Nutritional supplements to help aging, arthritic joints are probably the most commonly used forms of natural therapies by people as well as pets. Each manufacturer selects from a variety of ingredients to include in a proprietary formula. In general, most of the various ingredients designed to heal damaged cartilage and reduce pain and inflammation are pretty similar (although the quality of nutritional supplements varies, which is why I encourage pet owners to seek veterinary advice when deciding what supplement might be best for their pets.) In general, the most commonly prescribed joint supplements contain glucosamine, chondroitin, and/or hyaluronic acid.
These ingredients are very safe. There has been one report of a dog developing signs of diabetes when given the incorrect dose of a glucosamine supplement; the signs resolved when the correct dose was given. Testing on diabetic dogs with glucosamine did not reveal any harm or increase in blood sugar. In general, owners should not notice side effects in pets when using supplements containing glucosamine, chondroitin, and/or hyaluronic acid according to label instructions.
The following miscellaneous supplements are often used in pets and are generally considered very safe.
Choline: This nutrient is very helpful in pets with cognitive disorder and seizures. It is very safe for use in pets; very rarely it has caused hyperactivity/hyperexcitability that goes away after the supplement is discontinued or the dosage reduced.
Glutamine: An amino acid that is helpful for pets with any gastrointestinal disorder. It is very safe for use in pets, although there is a theoretical concern in seizing patients due to increased glutamate levels (I’ve never seen this in practice.)
Probiotics: These healthy GI bacteria and yeasts are useful in any sick pet and any pet taking medications, including nonsteroidals, antibiotics, and corticosteroids. Probiotics are very safe for use in pets and no side effects have been reported.
After using integrative therapies in my practice for the last 7 years, I am convinced that in most cases nutritional supplements are less expensive, less toxic, and more effective than conventional medications. However, natural does not always mean safe, and you should never start your pet on supplements without the knowledge of how the supplements work and if they interact with conventional medications. Using supplements under veterinary supervision is the best approach to properly treating any disease in your dog or cat. Each doctor has his own favorite brands that have worked well in clinical cases. If you’d like my list of favorite supplements, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send it to you. Also check out http://www.pettogethers.net/healthypet to learn about my favorite maintenance supplement to keep your dog or cat healthy!