In my practice as a canine nutritionist, I receive a lot of questions about the best supplements for dogs with osteoarthritis (OA). In the hopes of relieving their dog’s discomfort and restoring mobility, many clients drain their wallets on products that promise miracles but produce little benefit. I tend to be a “less is more” type of person and scale back to the products that are proven safe and effective, like avocado/soybean unsaponifiables.
I did this for my own dog, Chase, and as a German Shepherd Dog mix, he remained mobile long after most dogs of his breed, enjoying more than 17 healthy years. One of the products on Chase’s “mobility list” as he aged was avocado/soybean unsaponifiables. Let’s look at why I recommend avocado/soybean unsaponifiables as part of a joint support regimen.
When I was a kid, Ivory soap was the bar of choice in our household. I loved how it floated in the bathtub! What I didn’t realize was that this family favorite was created thanks to the miracle of saponification, a process in which an oil or fat is mixed with lye to form soap. Unsaponifiables, as the name implies, are the parts of an oily/fatty mixture that are unable to saponify.
Avocado/soybean unsaponifiables, or ASUs, fall into this category. They are natural vegetable extracts made from the small fraction — about 1 percent — of avocado and soybean oil that cannot be used to make soap because they are unable to saponify. ASUs are destined for a greater calling than melting away on the bathtub soap dish: relieving pain and discomfort associated with OA in dogs and humans.
Avocado/soybean unsaponifiables consist of a mixture of one-third avocado oil and two-thirds soybean oil. They are rich in a variety of compounds, including fat-soluble vitamins and phytosterols, cholesterol-like molecules found in the cell walls of plants. ASUs are shown to delay the progression of OA by interfering with multiple pathways involved in creating pain and inflammation and destroying cartilage, including impeding the expression of the inflammatory COX-2 enzyme.
Dozens of published studies attest to the benefits of avocado/soybean unsaponifiables. A 2009 study of 16 dogs with cruciate ligament rupture showed that treatment with ASUs significantly decreased damage to the cartilage matrix and reduced the loss of subchondral bone volume and calcified cartilage thickness. Other studies in dogs concluded that ASUs produce an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and tissue-building effect on articular chondrocytes, the cells found in healthy cartilage.
Perhaps the most impressive testament to the benefits of avocado/soybean unsaponifiables in people comes from a 2016 study published in the journal Reumatologia. The six-month-long study observed 4,822 patients treated for symptomatic OA of the knee in 99 centers across Poland. The patients were given one 300 mg capsule of ASU per day and no other medication. The 86.8 percent of patients who completed the study showed significant improvement in functional ability and a significant decrease in pain. They were also able to greatly reduce the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
When a beloved dog suffers from pain, stiffness and lack of mobility associated with OA, we just want him to feel better. While we can’t turn back the clock, there are tools we can use to help our dogs age more comfortably and maintain an active lifestyle longer. Avocado/soybean unsaponifiables, in my opinion, are one of those tools. They are shown safe for long-term use and may help reduce or even eliminate reliance on NSAIDs, which are linked with serious health complications, including increased risk of heart attack, stroke, bleeding and kidney damage.
A dosage of one 300-mg ASU capsule given every three days was used in canine research studies, however, Matt Brunke, DVM, of the Veterinary Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Group in Annapolis Junction, Maryland, and a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation recommends determining a daily dosage based on the individual dog’s body weight. I recommend purchasing a product formulated specifically for dogs, such as Dasuquin by Nutramax, which contains ASUs along with other joint-support ingredients.
If you decide to try an ASU product, remember to be patient. It may take several weeks before you, and your dog, notice the benefits.
Found naturally throughout the body, glucosamine is important for joint and cartilage health. It is necessary to synthesize glycosaminoglycan (GAGs), molecules found in cartilage and other connective tissues, as well as in synovial fluid, which cushions and lubricates joints. Glucosamine production can decrease with age, so it is often taken as a supplement. Dr. Brunke recommends the glucosamine hydrochloride form for dogs. Since glucosamine supplements are typically made from chitin, the hard outer shells of shellfish, dogs with shellfish allergies should opt for vegan products made from corn. Dogs with intolerances to corn may need to completely avoid glucosamine products.
Glucosamine supplements can cause side effects, including gastrointestinal disturbances as well as an increase in blood sugar, blood pressure and triglyceride levels. A worsening of eye pressure in individuals with glaucoma or intraocular hypertension is also possible. Studies have yielded mixed results regarding the effectiveness of glucosamine supplements in treating signs and symptoms of OA. I recommend opting for a product combining additional clinically tested ingredients, such as ASU.
Thumbnail: Photography ©Eivaisla | Getty Images.
Diana Laverdure-Dunetz, MS, is a canine nutritionist and co-author, with W. Jean Dodds, DVM, of two books, including Canine Nutrigenomics: The New Science of Feeding Your Dog for Optimum Health. Their online course, Complete Canine Nutrition, can be found at myhealthydog.dog.
Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Dogster magazine. Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? Subscribe now to get Dogster magazine delivered straight to you!