Joint Supplements as Preventative Medicine

In the past several years there has been an explosion of supplements marketed as protecting and maintaining joint health. Early in the development of these products, information regarding their labeled usage was limited. However, increasing amounts of scientific information suggest that regular use of such products may be beneficial.

By far, the most common compounds included in joint supplements include chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine. There is skepticism that these products can be given orally and somehow be broken down in the horse's digestive tract into something that can be used to improve the health of joints. There is a theory why chondroitin sulfate can be used by the horse to improve the joint environment. When chondroitin sulfate breaks down in the horse's body, it probably produces a compound or by-product that can be absorbed by the horse. This compound has a low molecular weight (which can be better absorbed by the horse). These low molecular weight products may, however, have biologic activity, and numerous positive clinical responses to oral supplementation with chondroitin sulfate have been reported.

Glusosamine is another commonly used compound in oral joint supplements. This compound exists as a small, water-soluble molecule that the intestine can easily absorb. Researchers who have examined this compound have found an affinity for joint cartilage and that this compound genuinely appears to modify disease processes in the joint. There appears to be anti-inflammatory activity and the suggestion of the ability to help reverse cartilage degradation in human patients. The information suggests that glucosamine is the most logical choice for the treatment and prevention of joint disease in horses. It is estimated that a 10g/day oral dosage is necessary for a 500kg (1,100 pounds) horse.

Joint supplements that contain the compounds described above may help maintain and sustain joint health. Glucosamine may also help repair cartilage damage to an extent. However, one should not be under the impression that providing such supplements will effectively cure joint disease in the horse. The benefits from joint supplements may only be realized with regular use and over an extended period. Any degenerative joint disease that may exist in a horse should be considered a condition that cannot be specifically cured. The use of oral joint supplements may help to slow the degradation and deterioration of the joint with extended use of these products, but the disease will continue to progress. Successful management of such disease might be prolonged by the use of oral joint supplements with or without other joint therapies.

Editor's Note: This is from Understanding Equine Preventive Medicine by author and veterinarian Bradford G. Bentz, VMD. The book is available from

About the Author

Bradford G. Bentz, VMD, MS, Dipl. ACVIM, ABVP (equine)

Brad Bentz, VMD, Dipl. ACVIM, ABVP, ACVECC, owns Bluegrass Equine Performance and Internal Medicine in Lexington, Ky., where he specializes in advanced internal medicine and critical care focused on helping equine patients recuperate at home. He’s authored numerous books, articles, and papers about horse health and currently serves as commission veterinarian for the Kentucky State Racing Commission.

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