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Veterinary supplements: a practical summary, pt. 2

This is the second in a two part series of veterinary supplements.

Below are some commonly used veterinary supplements/neutraceuticals that have also undergone some clinical research. I am the first to admit this is not a complete list.

• Essential fatty acids (EFAs) — the highest levels of EFAs are found in fish oils (especially cold water fish such as salmon or cod). EFAs are also in certain plants in lower concentrations. Elevated concentrations of EFAs in the system (especially when combined with antioxidants such as Vitamin E) have been shown to reduce the body's production of certain inflammatory chemicals such as prostaglandins and cyclooxygenase. Originally, EFAs were designed to help with allergic skin disorders. More recently, EFAs (when combined with other supplements), have been found to prevent damage to joints, cognitive disorders ("old dog dementia"), cancer treatment, intestinal disorders, etc.

• Joint supplements — joint supplements are probably the oldest and most widely used in veterinary medicine. How do they work? Supplements such as glucosamine, chondroitin and polysulfated glycosaminoglycans (PSGAGs) are designed to maintain the integrity of a thin layer of cartilage (called synovial cartilage) that lines the bone within the joint. This slows the progression of arthritis, as well as increase the production of joint fluid. Joint fluid not only lubricates the joint, but also contains natural anti-inflammatories and antioxidants.

The eventual failure of joint supplements occurs when the degeneration of synovial cartilage is so great that there is bone on bone contact. No amount of supplement will bring that back. Another supplement that has gained some attention is hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid is the main ingredient in joint fluid and there is some evidence to prove that the addition of hyaluronic acid can help with the pain of arthritis even in advanced cases where other supplements fail.

• Probiotics — probiotics refer to the good bacteria in the gut. Initially, these supplements were used to replenish bacteria that were wiped out when a patient was on long-term antibiotic therapy. However, it has been found that any inflammatory condition such as viral and parasitic infections, inflammatory bowel conditions, etc. can lead to overgrowth of "bad" bacteria. The addition of these "good" bacteria have been shown to decrease inflammation, as well as decrease diarrhea, gas, cramping, etc.

• S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) and Silymarin (Milk Thistle) are two liver specific antioxidants that have been used both individually, as well as in combination to protect hepatocytes (individual liver cells) from what is called oxidative injury. Oxidative injury can be triggered by anything from an infection or parasite to adverse drug reactions to inflammation of the bile duct and gall bladder. The biggest drawback to these supplements are that they are irritating to the lining of the stomach and not absorbed properly. Newer, enteric coatings (special capsules that do not break down until past the stomach) has helped with that.

• Supplements to promote urinary tract health — there are newer supplements that help to improve kidney function in older pets or pets with a chronic progressive kidney disease, however, most of the supplements are designed to prevent reoccurring urinary tract infections and bladder stones.

Almost all of the commercially prepared diets for dogs and cats (even high quality diets) have a fair amount of fillers. These fillers add bulk and prevent spoilage. Unfortunately, these fillers are plant in origin and are known to alkalinize to urine. In a more alkaline environment certain bacteria thrive, as well as crystals (which can lead to stones) accumulate. Acidifying agents such as Vitamin C and cranberry extract are designed to acidify the urine. Cranberry extract has also been proven to prevent the colonization of E. coli, the number one bacteria found in reoccurring bladder infections.

There is also some evidence to prove glucosamine helps to reduce inflammation of the inner lining of the bladder. This is important in a condition called idiopathic cystitis (idiopathic is a medical term that refers to conditions that an exact cause has not yet been discovered). This painful and frustrating condition is more common in cats and either treatment provides temporary relief, or nothing seems to work (except these supplements).

Dr. Kearns has been in practice for 12 years and is pictured with his son Matthew, as well as the newest member of the family, Jasmine, a Labrador retriever.

Author: 
Matthew Kearns, DVM