Feeding The Arthritic Dog

Another health condition you should consider when forming a feeding strategy is arthritis. We include a weight-reduction program in this section because excess weight only exacerbates the problems associated with geriatric arthritis. You still should feed a high-protein, good-quality food, just not as much of it. You can “extend” a food for satiety purposes with the addition of low-calorie vegetables such as green beans.

The basis of weight reduction is to feed less than the calories necessary to sustain the current weight.20 Many schemes have been proposed; however, we are inclined to favor the mainstream concept that weight loss should not be so rapid that it endangers the animal or so slow that the owner loses interest.21 One reasonable approach is to determine the calories necessary to sustain the animal at the desired weight and to feed half that amount until the desired weight has been reached.22 (See the sidebar on Page 34.)
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The most appropriate fats in the diet should be in the form of omega-3 fatty acids in a 1-5 ratio with omega-6 fatty acids.23 The manipulation of these dietary fats can reduce or eliminate the need for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs given to arthritic dogs for pain. Nutritional omega-3 fatty acids result in the replacement of arachidonic acid (an essential fatty acid building block in some prostaglandins) used in the cell membranes with eicosapentoic acid (a super unsaturated omega-3 fatty acid found in the oils of cold water fish and marine mammals), reducing the production of inflammatory prostaglandins, which cause swelling and pain. Ground flax seed is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids and canola oil is an adequate source of omega-6 fatty acids.

Two supplements currently are available that will reduce your pet’s appetite safely and increase its energy level. The first is chromium nicotinate,24 which overcomes glucose intolerance,25-27 and the other is (-) hydroxycitrate,28 which impairs the synthesis of fatty acids and converts excess fat calories into glycogen (an alternative carbohydrate storage material).

Concurrent with getting the excess weight off the arthritic geriatric dog and supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids, consider using a disease-modifying nutraceutical such as a combination glucosamine-chondroitin sulfate. The most efficacious form, Cosequin, is only available from Nutramax Laboratories. Cosequin used together with vitamin E29 and other anti-oxidants helps to rebuild articular surfaces, modulate the inflammatory process and ease the pain of the arthritic dog. This will enable the canine to increase its exercise level, which not only improves the quality of its life but allows your companion to maintain a suitable weight.

Nutraceuticals And Supplements
Although there is good evidence for the effectiveness of supplements in easing arthritis, supplementation in general is somewhat controversial because the efficacy of some nutraceuticals has not been adequately established. When considering the myriad products available that claim to enhance your dog’s diet and health, your first question might be, “Why should I supplement?”

One argument in favor posits the idea that one size does not fit all. Foods that currently are available are formulated for the average animal and do not address the specific needs of all individuals. Particular biochemical requirements will vary for a number of reasons:
1)Different nutrients have different bioavailabilities.
2) Certain disease processes and/or aging put a greater strain on the body’s nutritional requirements impairing its ability to digest or use different nutrients.
3) Preventive nutrition can avert or delay the onset of certain health problems by avoiding key nutritional deficiencies.
4) Physical and environmental stresses will determine the level of certain vitamins needed to help the body detoxify second-hand smoke, smog, etc.

Although dogs’ nutritional needs can vary greatly, deciding if and with what to supplement should be answered with the assistance of a qualified veterinarian or nutritionist. Don’t walk blindly into the buying frenzy that has prompted Americans, Europeans and Asians to purchase herbal remedies and nutraceuticals at unprecedented rates. In fact, by some estimates, Americans spend $4.3 billion annually on medicinal herbs, and an estimated 40 percent of Americans seek alternative methods for their medical needs. Industry projections indicate continued rapid growth.

Unfortunately, some nutraceuticals may not be backed with adequate scientific evidence. One of the problems is the reliability of some manufacturers’ claims. If you are not sure of a product or its claims or find that the claims are not backed by scientific studies, then you should be wary of feeding that nutraceutical or supplement.

In addition, if a product is not specifically supported with appropriate studies, we suggest it may have little efficacy. For example, there are many glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate and combination glucosamine-chondroitin sulfate products on the market. Yet, the European and American scientific studies showing efficacy were performed using a very expensive, low-molecular-weight chondroitin sulfate rather than the much less expensive, higher molecular weights that are found in all but one of the products available to the American market.30

Pharmacokinetics (the absorption and distribution of drugs in the body) are very dependent upon bioavailability and molecular weight. Certain substances, such as chondroitin sulfate, that have demonstrated efficacy only within a narrow range of molecular weight may have limited or no efficacy outside that range.

We also strongly recommend looking for patent information on product containers. Consumers can have a much higher confidence level when buying a patented product because a relatively high standard of scientific research has to accompany each patent application.31 An even higher level of confidence exists when scientific studies on the product’s effectiveness in dogs have been published in peer-reviewed journals.

Check for research studies before buying a supplement rather than assuming all nutritional products are safe because they are “natural.” The difference between a therapeutic quantity and a harmful amount depends on the dosage.32 For example, selenium, which is necessary for proper functioning of the immune system and often is used in the nutritional treatment of cancer, in large doses is several times more toxic than arsenic (used for rat poison).

A nutraceutical’s label should include a disclaimer that the product should be used under the supervision of a licensed veterinary practitioner or a certified nutritionist. Consumers should buy only from manufacturers that have proven their products provide adequate concentration levels of the active ingredients. In addition, the manufacturer should address all care and safety issues with regard to purity. Production standards and specifications at least should follow human-grade food good manufacturing procedures and preferably pharmaceutical grade.

The “Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994” greatly restricted the Food and Drug Administration’s authority to regulate herbal and nutraceutical products for human consumption. As a result, nutraceuticals do not have to meet FDA drug requirements. The FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine has determined, however, that the DSHEA is not applicable to products intended for animals. The extent to which the Center for Veterinary Medicine will be able to regulate nutraceuticals for animals is not yet clear. The American Veterinary Nutraceutical Council has been founded to promote self-regulation, which could stave off government intervention.33

When pondering the use of nutraceuticals and herbal products, always make sure the touted “active ingredients” actually are in the product and question whether the dosing level is appropriate for the promised outcome.


By Susan Thorpe-Vargas, Ph.D. and John C. Cargill, M.A., M.B.A., M.S.

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