Nutraceutical – just a made up word or something that can prolong our dogs lives? Pt I

Many dog owners are familiar with nutraceuticals such as Yumove (a joint support supplement) or Yucalm (a supplement for anxious dogs) and enthusiastically tell others about how much it has helped their own dogs, but is this just wishful thinking or do these supplements really work?

Yumove was recommended to me by a fellow collie owning friend when my boy Jack was showing signs of getting older. A tell-tale catch of Jack’s nails on the pavement from one back paw on the way back from walks told me he wasn’t finding things as easy as he used to. I happily tried the supplement which contains mainly green-lipped mussel extract (17%) and Glucosamine Hydrochloride (28.4%) as well as a few other vitamins and minerals.

I can’t say I saw a noticeable change and Jack’s little nail catch continued until the day he couldn’t manage a walk anymore, but I hoped that the supplement might slow his decline and ease any discomfort so continued to give it to him and then to my girl Trim as she got a little older and their son JJ when he was diagnosed with scoliosis at 4 years old and already had evidence of arthritis on his spine.

It is not until a discussion at university over the lack evidence available for behavioural nutraceuticals that I began wondering if these ‘magic tablets’ were actually helping my furbabies. So I decided to start some research.

Firstly, I think it is important to say that the term ‘Nutraceutical’ has no regulatory definition, it is simply a combination of the words nutrition and pharmaceutical and is really just a dietary supplement. The manufacturers have no legal requirement to provide evidence of their effectiveness and the surprising response from one such manufacturer of a behavioural nutraceutical was:

We don’t have any studies in house that we can give you with regards to the efficacy of this product. We know how the active herbs work in the products and it is a product that has previously been licensed for use for over 50 years.”

The fact that they are ‘licensed’ for use have nothing to do with their efficacy, it has become standard practise that if they have historical use without detriment they eventually become licensed.

The next problem with working out whether products such as Yumove are effective, and worth you spending your hard earned money on, is that they often contain a combination of ingredients. In this case how do we know which, if any, of those ingredients are the important ones?

Studies on the effects of individual ingredients are much more common than studies of combination treatments. So I started with Green-lipped Mussel extract (GLM) as it has been become a popular supplement in the dog owning world to improve dogs mobility and lesson the pain associated with osteoarthritis. Products such as Yumove, Vitali-Paws, Aniforte and no doubt many more are sold in vets and pet shops all over the UK. You can even buy GLM from Holland and Barrett for human use.

So what is it about Green-lipped Mussels that effects the joints?

Green-lipped mussels, native to the New Zealand coast, contain 91 fatty acids and have a particularly high level of Omega 3 fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA for short) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA for short) both of which can reduce the deterioration of collagen in joint cartilage and have anti-inflammatory properties.

Numerous studies have been conducted (references below) on the effects of GLM on dogs with hind and forelimb lameness caused by osteoarthritis, all studies show some improvement in symptoms through supplementing the diet with GLM. Even if we take into account the possible placebo effect that may cause owners to ‘see’ improvements, several of the studies were conducted in such a way that meant neither the owners nor the vets assessing the dogs knew who had been given GLM and who had been given an alternative or a placebo, suggesting that any effects seen were real rather than wishful thinking.

The additional benefit of GLM is that it does not have the potential side-effects of drugs traditionally used to treat osteoarthritis in dogs such as non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) E.g. Caprofen, Loxicom, Firocoxib. However the greatest improvements in mobility and reduced signs of pain were seen in dogs receiving in combination of NSAIDs and GLM.

The studies confirm that GLM can help reduce the pain and slow the progress of osteoartritis which many owners have come to accept as just part of their dog getting old.

The studies conducted to date used different forms of GLM with PCSO-524 being the preferred version due to a patented extraction and stabilisation process, so perhaps the question is not whether we should be giving it to our dogs, but where can we get the best possible version? Yumove only contains 17% GLM a dose of 150mg per tablet with the following dose recommendations based on body weight:

  • up to 15kg -1 tablet = 150mg
  • 16-30kg – 2 tablets = 300mg
  • 31-45kg – 3 tablets = 450mg
  • 45kg+ – 4 tablets = 600mg

The most recent studies averaged a 200mg dose per day, but the dose was not necessarily altered in accordance with the dogs body weight. Soontornvipart et al (2015) gave 50mg per 10kg body weight, but Hielm-Bkorkman et al (2007) gave a much higher dose of 20-49mg per kg per day for the first 2 weeks then reducing to half the dose.

The outcome of my investigation is that I will continue to give JJ and Trim GLM, perhaps looking for a stronger dosage now JJ is approaching his 7th birthday and clearly having bad days with his scoliosis despite pain medication. Next, I want to know whether the Glucosamine Hydrochloride that makes up 28.4% of Yumove is all its cracked up to be (check out the next blog to find out).

Further reading:

  • Buddhachat, K., Siengdee, P., Chomdej, S., Soontornvipart, K. and Nganvongpanit, K., 2017. Effects of different omega-3 sources, fish oil, krill oil, and green-lipped mussel against cytokine-mediated canine cartilage degradation. In Vitro Cellular & Developmental Biology – Animal, 53(5), pp.448-457.
  • Hielm-Björkman, A., Tulamo, R., Salonen, H. and Raekallio, M., 2009. Evaluating Complementary Therapies for Canine Osteoarthritis Part I: Green-Lipped Mussel (Perna canaliculus). Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 6(3), pp.365-373.
  • Kwananocha, I., Vijarsorn, M., Kashemsant, N., Lekcharoensuk, C. (2016) Effectiveness of disease modifying osteoarthritis agents and carprofen for treatment of canine osteoarthritis. Thai Journal of Veterinary Medicine, 46(3), pp.363-371.
  • Soontornvipart, K., Mongkhon, N., Nganvongpanit, K., Kongtawelert, P. (2015) Effect of PCSO-524 on OA Biomarkers and Weight-Bearing Properties in Canine Shoulder and Coxofemeral Osteoarthritis. Thai Journal of Veterinary Medicine, 45(2), pp. 157-165.

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