Picking the right joint health supplements for your horse doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Be prepared by learning exactly what ingredients equine joint health supplements should include.
There are several formal studies showing that joint supplements indeed work. However, joint supplements or "nutraceuticals" are not tightly regulated by the FDA, so to some degree "consumer beware" applies. Be sure to look for the NASC, or National Animal Supplement Council, Seal of Quality on your supplements. The Seal of Quality is a way for consumers to know the product they are buying comes from a reputable manufacturer that voluntarily complies with standards set forth by NASC. In order to get permission to display the Quality Seal on their products and marketing materials, NASC member companies must successfully pass an independent facility audit every two years, and demonstrate ongoing compliance with the NASC’s strict criteria.
When it comes to picking an equine joint supplement for your horse, the best approach is to read the labels to make sure the product contains appropriate ingredients in effective amounts. It’s important to note that these are the recommended levels if each ingredient is being used alone. When combined, many ingredients are effective at lower levels because they then work synergistically with the other ingredients. Here are the most common ingredients in equine joint health supplements and what you should know about them.
Glucosamine is the best-studied ingredient in joint supplements. The basic building block of all connective tissues, including cartilage, it comes as either glucosamine sulfate or glucosamine hydrochloride, both of which are effective. It's best to stick with either the manufactured pure glucosamine or shellfish sources.
Glucosamine may help to relieve discomfort, sometimes in as little time as 10 to 14 days. Studies have shown that it can slow cartilage breakdown and may encourage healing. An effective dose is 6,000 to 10,000 mg/day. The 10,000 mg dose is usually needed for horses that are being worked. This higher level is also recommended during the first week or two of any horse's treatment, known as the "loading" period, which helps speed up results. Some supplements, like Flex+Max® Joint Health Supplement, don’t require a loading dose so your horse gets the optimum level every day right from the start.
Chondroitin sulfate is a major structural component of cartilage, bone, and tough connective tissues such as the whites of the eyes. The comfort enhancing effects of chondroitin are not as obvious as with glucosamine, although some observers report that horses on chondroitin only seem to move more "fluidly" overall. Formal studies on chondroitin show its greatest benefit is preventing further cartilage breakdown. An effective dose is between 1,250 and 5,000 mg/day.
Recent research shows that best results are obtained when using combinations of glucosamine and chondroitin, rather than using either substance alone, making glucosamine and chondroitin the cornerstones of any joint supplement program. You should ideally pick an equine joint health supplement that contains boths, like Absorbine’s Flex+Max® Joint Health Supplement. Flex+Max also features enhanced bioavailability, meaning that the formula was specifically formulated by an equine nutritionist so that your horse is getting exactly the ingredients he needs in optimal dosages without any fillers or waste. Their formula uses a special low molecular weight chondroitin sulfate which is five times smaller than the chondroitin sulfate used in many other joint supplements. This low molecular weight chondroitin sulfate allows for better absorption and in turn enhances bioavailability to the joint cartilage.
An important component of both the cartilage itself and the joint fluid, Hyaluronic Acid has been available as an oral supplement. It is particularly good at relieving discomfort. The gel formulations cost more and can be tricky to feed, but seem to give the most rapid and reliable results. Dosage is 100 mg/day.
HA is also found in a variety of powdered and pelletized supplements. These formulations are much easier to feed due to their palatability and cost. Addition of as little as 20 mg to a glucosamine and chondroitin combination product may make a difference for some horses. In other cases, you will have to use the full 100 mg dose or even more. If your horse hasn’t responded as well to glucosamine and chondroitin as you had hoped, this is a reasonable next step. Absorbine’s Flex+Max® Joint Health Supplement has glucosamine, chondroitin and HA in the recommended dosages, making it a comprehensive joint care option.