Special Edition: Supplements for Pets

Easy observation of effects makes joint health prime pet opportunity

By Hank Schultz contact

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock/Bigandt_Photography
© iStock/Bigandt_Photography

Related tags: Joint health

Joint health is probably the easiest thing for pet owners to measure, which makes it an important opportunity for the suppliers of ingredients for pet supplements, experts say.

Pet animals can’t explain exactly what they’re feeling, and dogs, horses and cats can’t be queried to find out what marketing messages resonate with them. But their owners can, and gauging movement whether through actual validated metrics or merely through ‘gut feel’ is one of the easiest measurement tools to apply to judge how these ingredients are functioning in the pet’s body.

Lots of sales resting on limited data

The opportunity in joint health for pets is significant. Veterinarian and professor Tanja Hess, DVM, of Colorado State University said according to her information (which she emphasized was several years old),  more than $2 billion in pet health supplements are sold annually in the US.  Of that, slightly more than 50% went toward horses, and 34% were classified as joint health products.

Dr Hess, who is an equine nutrition specialist, said that in her view there has been relatively little work done on joint health ingredients specifically in pet animals.  Humans and the pets in question are all mammals, and their joints are constructed in similar fashion, so many suppliers rely on information developed on ingredients in vitro​ or in vivo​ through smaller animal models or use human data and extrapolate from there.

Dr. Hess said that approach has its limitations. There is some data on how certain joint health ingredients perform in horses, but much work remains to be done.

With glucosamine it depends [on the form]. The sulfates have been shown to be better absorbed.  Hyaluronic acid has been shown to be helpful.  With chondroitin, it has been shown to increase in the blood if you feed it to the horse.  But is it doing anything once it gets into the blood?​ Dr. Hess told NutraIngredients-USA.

Common degenerative processes

There is no doubt, though, that certain degenerative processes are common among pet animals and humans.  In particular osteoarthritis looks similar, especially between dogs and humans, perhaps because both species are omnivores. Pam Stauffer, global marketing programs manager for supplier Cargill, said work on the company’s Regenasure vegetarian glucosamine ingredient done at the Scripps Research Institute supports the ingredient’s use across animal models.

Declining joint health may pose a risk for structural damage to articular cartilage and lead to joint pain and dysfunction as the main subjective symptoms of osteoarthritis (OA), the most prevalent aging-related musculoskeletal disorder. Autophagy is an essential cellular homeostasis mechanism that is responsible for removal of dysfunctional macromolecules and organelles.  Aging-associated or experimental defects in autophagy contribute to organismal and tissue specific aging while enhancement of autophagy may protect against certain aging related pathologies such as OA and extend lifespan in model organisms,​she said.

Old dog pets © iStock Atlantagreg
© iStock/Atlantagreg

Stauffer said while joint care is important in dogs who so commonly suffer hip dysplasia as they age, it is even more important with horses. Dogs that are uncomfortable can spend a lot of time lying down without undue health consequences.  Not so with horses.  Once they can’t stand anymore, they die.

Joint health is a concern for many horse owners, especially as horses age and can potentially put on more weight.  Much like their human owners, obesity with older horses can be a concern and result in joint health issues,​” she said.

We see a variety of segments purchasing joint health products. Everyone from individual family owners to more established formal stables and production groups are seeking joint health benefits,” ​Stauffer said.

Opportunity for collagen

Lara Niemann, marketing director for the Americas for German supplier Gelita, said the opportunity for collagen in pet health looks somewhat similar to that of glucosamine and proceeds from a similar basis that mammals have many internal structures and dietary needs in common. And Gelita has specific data on how its collagen for pets, branded as Petagile, performs in specific dog breeds.

We absolutely believe there is an opportunity for collagen in animals. We know that collagen is abundant in all mammals. Its an integral part of connective tissue and thats true in dogs and cats and horses as well as humans,​she said.

About 20% of all dogs aged one year or older are affected by some form of osteoarthritic condition,” ​Niemann said. We know that some breeds are more affected than others, such as Labs and German Shepherds, and thats actually where Gelita has done its studies.  We looked at the impact of collagen supplementation in more than 100 dogs,​ she added.

The studies were designed with owners making observations, which is one of the study design limitations common to the field mentioned by Dr. Hess. Nevertheless, it does provide some indication as to how the ingredient is performing.

Some of the indications were the degree of lameness, how difficult it was for the dog to get up from a lying position and how well the dog could climb stairs,” ​Niemann said.

But we have also done studies with vets. All of these have shown a decrease in the degree of lameness,” ​she said.

Finicky eaters

Horse feeding Pets © iStock jarih
© iStock/jarih

Niemann said Gelita has also studies Petagile in horses, and showed similar good results, though at a higher dose for the larger animal.  A study looking at a 50 gram and a 25 gram dose found a dose dependent relationship as to how the ingredient helped horses move better.

If a horse is experiencing some troubles with walking and moving, 60% of that lameness is related to osteoarthritic conditions.  We did a 12-week study on 30 horses and there was a significant reduction in lameness based on horse ownersevaluations,​ she said.

Niemann said Gelita has done a significant amount of work on making its Petagile collagen as bland tasting as possible.  Taste is important in human products too, of course, but a human consumer can choose to choke down something slightly (or more) objectionable if they believe it will have a health benefit.  Not so with horses, she said.

These are high dollar animals so keeping them mobile and healthy is important. But horses can be finicky eaters so whatever ingredient you put into their feed has to be as neutral as possible in taste or they simply wont ingest it,​she said.

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