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Canine Trauma

Truth in Advertising: Not All Nutraceuticals
Live Up to Their Claims

Written by: Elizabeth L. DeLomba, DVM -
Republished here with permission from

Everywhere you turn these days, there are advertisements for new products that make amazing claims about how a particular compound or herb will make your pet’s life paradise. Feed your kitty this magic potion, and no more itching for Fluffy! Try this new spray, and your old dog will run like a puppy! This garlic treatment surely will blast away all those fleas... even if it leaves Fido smelling like pizza dough.

Evaluating the truth of such claims can be difficult because there has been little scientific research done on nutraceutical compounds. Many are marketed as supplements, and therefore are not classified as a drug and are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Primarily, anecdotal evidence and testimonials are used to support the usefulness of the products.

In their quest to find alternative care for their pets, many consumers don’t know to look beyond the label. Since these products are often sold in drug stores and look like drugs, pet owners tend to think that they have been tested in a manner similar to pharmaceutical products. Unfortunately, many of the nutraceutical products lack appropriate levels of testing. It is expensive for manufacturers to run double-blind placebo tests on the human supplements’let alone those given to pets.

Additionally, because the effects of nutraceuticals often are subtle, they are very difficult to evaluate in our pets because they cannot articulate how they feel. Use of these products in general is controversial and the American Veterinary Medical Association has queried its members as to whether these treatment modalities should even be taught by the veterinary schools. In general, most veterinarians are skeptical about nutraceuticals.

Not all nutraceuticals are necessarily "bad," though, and some of them do seem to be beneficial. In fact, there are several nutraceutical products that have achieved limited acceptance in the veterinary community.

Fatty acid supplements have been available for at least the last 10 years, and they have been shown to be helpful in the treatment of skin diseases. Fatty acids are incorporated into cell membranes and are metabolized into the mediators of inflammation. When this occurs, the omega 3 fatty acids produce compounds that cause a less severe inflammatory reaction than those made from the omega 6 fatty acids.

Use of these products for eight to 12 weeks is required to achieve adequate levels in the cell membranes, so chances are that you will not see any alleviation of symptoms before this time. Although fatty acid supplements have been shown to be more worthwhile than other types of "alternative drugs," don’t expect a quick fix from them. They do help, but it takes time.

In general, fatty acid supplements are considered safe. However, potential complications can occur. Although uncommon, fatty acid supplements may alter platelet function and thus predispose the pet to bleeding. If your pet has a bleeding problem, you should avoid fatty acids.

Another commonly used nutraceutical is glucosamine-chondroitin. These compounds are available in many forms, some of which are specifically designed for veterinary use. Primarily, glucosamine-chondroitin is used to help diminish the symptoms associated with osteoarthritis. Although the usefulness of purified glycosaminoglycan has been documented, the efficacy of the oral product is in dispute. Additionally, the formulations for these products are not standardized’making them even more difficult to evaluate.

The chondroitin portion of the supplement increases the resistance and elasticity of cartilage. Both glucosamine and chondroitin are required for proteoglycan synthesis. These compounds assist in the joint's recovery from the constant trauma of the osteoarthritis. Theoretically, they are given to provide cartilage matrix precursors and stimulate regeneration. Unfortunately, the exact mechanism of action is poorly understood. Controlled studies for the efficacy of these compounds are lacking. In general, these products are safe with toxicity and allergic reactions at a minimum.

It is clear that the use of nutraceutical products in our pet animals is here to stay. Most veterinarians agree that it is important to approach the use of these compounds with an open mind but also with a dose of skepticism. As always, your safest bet is to discuss the use of these and any medications with your veterinarian.

Article republished here with permission from
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