In a recent survey, over 20% of dog owners surveyed said that they purchased joint supplements for their dog every month. This number was even higher for owners of older dogs at over 30%.
As our dogs are living longer and longer thanks to improvements across all areas of veterinary medicine, an unfortunate side effect is that more and more dogs are developing joint conditions like degenerative joint disease (DJD) or osteoarthritis. If you have an aging dog, there is a good chance you’ve considered purchasing a joint supplement for them.
But do joint supplements even work? Do dog’s need joint supplements? What is the best joint supplement for dogs? The answers to these questions will vary from dog to dog and you should always consult your veterinarian before starting your dog on any new supplements. However, research has found that certain supplements have helped some dogs with joint pain.
This article will look at the science behind the ingredients in some of our most popular joint supplements. You can use the links below to navigate to a particular ingredient.
Glucosamine is the most popular supplement for joints and can be found in supplements for humans as well as dogs. Glucosamine is found naturally in the body, but as we and our pets age, our body produces less and less.
Glucosamine is a precursor for glycosaminoglycans which are a key component of cartilage, leading scientists to believe that glucosamine supplementation may be helpful in restoring damaged cartilage. Dogs that are at risk of developing conditions such as hip or elbow dysplasia due to their genetics may benefit from beginning supplementation with glucosamine from an early age.
Natural sources of glucosamine include:
- The trachea of beef, lamb, goat or ostrich
- Chicken feet
- Ox or pig’s tails
- Beef knuckle bones
- Any animal bones with cartilage attached
- Shellfish shells (lobster, crab, shrimp/prawns)
- Green-lipped mussels
- Bone broth
Chondroitin is also a glycosaminoglycan and is a central structural component of cartilage. It helps to ensure cartilage is able to adequately absorb shock and nourishes the connective tissues of joints. It may also help to reduce inflammation in joints. It is often combined with glucosamine in many joint supplements.
Natural sources of chondroitin include:
- Beef trachea or cartilage
- Pig’s ears or noses
- Shark, fish or bird cartilage
- Meat gristle
- Green-lipped mussels
Green Lipped Mussel
Green-lipped mussel provides a natural source of glucosamine and chondroitin as well as omega-3 fatty acids (EHA and DHA) which help to reduce inflammation. Green-lipped mussels are found only in New Zealand so most products will contain green-lipped mussel extract in a powder or oil form. Look for products that have been freeze-dried or cold-extracted as processing with heat will destroy the glucosamine, chondroitin and omega-3’s.
Methylsulfonylmethane or MSM is believed to have antioxidant effects and the ability to reduce pain and swelling in joints with arthritis. While there have been many studies done in humans with arthritis on the benefits of MSM, only a handful of small studies have been done in dogs.
Available from natural sources but more commonly produced in a laboratory, MSM should be used with caution in dogs with a sensitivity or intolerance to sulphur. Consult with your veterinarian before giving to a dog that is also taking an anti-coagulant or a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID). Too much sulfur can be dangerous and may cause liver or kidney problems.
Omega-3 fatty acids sourced from fish oil or krill oil can be beneficial in reducing inflammation in joints affected by arthritis. Studies have also found there may be some benefit to the health of your dog’s heart, kidneys, immune system and skin as well.
Look for joint supplements that contain EPA and DHA rather than ALA which comes from flaxseed oil or chia seeds. ALA needs to be converted to EPA and DHA to be absorbed and dog’s bodies struggle with this conversion. Dosages of Omega-3 for joint support, heart health or to improve skin condition are all very different, so look for products that are specially made for the condition you are looking to treat.
Products stocked by VetShopAustralia that contain omega-3 include PAW Fish Oil 500 Veterinary Strength.
Avocado Soybean Unsaponifiables (ASUs)
Don’t let the name mislead you. It doesn’t mean you can feed your dog endless avocados. Products with ASUs have been carefully manufactured to remove persin, a component of avocado’s that is toxic to dogs.
ASUs help to stimulate healing effects after joints have been damaged and protect joint cartilage by reducing inflammation. Unfortunately for dogs with advanced degenerative joint disease that have little to no cartilage remaining, ASUs have no effect as there is no cartilage left to protect. Look for products that combine ASUs with glucosamine and chondroitin as they all work to complement each other.
The active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, has potent anti-inflammatory effects and in human trials was just as effective as paracetamol for knee pain. Curcumin may also have analgesic (pain-relieving), skin-protective and anti-arthritic properties and there are human trials looking at it’s use for a variety of conditions including use in cancer therapy. Simply sprinkling some turmeric on your dog’s nightly dinner isn’t going to help as it will be well below the therapeutic dose required to have any effect.
Products that VetShopAustralia stocks that contain curcumin include PAW OsteoAdvanced.
Be Wary Of…
Buying joint supplements for humans to give to your dog – Joint Supplements for humans won’t contain the ingredients in the correct ratios for the best effects for dogs. They may also contain hidden ingredients or added flavours that may be safe for people, but toxic to dogs (e.g. garlic). The dosage recommendations on the label will also be for humans and not dogs and it can be tricky to convert the dose to suit your dog.
Mixing supplements with prescribed medication – Just because supplements may come from natural sources doesn’t mean that they can’t mess with prescribed medication. If your dog is taking a medication prescribed by their veterinarian, it is essential that you check with them first before starting your dog on any supplement or specialty food to avoid any unintended interactions.
Giving supplements to dogs with other health conditions – Glucosamine can affect sugar levels in dog’s so should not be given to dog’s that are diabetic or insulin resistant unless it has been recommended by a veterinarian. It may also affect your dogs blood pressure or heart rate and is not recommended in dogs with metabolic disorders such as Cushing’s disease.
Joint supplements for dogs are generally considered quite safe and are well tolerated but some dogs may experience gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea) when started on a new supplement.