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Horse Joint Supplements Guide

Heat, pain, and swelling are signs that a joint is under stress. Scientific studies are now  supporting what many owners already knew-that nutritional supplements can alleviate  pain and may help prevent further joint damage.

Horse joint supplements work. what's heartening is we finally have some formal studies in horses that back this claim up. However, if you've tried several different supplements, you've probably found that some horse joint supplements work better than others in helping your horse move more comfortably or controlling heat and swelling. One reason for this is the variable quality of the ingredients. Another is that some supplements may not contain what they claim to contain. Also, individual horses with similar conditions may respond differently to the same products and doses. Some may show marked improvement, while others show little apparent benefit.

The same problem exists for human arthritis supplements. "Nutraceuticals," as these compounds are referred to, are not tightly regulated by the FDA, so "consumer beware" applies. It's easy to get lost among all the products, since there are around 75 different brands on the market, with many manufacturers offering several to choose from. What's more, new ingredients keep popping up.

Equine joint supplements that have been on the market for a long time are probably reasonably effective. However, the best approach is to start by reading labels to make sure the product you are considering contains appropriate ingredients in the correct amounts.

Glucosamine is the most well studied ingredient in joint supplements. It comes as either glucosamine sulfate or glucosamine hydrochloride. Both are effective. Glucosamine is the basic building block of all connective tissues, including cartilage, in all forms of life. Glucosamine is usually either manufactured in a pure form or isolated from sources high in glucosamine, like the outer coverings of shellfish. Some products may contain "natural sources" of glucosamine, such as the sternum or trachea (windpipe) from cattle or hydrolyzed collagen from other sources (skin, tendons, ligaments). Hydrolyzed collagen will be mentioned below, but when shopping for glucosamine, it's best to stick with either the manufactured pure glucosamine or shellfish sources.


Glucosamine is effective in relieving pain, sometimes in as short a 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 by getting a therapeutic level of the substance into the horse's system.

Recipes for Relief

  • Glucosamine and chondroitin seem to work better together than separately.
  • Combination products work best when they contain the recommended therapeutic dose of each ingredient.
  • Oral hyaluronic acid (HA) may help during flare-ups to reduce heat and swelling.
  • MSM is an effective anti-inflammatory when fed at a dose of 20,000 mg/day.
  • Vitamin C is important for joint health, but too much supplemental C can be harmful.
  • There is no "arthritis mineral," although copper and zinc are important antioxidant

Chondroitin sulfate is a major structural component of cartilage, bone, and tough connective tissues such as the whites of the eyes. The pain-relieving 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 give mixed results, with its greatest benefit appearing to be prevention of further cartilage breakdown. An effective dose is between 1,250 and 5,000 mg/day.

Glucosamine + Chondroitin
The most recent research is showing superior results for combinations of glucosamine and chondroitin, as contrasted to results when either substance is used alone. Many equine joint supplements now combine these two ingredients (among other things). What you will often find, though, is that a product may contain both ingredients, but the dosage of one, or both, is low compared to the individual dosages listed above. Products may claim-or imply-that when the ingredients are combined, you can lower the doses and get the same effect. But this has never been studied or documented. Some, but far from all, of these lower-dose products actually do work, but there are no formal, long-term equine studies to show us what's going on in the horse's joints. For the moment, your best bet is to use a combination product that supplies a full dose of glucosamine (for pain control) and as close to a correct dose of chondroitin as you can find.

Keep in mind that glucosamine and chondroitin are the cornerstones of any joint supplement program. Unless new research eventually shows something else works better, you should focus on those two. However, anything you pick up is likely to have a much longer list of ingredients.

So what about the other stuff?

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