A commonly asked question is if joint supplements can be fed along with bute or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Ideally, the answer should be obtained from the vet who has prescribed the drug, since they should provide advice about what can and cannot be fed along with the drug. Joint supplements are classed as complementary feeds, not medicines or therapeutics, so in theory they are safe to feed with medication. Most joint supplements with commonly used ingredients can be safely fed with NSAIDs. The supplements have the benefit of no deleterious side effects.

NSAIDs work by inhibiting one of the enzymes (cyclo-oxygenase, or COX) involved in the inflammatory process, which reduces inflammation and pain. Unfortunately they also inhibit other enzymes, which mean they have some unwanted side effects, including gut irritation and ulceration (in most cases, only when used long term in high doses). They should, therefore, be used strictly under veterinary supervision and always at the lowest possible dose.

Structure of a synovial join.

Joint supplement ingredients glucosamine and chondroitin act as building blocks for joint tissue, protect against inflammation-induced degradation and seem to inhibit inflammatory mediators, without any inhibition of COX enzymes. MSM’s therapeutic properties are believed to come from its antioxidant activity. It also has anti-inflammatory effects and blocks inflammatory mediators in human cartilage cells.

Herbal ingredients have a variety of actions, including inhibiting inflammatory mediators, but they don’t seem to have the cartilage-degradative and stomach-irritating properties of commonly-used anti-inflammatory drugs. Most are also powerful antioxidants, for example turmeric.

These active ingredients are fed to a great number of horses. Joint-supporting products are the biggest selling supplements, and many owners report good results. Recent research is encouraging. Researchers at Texas A&M University have found that supplementary glucosamine (15 g for a 500 kg horse) tended to ‘increase new cartilage production’ and ‘decrease the breakdown of existing cartilage’ in damaged joints of young horses. Researchers at the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket, UK recently presented a study showing that adult horses with slight lameness (1/10 to 4/10 lame) fed a joint supplement (containing a variety of ingredients including glucosamine and MSM) had a lower lameness grade than those on a placebo or before supplementation.

It’s recommended that you consult your veterinarian about the supplements you feed to your horse who has been prescribed NSAIDs. In general, however they are safe to feed alongside each other.

The veterinarian who prescribed the NSAID (such as bute) should advise what can and cannot be fed with it.
The veterinarian who prescribed the NSAID (such as bute) should advise what can and cannot be fed with it.
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About Clare MacLeod

Clare MacLeod MSc RNutr is one of the UK’s few registered independent equine nutritionists who also has expertise in health and fitness. She advises private and commercial clients in all sectors of the horse world and is a hands-on horse owner herself. Clare is passionate about correct nutrition as a foundation for good health, without which peak fitness is not possible. She states “Good nutrition isn’t everything, but there’s nothing without it”.