As dogs age, they may begin to experience symptoms of arthritis. Large breeds in particular have a higher likelihood of developing joint problems. Chronic joint pain can severely affect a pet’s quality of life, making simple tasks such as eating or going outside almost unbearably painful. Seeing a pet in pain is often heartbreaking, particularly when available options for treatment are costly medications which may be outside an owner’s price range and which have a range of potentially harmful side effects.
When our pets are unhappy, we are unhappy. By taking preventative measures in order to lessen the effects of joint pain and arthritis in your dog, you can make your pet’s senior years more pleasant both for the human and animal members of your family. Glucosamine dietary supplements are one such preventative measure.
Glucosamine is an amino sugar that is found naturally in cartilage. The body is able to make glucosamine on its own, but as your dog ages his body becomes less able to produce more of it. Sever injuries may also interfere with the body’s ability to produce glucosamine. Glucosamine is used by the body in producing synovial fluid and in producing cartilage. Its primary function is in the production of the synovial fluid, which is a thick, viscous fluid found in the synovial membrane. This fluid lubricates the joints and provides nutrients for the joint cartilage, which forms a thick, spongy barrier in between the bones of a joint or between a bone and the socket it fits in.
Synovial fluid also gives the cartilage in a joint its elasticity and toughness, which are two qualities that keep a joint healthy and pain-free during joint articulation. The elasticity and tough consistency of the cartilage keep the joint moving freely and absorb shocks from falls or other injuries. A healthy synovial membrane and cartilage matrix in between bones is the body’s first line of defense against the effects of injury.
When the joints are well-lubricated by synovial fluid and the cartilage between the bones is healthy, the bones do not rub directly together and can articulate safely without damaging the bones. There is no pain because of the lubricating nature of the synovial fluid and the cushion of cartilage between the bones.
However, as the effects of aging begin to take their toll on the body, the synovial membrane begins to degrade, partly due to the decrease of glucosamine in the body. When there is no longer a sufficient amount of glucosamine in the body to produce enough synovial fluid, the synovial membrane begins to break down and the first barrier between the bones that form a joint slowly erodes. Since the synovial membrane provides synovial fluid from which the cartilage matrix gets its nourishment, the cartilage between bones also becomes less elastic and flexible.
Some of the cartilage begins to erode away and cannot be repaired as efficiently as it once was, and if it is repaired it is often not as tough and some of the flexibility may be lost. The erosion of cartilage tissue can be exacerbated by injuries such as falls, since the cartilage can be further damaged after an injury and leave more tissue in need of repair. As the joint cartilage continues to lose mass, particularly when the synovial fluid is not present in sufficient amounts to properly lubricate the joint, the ends of the bones may begin to rub together.
This causes pain and further damage to the joint. The remaining tissues of the joint may become inflamed. As the protective tissues continue to erode away, the remaining cartilage, having lost its elasticity, may fragment under the repeated stress of bone-on-bone friction. The pieces of cartilage often remain in the joint. In addition to this, the bones themselves may fragment, leaving sharp shards of bone in the joint tissue.
The fragments of cartilage and bone that remain in the space of the joint are called loose bodies; unstable loose bodies, or fragments that float freely in the joint space, are what cause the increase in pain. These can insinuate themselves into the points of articulation between the bones during movement, causing inflammation and swelling. In extreme cases the cushion of cartilage can be worn away almost entirely. In these cases a joint replacement may be necessary in order to restore freedom of movement and to provide permanent pain relief.
Since the chronic pain experienced by a dog with arthritis or another degenerative joint disorder is considerable, and because the treatments for arthritis can be costly, particularly surgery, dog owners may be interested in knowing how to prevent their dog’s joint health from deteriorating to the point where surgery and regular medication is necessary.
Since glucosamine seems to be the factor missing in cases of arthritis where cartilage is lost, supplementing the body’s natural supply of glucosamine, or replacing it after the body has lost the ability to produce enough of it, has a positive effect on the continued health of joints. Keeping a continuous amount of glucosamine in the body before glucosamine levels begin to decline as your dog grows older can keep enough synovial fluid in the synovial membrane to keep the joint lubricated and to continue nourishing joint cartilage, ensuring that it remains healthy and retains it elasticity and toughness.
Keeping the synovial membrane and cartilage healthy will protect the joints against the effects of injury and make the tissue more readily repair itself following severe injuries. Keeping healthy tissues during youth and adulthood will leave your dog’s joints less susceptible to deteriorating in his senior years. If a dog enters his late life with healthy joints, he is less likely to feel quite so severely the effects of aging on his joints.
Replacing glucosamine and joint tissue is more difficult for the body to do after damage has already been done, but studies suggest that giving glucosamine to a dog with existing joint problems can help rebuild joint tissues, slow tissue deterioration and reduce pain. In some studies that measured the space between the joints, glucosamine replacement therapy was effective in slowing the erosion of joint cartilage.
It is always easier to administer preventative care to your dog than it is to treat damage that has already been done through injury or aging. There are no known serious side effects associated with glucosamine supplements, so even if your dog is not predisposed to developing arthritis or another degenerative joint condition, it is a good idea to take preventative measures to ensure your dog’s continued joint health.
Preventative glucosamine supplements can help your dog recover more quickly after an injury and prevent joint erosion during his more active years. Keeping your dog’s joints healthy during these years is important to his continued joint health as he ages.