Header image
Header image

Equine Joint Supplements

If you have looked for an equine joint supplement then you may have put in search terms such as best horse joint supplement reviews, horse supplements for joints reviews, equine joint supplement reviews, horse joint supplement reviews, horse joint supplement comparison, equine joint supplement comparison, etc into Google. Of course the first page is probably going to be paid adverts from companies trying to sell you an equine joint supplement. The next posts will probably be “reviews” in magazines or online horse sites. These are almost certainly only going to list some common joint supplements and won’t delve into anything objective, such as whether they are backed by clinical trials or not or comparing the actual composition. And in many cases, the joint supplements that appear in these “independent” reviews are far from independent. The supplements listed are highly likely to be from companies that have paid to have them included or who advertise regularly with the site. Your next or even first port of call might be a “horsey” Facebook page. There are hundreds of posts about equine joint supplements but the problem is the comments have no structure and so its impossible to come to any conclusion. And some companies pay “influencers” to promote their products. All of these factors are one of the reason we conduct large structured surveys and do our own independent investigation and testing – so you don’t have to and so you can see at a glance how best to spend your hard-earned money to maximise benefit for your horse. Because lest face it, there is a lot of smoke and mirrors when it comes to selling equine joint supplements.

Equine joint supplements are liquids or powders or pellets which are for oral consumption and are often classed as “nutraceuticals”. They are not feeds, although some feeds may contain ingredients commonly found in equine joint supplement such as glucosamine or MSM. They are also not drugs or pharmaceuticals. In many countries laws are very strict governing what can be claimed for equine joint supplements and claims to treat, prevent, cure or restore are not permitted. Mention of specific conditions such as osteoarthritis are also usually prohibited. Neither are studies showing evidence of efficacy of equine joint supplements allowed to be directly referred to in marketing. This is to make sure there is a clear distinction between supplements and pharmaceuticals.  

Osteoarthritis is common in horses and ponies. Osteoarthritis leads to swollen and painful joints due to wearing away of the cartilage, which is the covering on the ends of bones where two bones or more meet in a joint. The result is horses that are very stiff or lame. A variety of medications are available that can be used treat the pain and or inflammation within the joint. Some are oral and some are injected. Being able to regenerate cartilage has been for many years the holy grail and this is now showing great promise through techniques such as the injection of rejuvenated synovium-derived stem cells into the joint space. Pain relief (analgesia) can be given but this does not treat the underlying problem and many medications also have side effects when used long term. Whilst equine joint supplements should certainly not be seen as an alternative to veterinary medicines, they do have a place and can be used alongside pharmaceuticals. There is very good evidence for the efficacy of a small number of commercial joint supplements (currently only 10 available worldwide, of which 5 are available in the UK) and for individual ingredients, such as glucosamine. Equine joint supplements are also one of the most common supplements purchased by horse owners. They also have a high level of safety and low level of side effects. Also, with the cost of veterinary treatment its understandable why horse owners may look for more affordable options.

Depending on the ingredients and of course whether the levels of those ingredients are high enough, ingredients such as MSM, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, omega 3, EPA, DHA and Boswellia serrata may help with inflammation and pain in muscles as well as joints. However, its unlikely that the ingredients in equine joint supplements will help with bone or tendon issues.

Literally hundreds. We can see this either by Googling “equine joint supplements” or “best horse joint supplement” or from the number of different supplements mentioned on social media or by the number of different joint supplements entered when we run online surveys.

But equine joint supplements whilst usually cheaper than veterinary medicines are not always cheap. Often if a joint supplement is cheap then this is reflected in the fact that it has either cheap active ingredients or low levels of expensive active ingredients. At the same time, there is minimal justification for joint supplements that cost £3 a day or more.

A large number of different ingredients are commonly found in equine joint supplements including, glucosamine hydrochloride, glucosamine sulphate, glucosamine, MSM (methyl sulphonyl methane), Vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid, ascorbyl monophosphate or ascorbyl palmitate), chondroitin sulphate, omega 3 oil, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), hyaluronic acid (HA), sodium hyaluronate (as a source of HA), avocado and soyabean unsaponifiable (ASU), Boswellia serrata (raw or concentrated extract), Vitamin E (natural or synthetic), collagen peptides, green lipped mussel, shark cartilage, abalone, Biota orientalis, turmeric, curcumin, black pepper, Bioperine, piperine, Devil’s claw (raw or extract) and rosehips. Many other ingredients are also included for which there is no evidence for efficacy including, copper, manganese, magnesium, zinc, glutamine, lysine, methionine,

n general yes, but certain ingredients are banned for FEI (globally) or affiliated competitions or in racing in some countries. For example, MSM was added to the banned substances list for racing in the UK in August 2022. Whilst many equine joint supplements will have labels stating “legal for FEI and racing”, its important to check the ingredients for your sport and country as what is legal in one place and sport won’t necessarily be legal in another. For FEI competition there is an online database where you can check whether ingredients are legal or not
https://inside.fei.org/fei/cleansport/ad-h/prohibited-db

 

As far as individual ingredients, there are peer-reviewed published papers supporting the use of glucosamine, chondroitin sulphate, MSM, hyaluronic acid, green lipped mussel extract and avocado and soybean unsaponifiable extract. A word of caution. Companies selling joint supplements will often refer to clinical trials supporting their own supplement but frequently the levels of active ingredients are much lower than those used in the trials. For example, research suggests that the minimum daily intake of glucosamine to be effective is 20mg/kg or 10g for a 500kg horse. Out of 27 equine joint supplement products on sale in the UK containing glucosamine, only 6 (essentially 1 in 5) provided 10g or more glucosamine per day for a 500kg horse.

One would hope that companies making equine joint supplements would undertake research and trials before releasing products to the market. You may be surprised to learn that only a few companies do this and that there is no legal requirement in most countries for companies to undertake any trials at all. In many countries what can and can’t be used in an equine joitn supplement is regulated by law. For example, in the UK, there are registers of animal feed ingredients or ingredients classed as additives and only ingredients that appear on these registers specifically for the horse can legally be used. An ingredient licensed for dogs for example cannot be used for a horse product.

In recent years there have been social media posts promoting the myth that glucosamine is harmful for laminitis prone, PSSM, tying-up prone, EMS, Cushings or overweight horses because “glucosamine is converted to glucose”. A common sense check should immediately tell us this is complete rubbish. Firstly, at 10g a day even if (and it isn’t) all glucosamine was converted to glucose, this is still only 10g of glucose! A horse would get that amount of sugar in a few mouthfuls of hay! Trust me. 10g of glucose (two teaspoons) will have no effect at all on a horse or ponies blood sugar level. Further evidence that glucosamine is not a risk. Anderson et al. (2005) showed that only a very small proportion of glucosamine is actually converted to sugar. Secondly, many of the studies suggesting a link between glucosamine and insulin dysregulation are either a) in isolated cells, b) use abnormally high doses, c) are flawed. As Pham et al. (2007) pointed out “glucosamine is widely used as a treatment for osteoarthritis, which is a condition associated with both obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus [insulin insensitivity]”. And there is a major red flag. The condition for which people take glucosamine is a condition that is also associated with an increased risk of insulin insensitivity and obesity. To say glucosamine leads to insulin insensitivity or obesity is confusing an association with cause and effect! A common mistake. Finally, some quotes by Anderson et al. (2005): “Oral administration of large doses of glucosamine in animals has no documented effects on glucose metabolism.”, “Side effects were significantly less common with glucosamine than placebo or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID).” A more recent review by Salazar et al. (2014) also concluded: “…evidence supporting diabetogenesis [i.e. insulin dysregulation] by glucosamine remains scarce in humans, and to date, this association should be considered only a theoretical possibility.” So this is a case of some people adding 1 and 1 together to get 100!

Some equine joint supplement ingredients are inexpensive and some are expensive. Per kg, Glucosamine, MSM and Vitamin C (ascorbyl monophosphate) are relatively cheap whilst HA, curcumin, piperine and natural Vitamin E are very expensive.

Sadly many companies indulge in illegal marketing to sell their products. Unless it’s a registered medicine in most countries, it would be illegal to claim an equine joint supplement reduces or prevents lameness or treats arthritis. In fact its usually specifically prohibited to even mention clinical conditions such as lameness or arthritis or osteoarthritis. And words such as improve, boost, treat, cure, repair, etc are terms reserved for medicines. This doesn’t stop many companies using them.

Lack of transparency is another red flag. Companies are required by law to provide information about their product as follows in the UK (requirements do vary by country).

  • Composition – a list of ingredients if they appear on the feed materials register in descending order of amount.
  • Additives per kg – a list of any ingredients from the register of feed additives including the ingredient code and the amount per kg of finished product.
  • Analytical constituents – the percentage of crude protein, crude fat/oils, Crude ash, crude fibre and sodium in the finished product. This is really of no relevance to supplements but is critical for understanding of feeds.

There is no requirement for a company to provide the amounts of ingredients that are listed under composition. The most common excuse is that companies don’t provide full disclosure because “it protects their formulation” and they “don’t want to be copied”. This doesn’t explain why some companies are full transparent and provide additional information in the format of:

Active ingredients per day (g for a 500kg horse, maintenance): Glucosamine 10g; MSM 5g; Chondroitin sulphate (low-molecular weight, 90% pure) 3g; Vitamin C (as ascorbyl monophosphate) 3g.

Companies are under no obligation to provide a full breakdown but without it owners cannot make comparisons between different supplements. So PLEASE ask yourself, if a company isn’t 100% transparent, why might that be. If you have a great product then you would want to show that you do.

Another trick to con owners is to use wording such as “no fillers, carriers, bulking agents”. There are actually at least 8 good reasons why an equine joint supplement or any other supplement might include a carrier (sometimes called an excipient), including palatability, stability in storage and ensuring even distribution of active ingredients. As an example, let’s take “Our joint supplement contains 100% active ingredients”. The website might state each daily serving (dose is also a protected word in many countries) provides 50% glucosamine, 25% MSM and 25% Vitamin C. This is absolutely meaningless, unless you know the daily serving amount. So if the daily serving is 10g, with no carrier, its true that’s 100% active ingredients. But its only 5g of glucosamine, 2.5g MSM and 2.5g Vitamin C. Not likely to help any horse or pony.

Let’s take another equine joint supplement which has 60% as a carrier for palatability, etc. This supplement has a feeding rate of 100g per day. The full breakdown is: carrier 60%; glucosamine 20%; MSM 10%; Vitamin C 10%. So the percentages for each active ingredient are all lower than the “100% active ingredient no filler” supplement but the amounts are as follows:

  % Composition grams (g) per daily serving
  No filler supplement Supplement with 50% filler No filler supplement Supplement with 50% filler
Glucosamine 50% 20% 5 20
MSM 25% 10% 2.5 10
Vitamin C 25% 10% 2.5 10
TOTAL 100% 40% 10 40

This is why some companies want to talk about % rather than g per day and try to confuse you by talking about “carriers, fillers and bulking agents”.

One further thing to note is that companies are required at least in the UK to provide the same information on their website as they do on the product label! Many don’t.

What other tricks might companies be playing on you? Vitamin C is a good example. Vitamin C can come in a number of different forms. Naturally occurring Vitamin C is known as L-ascorbic acid and is a cheap ingredient. Horses can actually make their own L-ascorbic acid and they don’t absorb the natural form very well. L-ascorbic acid is also very unstable and degrades over time, especially in light coloured or transparent packaging exposed to sunlight and or heat. Ascorbyl monophosphate and ascorbyl palmitate are more stable and expensive and bioavailable to the horse than L-ascorbic acid. So, if you are trying to cut corners or you don’t know the science, you will use L-ascorbic acid in your equine joint supplement. Another trick often used is to include omega 3 oils on the label but from vegetable sources instead of marine. Marine sources of omega 3 are significantly more effective for joint function than the plant sources. But some companies try to pass off plant sources as being the same. They are not. They are much much cheaper and much less effective. Another example of how you may be conned is when companies include chondroitin sulphate but don’t state the molecular weight or the % purity. A low-molecular weight chondroitin sulphate raw material that is 90% pure is going to be 5-10 more expensive than a medium-large molecular weight raw material that is only 70% pure.

The final trick is to have a long loading period. If an equine joint supplement is helping your horse or pony then you should see the results in around 7 days, 14 days maximum. If you don’t think there has been an improvement after 4 weeks (often 1 tub or pouch) then I would not recommend continuing to buy that product.

Most of the world is now being hit by the cost of living crisis, so at this time its even more important that you spend your money carefully on things that have a high chance of working. Social media is not really the place to get this kind of insight. High quality published clinical trials are the best evidence for efficacy followed by large scale independent structured surveys, such as the ones we run and detailed comparisons which show you what you are getting for your money. Finally, a top tip is to look for companies that offer a money back guarantee. This suggests that they know the product they are selling has a very high chance of working.