Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Oral Supplements, Joint

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Chronic lameness is the most common reason a horse cannot perform its job. Osteoarthritis (chronic joint inflammation and pain) is one of the most common causes of chronic lameness. Because of this, there is a great emphasis on finding solutions to this problem, and the marketplace is full of products claiming to be the answer. Joint supplements may be used as a preventative to ensure optimal joint health, and may also be part of a treatment plan for a particular condition.

There are numerous equine oral joint supplements available. The most common ingredients in these supplements are glucosamine (building block of cartilage) and chondroitin sulfate (essential structural component of connective tissue and cartilage). Other common ingredients are sodium hyaluronate, MSM, ASU, Omega-3 fatty acids, and a variety of herbal compounds. Each of these ingredients has a different mode of action with respect to its effect on joint health, and has different scientific evidence (or lack thereof) regarding effectiveness.

Many of the components in oral joint supplements on the market are not supported by rigorous scientific evidence. Many supplement brands do not even contain the amount of ingredients claimed on the label.

That said, there is anecdotal evidence (and some indirect scientific evidence) that some of these ingredients can be helpful. Your vet may have an opinion about the science behind a particular product, and its clinical effectiveness.

YOUR ROLE

Given the wide variety of choices and the cost of these supplements, consult with your vet before purchasing a joint supplement for your horse. Choose a product made by a reputable company, that has more supporting research for its use, and has been on the market for a longer period.

Consider Potential Side Effects & Complications

Poor quality supplements may not yield any improvement yet add to the cost of treatment.

Some supplements may contain additional vitamins and minerals that far exceed necessary amounts, especially if fed along with other supplements, leading to oversupplementation.

Some herbal ingredients have not been well studied. These ‘natural’ products could potentially cause harm in an individual horse.

Some of these supplements may not be palatable to certain horses.

Consider Reasons Not To Use This Treatment

Concern has been raised with the use of glucosamine in insulin resistant horses (IR) due to adverse effects seen with human Type II diabetic patients.

Is It working? Timeframe for effect

If you are going to see an improvement in lameness, you should see it within weeks to months following consistent use of a particular product.

If you are using a joint supplement prophylactically, the question is whether the health and performance status of the horse relates to the use of the supplement, or not.

The problem I see with oral supplements and many other treatments is the inability to judge effectiveness, especially when other treatments are being administered simultaneously. This is particularly true when there is a poorly defined diagnosis to begin with.

Questions To Ask My Vet

  • Do you recommend a particular joint supplement?
  • What science that supports this supplement, as opposed to others?
  • How can I assess the effectiveness of this treatment?
Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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