Nutraceuticals are foods or food products that are believed to positively affect health. These supplements have become popular with dog owners and veterinarians in recent years because of their usefulness in treating joint pain and skin problems as well as their general lack of side effects. Nutraceuticals are derived from plants and animals and include such substances as amino acids, antioxidants, essential fatty acids (EFAs), herbs, minerals, and vitamins. They're available in health-food stores, grocery stores, and pet-supply stores and are even found as ingredients in some dog foods and treats.
Nutraceuticals for Joint Pain
Translucent, elastic cartilage is a specialized connective tissue that's important in bone growth and joint formation. As dogs age, their cartilage starts to wear down. When this happens, exposed bones can rub together, causing pain. The result is osteoarthritis, which can affect any joint. Heavy use of the joints, such as in running, jumping, and twisting to catch a flying disc, as well as obesity, can all increase the risk that osteoarthritis will develop.
Nutraceuticals rarely have side effects, but occasionally a dog may vomit or have diarrhea. Other dogs may drink more water than usual or bleed longer than normal if they get a cut. If you see any of these side effects, simply reduce the amount you're giving and you should see an improvement.
It used to be thought that broken-down cartilage couldn't be repaired, but studies have shown that certain nutraceuticals can indeed help synthesize cartilage. This helps reduce the pain of arthritis and increases an arthritic dog's mobility. Nutraceuticals that have this function include glucosamine, chondroitin, and methyl sulfonyl methane (MSM).
Glucosamine is an amino sugar that helps promote the formation and repair of cartilage. Shellfish such as mussels are the most common source of the glucosamine used in supplements.
Chondroitin helps the joint retain water and elasticity and inhibit the enzymes that break down cartilage. Chondroitin is a component of cartilage that's manufactured by the body, but chondroitin supplements are usually obtained from cow cartilage.
MSM is an organic source of sulfur. The body uses it to form connective tissue.
Studies in humans have shown that glucosamine and chondroitin are effective in relieving arthritis pain and stiffness, and these findings can also be applied to dogs.
Other nutraceuticals that may help reduce joint pain include vitamins C and E and the herb yucca. Nutraceuticals can be effective for mild cases of joint pain, but it may take a couple of months before you see any improvement. If you don't see any change after a couple of months of giving nutraceuticals, your dog's pain and stiffness may require a more powerful painkiller.
Nutraceuticals for Itchy Skin
Allergic skin diseases are common in dogs, and their itching can be painful to watch. They occur when offending antigens — pollen, mold, certain foods, fleas, chemicals, or other irritants — cause the skin's defensive mast cells to release inflammatory agents. Studies have shown that supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids (found in oils from cold-water fish) can help reduce this inflammatory response. You may see results as early as two weeks after starting supplementation, but more often it takes six to eight weeks for the effect to kick in.