Nutraceuticals for Joint Support in Cats with Osteoarthritis

By Krista Williams, BSc, DVM; Robin Downing, DVM, CVPP, CCRP, DAAPM

overweight_cat_1Osteoarthritis (OA) is a progressive, degenerative disease of the joints. It is one of the most common chronic diseases that affect cats. By some estimates, 90% of cats over 10 years of age are affected by OA.

What causes OA in cats?

The causes of OA in cats are many and varied. There may be genetic causes, predispositions, or a traumatic injury that leads to OA. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of OA by way of repetitive overloading of the joints and the inflammatory effect of body fat, leading to damage over time.

"One common OA management tool is nutraceuticals for joint health."

Regardless of the specific causes of a particular cat's OA, the goal is long-term, lifetime management rather than a cure. A comprehensive, varied management approach to OA allows your veterinarian to target specific aspects of OA. By choosing several targets rather than a single focus for treatment therapies complement one another, creating a superior outcome. One common OA management tool is the addition of nutraceuticals for joint support.

What are nutraceuticals?

The word nutraceutical combines the words nutrition and pharmaceutical. A nutraceutical is a food or food product that reportedly provides health and/or medical benefits. Nutraceuticals are often presented as compounds that can provide protection against chronic disease. Nutraceuticals may contain isolated nutrients, dietary supplements, or herbal products. Another definition of a nutraceutical is a fortified food or dietary supplement that provides health benefits.

"Your veterinarian can advise you on nutraceuticals that have been evaluated and have yielded positive effects in cats."

Nutraceuticals are not subjected to the same testing and regulation as pharmaceuticals. For this reason, healthy skepticism is a good idea when considering nutraceuticals for your cat. Investigators are conducting clinical studies to evaluate the role of certain nutraceuticals to help cats with OA. Your veterinarian can advise you on nutraceuticals that have been evaluated and have yielded positive effects.

What are some nutraceuticals I might consider to help my cat with OA?fish_oil_supplements

Several nutraceuticals have shown positive results for managing OA. If your cat is a good candidate for any of these nutraceuticals, your veterinarian can help you make a good choice regarding a reputable manufacturer, dosage, and formulation.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids. One important strategy for interrupting the progression of OA is to choose a diet that has been evaluated in clinical trials to help cats with OA. A joint-support diet is rich in the omega-3 fatty acid EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), which helps control joint inflammation and blocks the enzymes that break down cartilage.

Research shows that high levels of EPA help to stop cartilage from degenerating. EPA can also be delivered as a supplement, either in liquid or capsule form. There are several reputable manufacturers of diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids for pets (for example, Hills® Prescription Diet j/d® and Royal Canin® Mobility Support).

Findings from human studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids may provide additional benefits beyond joint support; however, more research needs to be performed to determine if the same benefits apply to cats.

Microlactin. Microlactin is a milk protein extracted from the milk of cows that inhibits inflammation regardless of the cause of that inflammation. Research supports the use of microlactin in cats with osteoarthritis. OA has an inflammatory component, which is why nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) play such an important role in managing OA. Microlactin works differently in the body than NSAIDs and corticosteroids do, with no evidence of gastrointestinal (GI) irritation or kidney compromise.

Incorporating microlactin into an OA management plan may help counteract the inflammation of OA while decreasing the side effects that are common with NSAIDs. This may allow your veterinarian to decrease or even discontinue the use of NSAIDs. It takes about two weeks for microlactin to have maximal effects, so veterinarians generally overlap microlactin and prescribed NSAIDs for two to three weeks before decreasing the NSAID dose.

Glucosamine/Chondroitin. Despite the popularity of glucosamine/chondroitin supplements, research to support definitive benefits is lacking. That said, low-molecular-weight chondroitin appears to have a positive effect in some cats. Unfortunately, not all individuals will benefit from this supplement. It may be worth considering a trial treatment using a supplement with low-molecular-weight chondroitin.

Avocado and soybean unsaponifiables (ASU). Avocado and soybean unsaponifiable (ASU) is an extract from avocado and soybean oils. ASU seems to complement the effects of glucosamine and low-molecular-weight chondroitin. It appears to reduce inflammation involved in cartilage degeneration and has shown to have a positive effect in feline OA patients.

Can I just pick up nutraceuticals/supplements for my cat at my health food store or my pharmacy?

Despite the interest and research in the role of nutrition and nutraceuticals in pets, full understanding of these complex factors and relationships is still in its infancy. The preliminary science of nutraceutical use in cats with OA is very exciting, but care needs to be taken to follow the data as much as possible.

Your veterinarian is your best partner when choosing the most appropriate nutritional profile and supplements for your cat with OA and can recommend where to purchase them. It is important to discuss supplement use with your veterinarian as some can be harmful to your cat and some may interact with other medications that your cat is taking.

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