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The Glucosamine Game and Your Pets

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Encino, CAThe glucosamine industry does about $2 billion annually in sales around the world. Most of it, of course, is sold to humans suffering from osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease symptomized by joint pain and limited motion in use of the hands or knees. The industry suggests that glucosamine supplements, and the related material chondroitin sulfate, may provide relief to arthritis suffers.

In the US, consumers spend about $850 million a year on glucosamine supplements. Some of that is marketed to pet owners and sold for animal use.

Veterinarian David Ramey does his “dog-gone-best” to discourage pet owners from giving glucosamine to their horses and dogs, but despite his efforts, millions of dollars are spent on glucosamine supplements for animals as well.

The problem is that there is virtually no independent scientific evidence to show that it helps humans or animals, and veterinarian Ramey rails at an industry that he says “preys on pets and the people who care for them.

“In the veterinarian field there is very little regulation. This stuff is heavily marketed and you have pet owners who are sometimes more concerned about their animals than they are about their own family members,” says Ramey.

Glucosamine is a naturally occurring substance that facilitates joint movement. Glucosamine supplements are manufactured from crab shells and chondroitin sulfate is made from the windpipes of cows. “These are virtually throw-away materials that the industry then turns into glucosamine supplements with a heavy mark up,” says Ramey.

“It’s all a cash grab,” says Dr. Ramey.
“People who are motivated out of concern for their own health, or their animal’s health, are just being taken advantage of every day. And people who know better don’t have power to do anything, and the people who have the power to do something don’t care.

“The glucosamine industry has been pumping this crap out to people for 25 or 30 years. We have good independent studies that are almost uniformly negative,” he adds.

A 2010 study published in BMJ (the British Medical Journal 2010; 341:c4675) reviewed major studies of glucosamine, chondroitin and their various combinations in humans. Researchers found that the supplements “do not result in a relevant reduction of joint pain.” The study also reported that because osteoarthritis naturally flares up and abates, people often perceive they are getting some benefit from glucosamine. The authors concluded that although there is no benefit, there is also no harm. However, they added, coverage costs by health authorities or insurers “should be discouraged.” In other words, it won’t hurt you, but you’re wasting your money.

Ramey has been a vet for 30 years and sits on a number of advisory committees and reviews scientific literature for veterinary publications. He is frequently asked about glucosamine for the riding and show horses he treats in his practice in the San Fernando Valley in California. “I say, why don’t you save your money. Devote your time to being with your animal,” says Ramey.

In the US, Rexall recently agreed to pay $2 million in consumer claims after a class-action suit claimed the drugmaker had made misrepresentations by labeling on glucosamine supplements that they could aid in joint relief. The suit settled quickly but Rexall refused to admit any wrongdoing.

In August 2013, a federal New York judge ruled that consumers could pursue a lawsuit against Walgreens, alleging that the company’s glucosamine products make “the false promise and deceptive warranty that its products ‘rebuild cartilage.’” The lawsuit is still in progress.

Although dietary supplements like glucosamine are subject to some regulation by the FDA, the same cannot be said for animal dietary supplements.

“Maybe the legal profession will be our salvation,” says Ramey.


Dr. David Ramey, DVM, is a graduate of the University of Colorado. He began practicing veterinary medicine in 1983. He has a website (www.doctorramey.com) where he offers information to animal owners. His practice focuses on show horses and riding horses.

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