioxidant), also gives glucosamine, hydrolyzed collagen and the other nutrients a better chance to work to build healthy joint tissue. OPC antioxidants can support healthy collagen by acting as a bridge between broken fibers. Several plant extracts contain this compound including pine bark extract, turmeric, grape seed extract and pomegranate extracts,

A complete joint supplement can be a powerful sports medicine tool for animal athletes. Routine use will not only prevent oxidative stress, which is prevalent in the working athlete, but can keep joints performing optimally. As dogs age, supplying adequate joint nutrients to keep their joints strong will be important to their quality of life in their senior years. Joint nutrients are most beneficial when dogs start using them in middle age, before joint damage begins to impact their mobility.

Joint Ingredients Rationale

Glucosamine HCl & Chondroitin Sulfate - Supports the body’s ability to generate new joint tissue, thereby supporting mobility. Supplementation directly increases the production of hyaluronic acid, which is essential to the rehydration of the joint matrix. Glucosamine is also a rate-limiting nutrient for the production of the proteoglycan component of the cartilage matrix.

Hydrolyzed Collagen – Supports cartilage and joint matrix synthesis by supplying the amino acids necessary for collagen synthesis. Hydrolyzed collagen supplies both essential and nonessential amino acids in a highly purified, digestible form. One important amino acid it contains is hydroxyproline. Hydroxyproline makes up a major portion of collagen (approximately 10%) and is not readily available from the diet, so supplementation is important.

OPC Antioxidant – A plant polyphenol with multiple benefits including as a potent free radical scavenger with vitamin C sparing properties. May also help support the replacement of broken collagen bundles, helping to restore flexibility to connective tissue.

Cysteine – Antioxidant that increases the body’s endogenous supply of glutathione. Cysteine is a sulfur-containing molecule, which can donate its sulfur groups to collagen for proper cross-linking and to proteoglycans to help them maintain their proper structure and function.

Vitamin C – Another important antioxidant necessary for collagen synthesis, it helps maintain normal connective tissue. Vitamin C will also stimulate the production of hydroxyproline, another necessary component of collagen.

Manganese – A significant trace mineral that can act alone as an antioxidant in the blood stream and is also a cofactor of the endogenous superoxide dismutase antioxidant system. Superoxide dismutase is important within the joint matrix to prevent oxidative damage in the joint. Manganese is also required by the body to maintain the strength of tendons, ligaments and bones.

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