Pets have become important members of many American families. In fact, according to Statista, “In 2023, around 66 percent of American households reported that they owned at least one pet, an increase of about 18 percent since the start of the survey period in 1988.” Dogs remain the most popular pet, followed by cats and freshwater fish. Given the prevalence of pet ownership, it is no surprise that Americans are spending a significant amount of money on their “fur babies.” “Expenditure on pets and pet products was forecast to reach around $136.8 billion in 2022, a figure which has consistently increased year-on-year,” Statistica reported.
Consumers love their pets, which means they take their health and wellness seriously. One of the most common concerns, particularly among pets, such as dogs, cats and horses, is joint health.
State of the Pet Joint Health Market/Trends
Statista reports that 31 percent of dog owners and 29 percent of cat owners use supplements to address their pets’ joint health. “The pandemic had a huge positive impact on the growth of the pet joint health market,” said Kevin Owen, PhD, associate director, key account sales/business development, Lonza (Morristown, NJ). This, he added, was due to the sharp increase in pet ownership during stay-at-home protocols. Even post-pandemic, the market continues to grow due to “The humanization of pets, [which] means more pet owners are reflecting their own lifestyles onto their pets, including dietary preferences and health and wellness goals—based on the assumption that what is good for them is good for their pets.”
Nena Dockery, scientific affairs manager, Stratum Nutrition (Carthage, MO), concurred, adding that during the pandemic, “Many of these animals, particularly cats and dogs, were young when adopted, so as these animals begin to age, there should be a steady increase in the demand of supplements to help address joint problems, as well as other age-related conditions.”
Furthermore, Dockery noted, “As is the trend for human supplements, consumers of pet supplements are seeking out cleaner labels with fewer additive ingredients. But products also need to be palatable to the target species of animal. Cats and dogs have different taste and texture preferences, and these preferences may even extend to individual animals. This has led to a broadening of flavors, textures and delivery formats for pet supplements.”
Reshma Rathi, vice president of operations, Specialty Enzymes & Probiotics (Chino, CA), added, “Joint health is a key pet supplement category, as people are not only giving their pets joint supplements after they have an issue, but also as a preventative measure. Joint health affects an animal’s quality of life and energy, and it has become increasingly important to pet owners.” Rathi also said that consumers want clean labeling for their pet joint health supplements, just as they would for their own supplements. Pet health trends correlate to human health trends, she added, so people who invest in their own health are also investing in the health of their pets. According to Rathi, “Consumers want to make sure the products they give their animals are safe for them and produce real benefits. As such, we have put a greater emphasis on publishing studies in reputable, peer-reviewed journals.”
Causes of Pet Joint Health Issues
“Weight management is one issue that can cause significant joint health issues in pets,” said Owen. “An estimated 59 percent of dogs and 61 percent of cats are obese or overweight in the U.S.,1 with some even labeling pet obesity an epidemic.2 Obesity can have a significant impact on the joint health of pets, just as it does in humans,” he continued. “Excessive weight puts additional stress on the joints, leading to higher risk of joint problems and exacerbating existing conditions.”
Furthermore, explained Owen, “Genetic predispositions are also a major cause of joint health issues in pets, increasing the risk of developmental orthopedic diseases, connective tissue disorders, inherited degenerative joint diseases and joint laxity.” As a result, “Breeds with these predispositions may be more prone to conditions, such as hip dysplasia, cranial cruciate ligament tears, osteochondritis dissecans and joint instability.” For instance, he elaborated, “dog breeds like Labradors can be affected by joint health issues at a young age, creating discomfort and affecting their mobility. As a result, it is no surprise that supplement ingredients proven to support joint health are gaining traction in the pet food industry.”
Dockery noted, “Most of the main causes of joint problems in pets coincide with those in humans, mainly wear and tear associated with aging. In canines, some joint health issues are more common in specific breeds of dogs, especially larger, heavier breeds,” she added, concurring with Owen. Furthermore, like in humans, joint issues can arise from injury sustained during play.
Another major cause of joint issues is breeding, according to Dockery. “Animals are often selectively bred for desirable traits, which may increase the likelihood of additional traits, such as orthopedic problems. In addition, unscrupulous breeders often keep animals confined in small cages, which can lead to extensive joint dysfunction,” she noted.
“Joint problems are often caused by developmental or degenerative issues,” said Rathi. “Injury, aging and overuse of the joints are also concerns. One of the most common joint problems is inflammation, which not only causes mobility issues, but also causes pain and discomfort, and limits the animal’s ability to enjoy life. Pets, dogs in particular, are very active and joints become a problem at a relatively young age.” As far as inflammation of the joints, Rathi continued, “Research shows proteolytic enzymes are an effective way to promote healthy levels of inflammation, support healing and promote overall wellness.”
Due to the prevalence of joint health issues in pets, the natural products industry is offering several solutions to address them.
Natural Solutions for Pet Joint Health
“Lonza is committed to providing ingredients that prioritize the health and well-being of our animal companions,” said Owen. “Our UC-II undenatured type II collagen and Carniking L-carnitine ingredients have been an important part of our pet health ingredient portfolio for many years, providing pets the support they need to thrive, helping them to live longer, healthier lives and enjoy a better quality of life.”
He continued, “UC-II undenatured type II collagen works with the body’s immune system to protect against joint damage and maintain joint cartilage. This unique mechanism also allows for a very low dose, as little as 40 mg/day, which is significantly smaller than traditional joint health ingredients like glucosamine and chondroitin that require multiple grams per day for efficacy.”
There have been several studies on the effectiveness of Lonza’s UC-II undenatured type II collagen, explained Owen. “Research studies where [the ingredient] was administered to dogs showed increased physical activity levels and reductions in overall pain, exercise-associated lameness and pain upon limb manipulation.”3-10
A recent study in dogs with osteoarthritis (OA), which affects more than 50 percent of dogs between the ages of 8 and 13 worldwide,11 according to Owen, “showed that UC-II undenatured type II collagen improved the clinical symptoms and the metabolic profile of synovial fluid.”12 Furthermore, “a recent literature review revealed that, when used in combination with Boswellia serrata in feed, UC-II undenatured type II collagen can help support the management of symptoms associated with OA in dogs, improving their general condition, appetite and mobility, and reducing the degree of lameness,”13 he said. Its use before intense exercise is also associated with “increased physical activity and moving speed and reduced inflammatory and cartilage degeneration.”14
Lonza’s latest study, Owen added, “showed the impact of supplemental UC-II undenatured type II collagen on pain and mobility in healthy Labrador retrievers during an exercise regimen. This study showed that [the ingredient] was more effective than placebo at mitigating inflammation and cartilage degeneration.”14,15
According to Dockery, “Stratum Nutrition is very attuned to the pet health market and has been promoting ingredients for pet health almost since its inception. Stratum’s parent company, ESM Technologies, began researching their flagship ingredient, NEM brand eggshell membrane, in horses early on, and even has a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in dogs.” With each ingredient added into Stratum Nutrition’s portfolio, explained Dockery, “attention is given to determining the ingredient’s capability for incorporation into a veterinary product and under what stipulations, such as dosing form and timing, as well as any safety regulatory constraints.”
Dockery discussed several ingredients that are popular for pet joint health. “Ingredients that mitigate the release of pro-inflammatory substances are still the most common,” she noted. “Undenatured type II collagen (also called native collagen or non-hydrolyzed collagen within the industry), which is also popular in the pet joint health market, app-ears to function through the immune system via an oral tolerance MOA (mechanism of action).” Along with collagen, anti-inflammatory botanicals, such as curcumin and boswellia, and antioxidant ingredients such as astaxanthin, are growing in popularity.
Furthermore, Dockery explained, “Many veterinarians, just like standard medical doctors, are more resistant to supplements as treatment modalities, so it usually takes longer for them to accept and recommend a new ingredient for a specific health application.” As a result, she continued, “glucosamine remains the most recommended joint health ingredient. On the other hand,” however, “consumers are much more likely to purchase a product over the counter that they think might improve the health and well-being of their non-human family members.”
Omega-3 fatty acids have become very popular in pet supplements, Dockery added, and are commonly found in healthy aging, general well-being and joint health supplements. However, “the optimal balance between omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids can vary [among] species, so an omega-3 fatty acid product containing just EPA/DHA and researched for the human market may not be appropriate at all for the family cat. In general, a blend of both omega-3 and omega-6 is a better general option, preferably one designed and researched for a target animal species.”
Dockery concluded, “Stratum Nutrition relies heavily on research substantiation in promoting their ingredients. This is true for the ingredients marketed to the human joint health market as well as the pet joint health market. Supporting research not only lends credibility to the efficacy of the ingredient, but also its safety.”
What is unique about the products by Specialty Enzymes & Probiotics, according to Rathi, is that dogs, cats, horses and humans innately produce enzymes and probiotics. “We offer these ingredients to supplement what the body cannot produce. And what is more effective than using enzymes and probiotics that are already produced by our companion animals?” Rathi elaborated, “Systemic enzymes support total body health and wellness, such as a healthy response to inflammation, joint health and immune response. Our key offerings in the pet joint health space are Exclzyme Pet and Exclzyme Equine, which promote joint health, tissue healing and muscle recovery.”
The ingredients in Exclzyme Pet, Rathi explained, “are rutin, amla, amylase, lipase and proteolytic enzymes, such as serrapeptase, bromelain and papain. Each of these proteases have tremendous scientific backing showing they support a healthy response to inflammation. Exclzyme research shows this unique and powerful blend supports joint function, normal inflammatory response, blood viscosity and circulation, and the overall healing process.”
Specialty Enzymes & Probiotics also offers spore-forming, shelf-stable SEBiotic (Bacillus coagulans LBSC) and SEBtilis (Bacillus subtilis), which are clinically proven to support a healthy gut, and have both received GRAS (generally recognized as safe) no objections letters from the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration), according to Rathi. “ProbioSEB CSC3 is a comprehensive blend including three spore-forming probiotics and has been shown in research to support recovery from post-viral fatigue and promote immune response.”
Tips for Manufacturers
“Lonza is a NASC (National Animal Supplement Council) preferred supplier of UC-II undenatured type II collagen. To receive support from the NASC, pet treat and supplement manufacturers must be prepared to support product claims with extensive research,” said Owen. “However, manufacturers seeking ingredient definition approval from AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) for pet edible products such as treats, chews and nutritional supplements, must provide further scientific evidence, including dosage claims, recommendations, labels, toxicology and safety studies.” Lonza’s UC-II undenatured type II collagen is backed by extensive scientific research, added Owen, and the ingredient enables brands to substantiate product claims and provide pets with joint support throughout all stages of life.
Dockery advised manufacturers to pose the following questions: “Has the ingredient been researched in the target species of animal? Are there any regulatory constraints in using the ingredient in a veterinary application? Has the appropriate dosage been established? Is the ingredient palatable to the target species? Some ingredients are simply distasteful and hard to mask. Can the ingredient be manufactured in the desired dosage form, such as a treat or pill? Is the ingredient safe for the intended duration of supplementation? Can the ingredient be used long term?”
Furthermore, Dockery added, “Manufacturers should beware of synthetic forms of ingredients in pet products. Synthetic derivatives of ingredients may be safe, and have established safety in humans, but that doesn’t ensure safety in the targeted species. The botanicals in Stratum Nutrition’s portfolio are all derived from natural sources, such as Curcumin95 from Curcuma longa, and NatAxtin, a natural form of astaxanthin, sourced from Haematococcus pluvialis.” Overall, she concluded, “The most important message is that companion pets are not humans. Manufacturers should communicate with consumers that their products are safe, effective and appropriately dosed for the animal species for which they are marketed.”
Rathi suggested that good manufacturing practices (GMPs) are important, and something that manufacturers should keep in mind. “What kind of facilities and practices does that manufacturer use? Are they GMP-certified by a reputable organization? Our manufacturing facilities are GMP-certified through the rigorous third party organization NSF. Our facilities are FSMA- (Food Safety Modernization Act) and HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point)-compliant, and our laboratory is ISO-17025 certified.”
Lastly, added Rathi, “What’s in the products? Our products are manufactured with rigorous quality standards. Our state-of-the-art facilities have earned elite quality certifications, including gluten free, kosher and halal, from the most reputable certifiers. We are verified by Non-GMO Project, a leading authority in non-GMO certifications.” NIE
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2 Banfield Pet Hospital, Veterinary Emerging Topics (VET) Report, 2020.
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4 D’Altilio, M. et al., “Therapeutic efficacy and safety of undenatured type II collagen (UC-II) singly or in combination with glucosamine and chondroitin in arthritic dogs,” Toxicol. Mech. Methods. 2007, 17, p.189-196.
5 A, Peal et al., “Therapeutic efficacy and safety of undenatured type II collagen (UC-II) alone or in combination with (-)-hydroxycitric acid and chromemate in arthritic dogs,” J. Vet. Pharmacol. Ther. 2007, 30, p. 275-278.
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