Big Jake, a large mixed-breed dog, just turned 8.

Sean, his owner, has noticed Jake slowing down a bit over the past few months. Jake used to eagerly jump into his spot in the front seat of Sean's pickup, but now he is much more tentative. There have been times Sean has had to lift Jake's back end up into the truck, and Sean swears Jake is embarrassed when this occurs. Sean is thinking Jake has developed arthritis and wants to know if there are dietary supplements that might help Jake. Sean has heard about glucosamine potentially helping with arthritis in people and dogs and wanted to know if it might be appropriate for Jake.

Glucosamine is a nutritional supplement thought to have cartilage-protecting properties and is most commonly found paired with chondroitin sulfate. It is used to help alleviate arthritic pain in humans, as well as dogs. The question is, and this is a question commonly raised about the use of many supplements touted to treat myriad conditions, does glucosamine really work?

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There have been several studies involving humans trying to ascertain whether glucosamine with or without chondroitin sulfate can help people with arthritis. The results have been somewhat equivocal. Some studies report improvement with reduced arthritic pain when taking the supplement, while others have shown no change. That said, glucosamine/ chondroitin sulfate remains a commonly used supplement for arthritis in people, and many patients report improvement with its use.

Of course, one must keep in mind that when working with dogs, we cannot simply ask them, "Is your arthritis pain improving?" Instead we rely on observation, which can be subjective. I have used glucosamine/chondroitin sulfate in many of my arthritic patients and have had positive results in some and little or no improvement in others.

For Jake, I would say it is worth a try. I also recommend some investigation of Jake's decreased truck-leaping ability. I never like to assume when trying to diagnose and then treat patients, and right now with Jake, we are assuming he has arthritis.

Arthritis is an inflammatory process involving joints within the body, any or all of them depending on the type of arthritis. The arthritic inflammation does not show up on a radiograph, but what does show are the secondary changes to the bones involved with the arthritic joint. These occurs as a result of the inflammation from arthritis and are a large component of the pain associated with it.

If Jake does have arthritis, I would recommend a nonsteriodal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAID) along with supplementing with glucosamine/chondroitin sulfate. An NSAID will directly address the inflammatory process within the joint, effectively reducing the reaction that leads to the pain and thus reducing the pain. My dog was on NSAID medication along with glucosamine/ chondroitin sulfate for almost three years. Without them, he would not have had a good quality of life.

Another suggestion is to use omega 3 fatty acids, specifically those with DHA. DHA has been shown to reduce inflammation, and I truly believe it is very helpful to these patients. There are chewable treats for dogs that contain these supplements, which make it not only fun for the dog but potentially rewarding for its quality of life. I do wonder, though, if the dog can make the association.

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