The Ultimate Dog Joint Supplement Guide
Updated: Jun 17
Joint Supplements and Your Dog
Have you been recommended that your dog takes joint supplements? Perhaps you’ve seen glucosamine and chondroitin for dogs mentioned in forums or on social media? There are so many options out there, it can get a little confusing. In this article, we’ll cover all there is to know about joint support for dogs, including what to look for in a supplement, signs your dog might need a joint supplement, and even how much you should look to spend on supplements.
What are dog joint supplements?
Joint supplements are combinations of ingredients that are to benefit joint health. They’re used in humans as well as in pets to ease joint pain, improve mobility and support the healthy joint. They usually come in an oral form, and tablets, capsules, chews and liquids are all available.
Many vets recommend joint aid for dogs with arthritis or alongside prescription medications that work to relieve pain and inflammation.
How do dog joint supplements work?
Joint supplements for dogs work by giving large amounts of specific ingredients that can have a positive affect on the joint. Just like vitamins for people, giving supplements like this ensures your pet is getting enough of what they need to make sure the joint is as healthy as it can be.
Where two bones meet in a joint, the bones are lined in a cushion-like and very smooth tissue called cartilage. This, along with sticky joint fluid, provides a slippery sliding surface for the bones so that they glide nicely over one another. After damage to the cartilage- through wear and tear or injury- it becomes thinner, and pitted, exposing bone and spitting out chunks of tissue into the joint. Combine this with the fact that aging joints make less fluid, and we end up with a joint that doesn’t glide as it should. The subsequent grating of the joint increases the chance that the cartilage becomes damaged, creating a vicious circle resulting in a joint with hardly any cartilage, and exposed bone instead.
Joint supplements are designed to give the joint the nutrient it needs to repair itself. Ingredients such as glucosamine are thought to help to build collagen for cartilage, and additions like turmeric may add a natural anti-inflammatory effect.
Which Ingredients Should I Look For?
You might be here because you’re a bit overwhelmed by all the joint supplements out there for dogs, and all their different ingredients. Some are just labelled as glucosamine and chondroitin for dogs, others include different types of glucosamine, or green lipped mussel. All are proclaiming themselves the best joint care for dogs. So which ingredients should you look for?
Glucosamine is one of the mainstays of joint supplements for dogs and humans, as it has collagen-boosting effects, which means that the cartilage in the joint should have the ingredients it needs to repair and grow. The dosages for glucosamine for dogs range from 200mg to well over 1000mg, which cater to the size and weight, and severity of the arthritis (the heavier your dog, the largest doses of glucosamine is needed to absorb in the body. Also, different types of glucosamine are absorbed different and we recommend glucosamine HCL as the preferred option because the hydrochloride form is more concentrated vs sulphate, and HCL contains substantially less sodium per effective dose. Whichever you opt for, toxic doses of glucosamine are possible, so stick to the manufacturer’s recommendation on dose.
Chondroitin is another very common ingredient in joint supplements. It is thought to stop the destructive enzymes that break down cartilage, therefore helping it to last longer. It also forms the building blocks of glycosaminoglycans, which build cartilage up. Doses range can from 100-1200mg. In chondroitin, at least, an ideal dose is known: 15-30mg per kilogram of body weight is about right- making those in the 150-300mg range ideal for smaller breed dogs.
Fish oils are rich in EHA and DHA, two acids from the anti-inflammatory omega-3 cascade. There is good evidence that giving fish oils to dogs with arthritis makes small but recognisable changes to their pain level and mobility, so it’s an important addition to ingredients lists for joint relief for dogs that you should definitely be on the lookout for. Doses usually range from 50-200mg per kilogram of bodyweight, but it is thought higher levels may be needed for arthritis.
Avocado Soybean Unsaponifiables (ASU)
A fairly new addition to the supplement armoury, avocado soybean unsaponifiables (ASU) have been proven to decrease the amount of osteoarthritic change after an injury such as cruciate rupture in dogs. They also seem to have some anti-inflammatory effects, and are well studied in people for their multiple benefits for arthritis. ASUs are not in many joint supplements- they’re expensive, and hard to source, so they’re often left out, but should be included in advanced joint support supplements for dogs. 10mg per kilogram of bodyweight is the dose that’s shown the most promise.
Curcumin is a molecule found in turmeric which contain anti-inflammatory effects. Whilst reviews in people have even found an ideal dosage, in dogs there have only been a couple of studies done. It is thought to decrease the inflammatory response by stopping the production of some inflammatory chemicals. An ideal dosage is not yet known. It is known to interact with some prescription drugs, so you should let your vet know if you’re using a supplement containing curcumin.
Vitamin C (also known as L-ascorbic acid) is an important molecule in the body, and responsible for many things. One of the most important processes is its role in the formation of collagen and cartilage, and the anti-oxidative effects are thought to be beneficial, too. As with many of the other nutrients there is no known ideal dose, but as vitamin C is water soluble and lost in the urine there’s no toxic dose, either.
Vitamin E has some promising studies that suggest it decreases pain and inflammation in dogs with arthritis. It also seems to have some protective effects to slow the development of arthritis in animals with a joint trauma. Like vitamin C, it also has anti-oxidative properties that reduce oxidation damage.
MSM, or methylsufonylmethane, is a commonly used anti-inflammatory. Some studies have been conducted in people that suggest a good effect, but unfortunately studies in dogs are currently lacking. Many products include it nevertheless.
Green Lipped Mussel
Green lipped mussel is a good source of glycosaminoglycans for building cartilage and omega-3s. The evidence suggests it works, and we know a very high daily dose is needed. We also know it can take several months to show an effect.
Hyaluronic Acid is an important part of joint fluid, and is what gives it elasticity. However, little is known about ideal dosages. We do know that only a very small amount of hyaluronic acid is absorbed when taken orally, so large doses are likely to be necessary.
Boswellia extract comes from the same tree as frankincense. A study suggested some improvement in dogs with arthritis, but much more study is needed before we can definitively say it helps.
CBD oil is sometimes used for arthritis in dogs. However, to date there is no evidence that there are any clinical benefits and there is evidence that it raises liver enzymes, suggestive of liver damage. Until we know more, we recommend staying away from using CBD oil for dog arthritis.
Does my dog need a joint supplement?
Many people only think about using joint care for older dogs. But since there are thought to be little or no side effects to many of these naturally occurring supplements, you can start natural joint care for dogs at any age.
Many of these nutraceuticals are brought to market to help prevent arthritis, so if your dog is very active, they can be started preventatively. They should also be used in dogs that have suffered a joint injury, such as a fracture or ligament tear, to slow down the beginning of arthritis in the joint. It’s also a good way of protecting the other limbs, which will inevitably take more weight during recovery.
You can also start giving joint supplements in dogs that are showing signs of arthritis. The most common sign that a dog has arthritis is a change in their willingness or ability to move. This is generally seen as ‘stiffness’ or ‘getting slower’, but really the dog is unwilling to move the joint past a certain point as they know it’ll be painful.
They’ll often be less willing to walk or run, and may appear to walk in a stilted manner, especially when they get up after rest or after ‘overdoing it’ the night before. Sometimes they may lick the affected joint in an effort to soothe the discomfort, although this is more common with pain in the wrists rather than arthritis in the back legs or back. Remember, dogs as young as one years old can have symptoms, so just because your dog is young doesn’t rule arthritis out as a diagnosis, especially if they have a congenital hip or joint problem.
Which dogs are most prone to joint problems?
Early-onset arthritis is common in dogs with joint dysplasia. This occurs when the joints don’t form correctly due to a combination of genetic, nutritional and lifestyle factors. The most common joint to be dysplastic is the hip, but elbows and shoulders are fairly common, too. Breeds prone to hip dysplasia include Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Bernese Mountain Dogs and Newfoundlands, but it is possible in all dogs, including crossbreeds. Since it’s a developmental problem, it tends to affect younger dogs, although sometimes it remains hidden until the arthritis becomes a problem in old age.
Cruciate tears are another common joint problem that can cause early arthritis to develop. The cranial cruciate ligament is usually torn by overweight dogs, especially those that are undertaking exercise, jumping and playing. The same breeds that are prone to hip dysplasia are also prone to cruciate tears, but it’s also seen more commonly in Poodle and Poodle-crosses, and Bichon Frises. It tends to occur in middle-aged dogs, and slightly more commonly in female dogs than male dogs.
Remember that arthritis that occurs without known injury and without dysplasia (i.e ‘old-age and wear-and-tear arthritis’) is extremely common, too. Again, overweight dogs are more prone, as are larger breeds of dog- they have a lot more pressure going through their joints! In all, your dog is more likely to get arthritis if they:
Are a large breed
Are obese (have a body condition score of 6-9 out of 9)
Are older than 8 (although arthritis can occur at any age, it is more likely in older dogs)
Have done heavy work or exercise (such as agility or sport dogs, or working farm dogs)
Have had a previous injury to the joint (such as a fracture or knee injury)
Have been diagnosed with dysplasia of the joints
What is the recommended dosage of joint supplements for my pet?
It’s important that you follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for dosages of all joint support for dogs, as some of these supplements could have toxic effects if high doses are used for too long. Make sure you weigh your pet properly, and regularly to ensure you’re giving the right dose.
How much do joint supplements for dogs cost?
The price of joint supplements varies hugely and is dependent on the ingredients within. Supplements with just glucosamine for small dogs can cost as little as 5p a day, but others cost over £1 a day, even with limited ingredients. HWL Pet Supplies are planning on releasing a joint supplement in the next year containing 90 servings for £21.99. This would make it one of the cheapest joint supplements on the market, this will be particularly impressive considering the huge range of ingredients which will be added to the product such as ASU (avocado soybean unsaponifiables). More details to follow.
Who can I trust to talk about joint supplements for dogs?
The best person to talk to about joint relief for your dog is your vet. They can ensure your dog truly does have arthritis and make sure there’s not a medical reason as to why joint supplements are not going to be beneficial. Most vets are open to using supplements but may recommend you use them alongside a prescription medication to help with the pain. The Canine Arthritis Management website is an evidence-based and independent source of information, and also includes lots of other information to help you with your senior pet with arthritis.
· Fox S M (2017) Mulitmodal Management of Canine Osteoarthritis
· Vanderweerd J M et al (2012) Systematic Review of Efficacy of Nutraceuticals to Alleviate Clinical Signs of Osteoarthritis. J Vet Intern Med 2012.
· Bhathal, Angel et al. “Glucosamine and chondroitin use in canines for osteoarthritis: A review.” Open veterinary journal vol. 7,1 (2017): 36-49. doi:10.4314/ovj.v7i1.6
Article written by Dr. Joanna Woodnutt - Veterinary Practitioner / Veterinary Writer