Studies highlight 3 nutraceuticals for canine osteoarthritis

Indianapolis downtown

Research displays the effects of avocado/soybean unsaponifiables, green lipped mussels, and undenatured type II collagen for canine OA

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Reddogs /

Matthew Brunke, DVM, DACVSMR, CCRP, CVPP, CVA, provided an overview of nutraceuticals including the importance of evidence-based research demonstrating efficacy, and how some nutraceuticals are used to help manage osteoarthritis (OA), during a session—“Nutraceuticals for Mobility: What’s the Evidence”—at the dvm360® Directions in Veterinary Medicine conference in Indianapolis, Indiana,.1

Nutraceuticals defined

Brunke kicked off his lecture by sharing the 2 definitions of a nutraceutical. He said the FDA defines a nutraceutical as “a product intended for ingestion that contains a ‘dietary ingredient’ . . . to add further nutritional value to the diet.” A ‘dietary ingredient’ may be any one or a combination of vitamins, minerals, herbs/botanicals, and amino acids.

Meanwhile, the North American Veterinary Nutraceutical Council (NAVNC) defines a nutraceutical as, “A non-drug substance that is produced in a purified or extracted form and administered orally to provide compounds required for normal body structure and function with the intent of improving health and well-being.”

Brunke expressed that the NAVNC’s definition is a bit clearer. “We're not here to talk about injectable things for joint supplements, we're strictly talking about orals that have been purified or extracted. But . . . since it's not a drug, there is no federal oversight on the veterinary market or on the human market,” he emphasized.

Looking at the research

Therefore, because these products aren’t FDA-regulated, he explained the importance of looking at research regarding nutraceuticals rather than marketing claims. He noted that studies should be prospective and include appropriate elements such as a double-blind placebo, third-party research, reputable sources, the scientific method, and force plates. On the other hand, marketing claims tend to include self-published research, catchy terms on a label (eg, “organic,” “natural,” etc), and they sometimes copy outside research.1


Avocado/soybean unsaponifiables (ASU)

According to Brunke, avocado/soybean unsaponifiables (ASUs)are extracts from the oil that inhibit inflammation. He spotlighted a study surrounding this nutraceutical and its efficacy for degenerative OA.2

“They took 16 crossbred dogs in this, cut the cranial cruciate in the [right] knee of all the dogs. Eight [dogs] they put on a placebo, 8 they put on an avocado/soybean unsaponifiable. And then they sacrificed all those dogs and looked at them histologically. On the growth samples at necropsy, the dogs in the treatment group had fewer osteophytes. They had thicker, more robust cartilage and had a better calcified cartilage versus spongy stuff,” Brunke explained.

Brunke said that when researchers looked at the cartilage on a microscopic level for the placebo group, it was all fibrillated and irritated in both in the femur and the tibia whereas in treatment group, it was smooth which promotes less friction and less drag. “And then [the researchers] also pulled the joint fluid and compared to the placebo group, all the treatment groups had less metalloproteinase and other microscopic cytokines, so they showed on a macro and a micro level that this can be beneficial,” he added.

Therefore, this research overall revealed that treatment with ASUs can decrease the development of early osteoarthritic cartilage and subchondral bone lesions in the anterior cruciate ligament dog model of osteoarthritis.2

Green lipped mussels

Another nutraceutical Brunke highlighted was green lipped mussel extracts (GLMs). He noted its critical these mussels originate from New Zealand because only when those shells are grinded up does it result in green lipped mussel extracts.1

“GLMs have been shown in dogs to work in pathways of omega-3s, of chondroitin, so it's a little bit of a hodgepodge of the mechanism of action. It contains a lot of good things, but you can't just go and get regular mussels, you can't get the zebra mussels that are spreading throughout the United States… it has to be the GLMs out of New Zealand,” he noted.

Brunke shared key research displaying the significance of the dosage when it comes to these nutraceuticals3,4,5: “If [GLMs are] dosed at 25 mgs per kg, [there is] no difference, you have to dose [them] at least at 77 mg per kg per day,” he said.

Undenatured type II collagen

Brunke also discussed undenatured type II collagen (UC II) from chicken sternums, which is essentially immunotherapy, he said. He described that it gets absorbed in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and is an active modulator. Plus, it’s convenient because, regardless of an animal’s size, it is dosed at 10 mgs SID per patient.1

“[UC II] is going to slow down the inflammatory response because this little protein here—undenatured type II collagen—stimulates the body at the level of the Peyer’s patches so then it starts to see this damaged collagen. And so, the white cells start to learn, and the immune system starts to learn that ‘Hey, this isn't good, let's make sure that this doesn't happen,’” Brunke explained.

“So, as it then starts to happen, naturally occurring inside the joint, the body blocks the overreaction of the immune system… so, it stops eating away more cartilage,” he added.

Additionally, Brunke said there is evidence regarding UC II’s efficacy on its own and when it is combined simultaneously with glucosamine and chondroitin.6,7 The studies discovered that when these 3 nutraceuticals were used together, UC II didn’t work as well as when it was used alone. They found something in glucosamine blocks the absorption of UC II. “So, if your [pet is] on a glucosamine chondroitin supplement, you give that in the morning. Let's say, you give the UC II hours later, so that the gut is not being exposed to them both at the same time, otherwise you're not getting as robust of an effect,” Brunke said.


  1. Brunke M. Nutraceuticals for mobility: what’s the evidence? Presented at: Directions in Veterinary Medicine; June 24-25, 2022; Indianapolis, Indiana.
  2. Boileau C, Martel-Pelletier J, et al. Protective effects of total fraction of avocado/soybean unsaponifiables on the structural changes in experimental dog osteoarthritis: inhibition of nitric oxide synthase and matrix metalloproteinase-13. Arthritis Res Ther. 2009;11(2):R41. doi: 10.1186/ar2649.
  3. Bierer TL, Bui LM. Improvement of arthritic signs in dogs fed green-lipped mussel (Perna canaliculus). J Nutr. 2002;132: 1634S-6S. doi: 10.1093/jn/132.6.1634S.
  4. Bui LM, Bierer TL. Influence of green lipped mussels (Perna canaliculus) in alleviating signs of arthritis in dogs. Vet Ther. 2003;4(4):397-407. PMID: 19753702.
  5. Hielm-Björkman A, Tulamo RM, Salonen H, Raekallio M. Evaluating complementary therapies for canine osteoarthritis part I: green-lipped mussel (Perna canaliculus). Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2009 Sep;6(3):365-73. doi: 10.1093/ecam/nem136.
  6. Deparle LA, Gupta RC, et al. Efficacy and safety of glycosylated undenatured type-II collagen (UC-II) in therapy of arthritic dogs. J Vet Pharmacol Ther. 2005;28(4):385-90. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2885.2005.00668.x.
  7. D'Altilio M, Peal A, et al. Therapeutic efficacy and safety of undenatured type II collagen singly or in combination with glucosamine and chondroitin in arthritic dogs. Toxicol Mech Methods. 2007;17(4):189-96. doi: 10.1080/15376510600910469.
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