“What can I add to my pet’s diet for stiffness, achy joints and terrible mobility?” If I asked you this simple question, what would be the first thing you’d think to add to your dog’s diet?
It may be likely that somewhere in your thought process, the word glucosamine popped into your cloud of really good ideas. The magical antidote to all joint problems – glucosamine! Like love at first sight at a high school dance, we’ve just made eye contact across the room, but what do we actually know about glucosamine?
What Is Glucosamine?
Glucosamine is a nutritional supplement found on virtually every health store and pet shop shelf. Two of the most common forms of glucosamine are ground up shellfish shells, such as lobster, shrimp, or crab, and microbial grain fermentation.
Glucosamine is naturally found in both human and pet bodies alike. Much like the clever combo name Brangelina, the nickname given to celebrity couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, the name glucosamine comes from the combined names of glucose and the amino acid glutamine. Glucosamine produces what is called glycosaminoglycan and is used to repair the creakiness in your pet’s joints by repairing cartilage and tissues.
It’s pretty well established that glucosamine is definitely a friend we want to introduce to our pet’s diet. So the next question is, do we need to add glucosamine as a supplement?
Many pet food manufacturers claim their pet food contains a good amount of glucosamine. This sounds perfect, right? “Contains a natural source of glucosamine” boasts the pet food packaging and it promises healthy, strong joints through joint, mobility, or senior support labels.
Leading dry food manufacturers go on to say they use lots of by-products because they are a rich natural source of glucosamine. This leads the consumer to believe the package is supplying your pet with a sufficient amount of glucosamine, but is this true? Is it enough?
According to research your pet needs, on average, 20mg of glucosamine per pound of body weight a day. This means that a 50 pound adult dog would need about 1000mg of glucosamine a day.
Okay, so we know how much glucosamine our pet needs. Can we trust our bag of kibble to supply it in the recommended amounts?
We decided to perform some private investigation to get the answer to that question. So we examined kibble, the most popular form of pet food.
The four most common places to find kibble are big box stores, wholesale clubs, specialty pet shops, and veterinarians’ offices.
We decided to head to the most popular spot first, the big box store/supermarket. The Planet Paws team selected and analyzed the bag that most strongly promoted joint support and glucosamine on the bag. Next, we looked at the guaranteed analysis. All pet food labels require a guaranteed analysis on the package to advise the purchaser of the product’s nutrient content. We looked at where the glucosamine was listed and noted the following: glucosamine min. 300mg/kg.
Ok, next it was time for a little math!
Now, 300mg/kg basically means 300mg of glucosamine per kilogram of kibble. In the pet food industry, it’s generally known that, on average, four cups of kibble equals one pound. Therefore 1 kg is equal to 8.8 cups. Do you follow?
So if our average 50 pound dog needs 1000mg of glucosamine per day, we would have to feed that dog over 29 cups of big box store pet food each and every day to meet his needs!
The serving size on the bag suggests that a dog of this size would only need two cups per day, so 29 cups might make him a little overweight!
So next, we jumped back into our car and hoped for better success at our next destination. We headed to the wholesale club, a high end pet shop, and finally the journey ended at our local vet’s office. We purchased one bag of each of their best selling kibble, all of which carried promises of joint support.
Here’s what we found: the wholesale club Healthy Joints Aid food that we bought claimed, “Natural sources of glucosamine to help support healthy joints, cartilage and mobility in Large Breed Adult dogs.” The guaranteed analysis read: Glucosamine, minimum 375 mg/kg. This means our same 50 pound dog would have to eat over 23 cups per day!
The high-end kibble we bought at the pet shop claimed: “Contains guaranteed levels of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate.” The guaranteed analysis read: glucosamine, minimum 500 mg/kg. Again, we would need almost 18 cups in order to reach 1000mg. And this was in an $80 bag of kibble!
Last but not least, we figured our local veterinarian brand would save us. To put this last hope to the test, we purchased a $120 bag of kibble. This had to work, right? The bag claimed that it will “help alleviate pain and improve joint support”. The guaranteed analysis read: glucosamine hydrochloride minimum 950mg/kg.
This was by far the highest level in all of the bags we’d tested, but was it enough?
Alas, 950mg per 8.8 cups would mean our 50 pound dog would need over nine cups a day to receive the 1000mg of glucosamine needed. According to this product’s manufacturer, we should only feed 3 ½ cups a day, meaning our pooch would only receive 377mg of glucosamine a day. This is a far reach from our desired amount of 1,000mg.
Unfortunately, not one of the bags of kibble could meet our required supplement needs, no matter where we purchased the food.
Species Appropriate Raw Diet
Where does that leave us? Is all hope of making friends with our beloved glucosamine lost? Not exactly… if glucosamine is what you need, then you’re better off finding a more ready supply by adding a joint supplement or, even better, feeding a species appropriate raw diet to your pet.
For raw diet enthusiasts, an inexpensive source of glucosamine can be found naturally occurring in the cartilage of fresh beef trachea. In fact, any parts with a lot of cartilage and connective tissue, like chicken feet or pork tails, are a good source of naturally occurring glucosamine and chondroitin. Beef trachea is around 5% glucosamine. After a little more math, we can see that just one ounce piece of trachea could hold over 1400mg of glucosamine.
Who Can You Trust?
But here is the pivotal question: can we trust kibble marketing?
This is where it gets tricky because none of the bags of kibble we looked at technically said we could rely on it solely to contain the recommended dosage needed for our pet’s diet. But as pet parents, we owe it to our fur kids to read the fine print and not rely on the claims on the bag.
“By-products in our kibble are used because they are a high source of natural glucosamine.” If you believe that statement and rely on it solely to keep your pets healthy and happy, it sounds like you might be the by-product of clever marketing.
Rodney Habib is a pet nutrition blogger, an expert on a pet obesity documentary which is currently being filmed, and host of the radio show In The Dish. He is constantly trying to break the misconceptions of processed foods in order to shine a light on real foods for optimal health. He is the owner/operator of Planet Paws Pet Essentials located in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia where he lives with his four fur kids.