Like their human counterpoints, three major categories of horses are often the target demographic for joint health supplements—overweight, active and aging equines.
“Joint health is a concern for all horse owners, especially as horses age and can potentially put on more weight," said Mike Fleagle, Regenasure® glucosamine brand manager, Cargill. “Much like their human owners, obesity with older horses can be a concern and result in joint health issues."
Horses that are athletes (racehorses or show horses) are more susceptible to joint injury and post-traumatic arthritis, according to Nena Dockery, technical services manager, Stratum Nutrition. “Also, aging horses experience increased vulnerability to joint stiffness and discomfort resulting from regular wear and tear," she said.
While these three categories are the major targets, Gary Lynch, Ph.D., senior project and account manager, HORN Animal Wellness, reminded that all horses—whether they are young, active performance or working horses, or brood mares—are dependent on healthy bone and joint function.
Nutrient research conducted specifically in horses is important. Just like rat studies don’t always translate to expected human effects, studies conducted in other species, most often carnivores, don’t confirm nutrients will be metabolized the same way by horses, which have unique gastrointestinal (GI) tracts. A horse digests portions of its food enzymatically first in the foregut, and then foods ferment in the hindgut.
Glucosamine, an amino sugar that helps build cartilage and other connective tissue—alone or in combination with chondroitin sulfate, a complex carbohydrate that helps cartilage retain water—helps keep horses’ joints healthy. Lynch noted glucosamine “helps build strong joints," and “Chondroitin blocks destructive enzymes that break down cartilage in the joint and thus helps maintain joint health."
Collagen, a main component in joints, can also be taken via supplementation to provide a number of amino acids that play an important role in the creation of collagen. Type II collagen is one of the main proteins in cartilage.
Eggshells include many nutrients that have been shown to help joints. While they contain glucosamine and chondroitin, they are primarily composed of type 1 collagen.
Like collagen, cartilage is a component of joint health that can be consumed orally and have benefits realized in joints.
Omega-3 fatty acids, found in plant and animal sources, offer anti-inflammatory benefits that have been shown to benefit joint health, in both humans and horses. And other fats have also shown to be beneficial to horses’ joint health, such as avocado soybean unsaponifiables (ASU, a natural vegetable extract made from one-third avocado oil and two-thirds soybean oil).
Resveratrol, a plant-based ingredient found in grapes, also reduces inflammation and can help keep joints healthy.
Research on dietary ingredients’ effects on horses’ joint health isn’t as plentiful as science for similar ingredients in humans, but research is starting to mount. More is sure to come, but equine supplement brands that offer scientifically backed products are likely to see rewards from this growing consumer base.
Download INSIDER’s Joint Health for Animals Digital Magazine to learn the research behind these nutrients’ effects in horses, as well as ingredients that benefit companion animals’ joints, and a legal update on allowable claims.