Beyond Izzy’s pram (managing dogs through to old age) Part 5 – Supplements

The third rung of our ladder is Food & Supplements.  As promised, this post is dedicated exclusively to supplements (I discussed Food in part 4).  Brace yourself – this is another long post and I am not promising to cover the range of supplements available, either.  These are some that I have personal experience with and I will explain my rationale for using them so you understand my principles for supplement use.

Arthritis management diagram 3rd rung

Supplements are a huge industry in both human and animal care and they earn a lot of money for the manufacturers that sell them.  And for the most part, the industry is unregulated which means that, while we can buy them easily, there aren’t standards of manufacture and they can reach the shelves with little if any study as to their effectiveness.

That said, for many generations people had to rely on non-drug solutions to healthcare before there was such a thing as a pharmaceutical industry.  And the structure of clinical trials is a modern medicine concept.  I keep an open mind about natural remedies – and doing one’s homework is the best way to make good choices. (I have also found that the same people who claim that research paid for by manufacturers is dubious also endorse prescription dog foods that are also backed up by self-funded industry research – go figure!)

If you remember nothing else from this post, please remember these 4 key points:

  1. Supplements are not drugs.  You aren’t going to see an effect after a single dosage and most need time to build up in the system.  For this reason, they are solutions for the longer term and not a solution for a dog that is severely lame or in pain.
  2. Supplement for a reason.   This is explained  in more detail later.
  3. Implement one change at a time.  I see a lot of dog parents who are in crisis mode.  Their dog has had a fall, surgery or has experienced lameness and they throw everything but the kitchen sink at them at once.  How do you know what is working and what isn’t?
  4. Tell your vet what supplements you are using so they are on your dog’s medical records.  If your vet is going to prescribe medication, they should know everything your dog is eating and taking as supplements to be sure there are no adverse interactions.  If your vet doesn’t agree with you about using a supplement but on other grounds than ‘doing harm’, it’s still your choice as your dog’s guardian about whether or not to continue using them.
Let’s get the CBD thing out of the way first

CBD (cannabidiol) has only begun to be tested on animals.  But it is in lots of products and supplements – at last year’s Global Pet Expo and other trade shows – it was CBD that was all the rage.  A huge market with lots of money changing hands seemed to spring up overnight.

In New Zealand, “tetrahydrocannabinols, the chemicals in hemp which include THC, cannabidiol (CBD), and related compounds, and any preparation or plant containing them, are classed by the Ministry of Health as controlled drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975. Under the ACVM Act, controlled drugs and anything containing them must only be given to or fed to animals after registration under the ACVM Act. When products are registered, MPI applies strict controls and conditions of sale and use.”  (Source:  Ministry of Primary Industries)

My natural health colleagues in the USA have expressed concern about CBD products and how they may interact with other medications that pets may be taking (compounded by the fact that many pet parents are reluctant to disclose to their vet that they are using a CBD product).  And others are concerned not so much by the CBD ingredient itself but because of the quality of the carriers and flavourings used in the CBD products.

I know there are CBD products being given to dogs in NZ on the quiet – clients have asked me about products they’ve seen in local health shops and ‘green expos’ and a rumour that some pet parents are making it themselves.

I’m taking a wait-and-see approach to CBD.  And I’m following the research with interest!

So earlier I said that we should supplement for a reason.  I knew Izzy was an ex-racer who would have experienced a lot of stress on her joints during her professional career.  So I started her almost immediately after adoption (around age 6) on glucosamine and chondroitin.  These were to support her cartilage matrix and she continues on them to this day.  My choice to start supplementation was based on her history and my assumption (rightly) that she would likely develop arthritis.

Glucosamine and chondroitin through studies have shown a chondroprotective effect.  Chondroprotectives are “specific compounds or chemicals that delay progressive joint space narrowing characteristic of arthritis and improve the biomechanics of articular joints by protecting chondrocytes.” 

I started Daisy on glucosamine and chondroitin at the magic age of 7 (that imaginary line that, when crossed, helps us generally to define dogs as being senior).  She also remained on them until she passed 3 weeks after her 14th birthday.

When I said that supplements weren’t drugs, it also means that you need to maintain the dosage for them to remain effective.  And if you stop or run out, then you can expect to have to re-start a program of loading to build them back up in the body again.

Another example of supplementing for a reason is when a dog has arthritis – and many dogs develop this condition (between 60% and 80% of dogs to be exact – according to different studies).      Arthritis causes inflammation in the joints.  Controlling the inflammation helps to control the pain.

Izzy also takes deer velvet and has done since she turned 7.   (I started Daisy on deer velvet very late in her life, as the product was new to me then back in 2013/14). There’s a great literature review out of Australia that talks about the different properties of deer velvet, for example.  In the words of Dr W Jean Dodds of Hemopet/Nutriscan, deer velvet “helps alleviate arthritic symptoms by rebuilding cartilage, improving joint fluid, increasing tissue and cellular healing times, and improving circulation.”  So I started Izzy on this when she was that much older, it seemed a good adjunct to her glucosamine and chondroitin particularly for the circulation effects and the growth factors that would help with any micro-tears in soft tissues.

Green lipped mussel extract is somewhat unique to New Zealand and the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids have been shown in studies to have an anti-inflammatory effect.  When Daisy’s lumbosacral disease was first confirmed via x-ray in 2011, she started on a high quality green-lipped mussel concentrate.  Izzy, with arthritis in her wrists and toes, has been taking green-lipped mussel since 2018, when she dislocated her toe.  The NSAIDs disagreed with her and so I felt that with her advancing arthritis in the toes, she needed consistent anti-inflammatory support.

I also use turmeric in Izzy’s food – she’s 11 now and I’ve been consistently using turmeric for about three months because it’s got anti-inflammatory effects and she seems to tolerate it on her stomach whereas we know from the times she has needed NSAIDs after surgeries that her stomach doesn’t cope.  I’m using a combination of dried turmeric powder and fresh turmeric when I cook for her and I have noticed an improvement in her mobility in conjunction with our regime for managing her corns.  (Her hydrotherapist noticed her enhanced mobility, too.)

With each of the supplements I’ve mentioned above, they were instituted one at a time and for a reason.   If I choose to stop a supplement to try something else, I will stop the first supplement for about 3 weeks before starting the new one.  That’s because I want to make one change at a time.

You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned supplement brands in this post.  That’s because my local market in New Zealand has different products than those of my readers elsewhere.  And while I have preferred products, I also aim to understand the client’s budget and recommend the highest quality product that they can afford.

And as you’ve reached the bottom of this post, you may also realize that I spend a significant portion of my household budget on Izzy’s care.  Supplements are just one aspect of her care and for a 75 day supply of her green lipped mussel, for example, I spend close to NZ$100.

Got questions about this post?  Please feel free to post a message or contact me through my practice, The Balanced Dog.

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

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