What are Joint Supplements for Dogs and How Do They Work?

It would seem as if there are more dogs with joint problems now. Nonetheless, the high number of cases being treated is mainly due to improved pet healthcare and greater owner awareness.

The other reason is due to over breeding or poorly managed breeding. Inevitably, less desirable traits including health issues are passed on to the breeds' descendants.

To put a number on the prevalence of joint issues, a report by the Rheumatoid Arthritis Organization states that about 20% of dogs will get arthritis.

Thus, dog owners may be keen to know how to care for their pets with joint issues. Joint supplements can help when given appropriately, but they are not an all-in-one solution for every joint problem.

Joint problems among dogs

1) Developmental: occurs when the joint does not develop correctly in a number of different ways

2) Degenerative: wear and tear of joint tissue as well as ligaments over time; eventually leads to osteoarthritis, or arthritis in short

3) Congenital: dog is born with an imperfect joint caused by a genetic defect; usually the cause of dysplasia

4) Disease related: immune-related conditions, cancers or infections

5) Injury related: commonly associated with broken bones or torn soft tissue in or around a joint due to accidents or over-strain.

Parts of the body affected include the hip, knee, elbow, shoulder and wrist of the paws. Some joint diseases, such as arthritis, affect the joint membranes. Other types affect the tendons, cartilage, bursae, and fluid within the joint.

Here are several joint diseases which owners should be aware of:

Aseptic Necrosis of the Femoral Head (Legg-Calvé-Perthes Disease)

– a deterioration of the top of the femur bone in the hip due to lack of or destruction of blood supply to the bone;

– a congenital problem seen in some young miniature and small breeds;

– treatment usually involves surgery

Displacement of the Kneecap

– the kneecap or patella moves out of its position due to its abnormal shape;

– surgery may be necessary to fix this problem, depending on severity


– poorly formed cartilage and bone due to medium and large dogs growing too quickly;

– the immature joint cartilage cracks and separates from the bone, causing cysts to form under the cartilage, or the broken cartilage floats inside the joint causing inflammation

– treatment includes anti-inflammation medication or surgery

Elbow Dysplasia

– an abnormal development of the elbow joint in young, large, rapidly growing dogs

– surgery is usually performed before the degenerative changes of osteoarthritis occur

– nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs is sometimes prescribed to reduce pain and inflammation

Septic Arthritis

– a trauma-related disease whereby the injured joint becomes infected by bacteria and spreads to the rest of the body through the blood

– treatment consists of antibiotics administered orally or intravenously, flushing of the joint cavity, and surgical removal of dead, damaged or infected tissue in severe cases

Immune-mediated Arthritis

– a form of arthritis caused by the body’s own immune system

–  it destroys the joint cartilage and bone beneath the cartilage or causes inflammation around the joint

treatment involves anti-inflammatory medications and chemotherapeutic agents

Cancerous Arthritis

– a form of arthritis commonly caused by a soft-tissue tumor known as a synovial cell sarcoma

– by the time of diagnosis, spread of the cancer to the lungs has already occurred in about 25% of animals, and treatment involves amputation of the affected limb


– a common problem resulting from inflammation on the surface of a dog’s long bones

– the condition appears to be related to rapid growth, especially in younger, larger dogs

Dog breeds prone to joint problems

Though any size and breed can potentially develop dog arthritis or joint issues, some breeds are far more likely to develop these issues compared to others.

They include:

  • Pug
  • French bulldog
  • Dachshund
  • Newfoundland
  • Old English Sheepdog
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Rottweiler
  • German Shepherd
  • Golden Retriever
  • Alaskan Malamute
  • Samoyed
  • Mastiff
  • Saint Bernard’s
  • Bernese Mountain Dog
  • Great Dane

If not fed or exercised properly, large breeds can become overweight, thus affecting their joints. Some large breeds like Great Danes and St Bernards can develop joint issues at an early age, especially if they grow too quickly.

Small breeds with long bodies and short legs (such as Dachshunds, Corgis and Basset Hounds) are predisposed to develop back joint issues. It is extremely important to keep their weight low and not allow them to jump off high places. They may also develop elbow incongruity, which is when one leg bone stops growing before the other.

Two knee joint issues are common in small dogs. One is patellar luxation, a birth defect where the kneecap pops out of the groove in the thigh bone, causing the knee to lock. The other is cranial cruciate ligament rupture, which occurs to the ligaments around the knee and causes limping.

Symptoms of joint pain in dogs

  • Bunny hopping while running
  • Displaying behavior changes such as irritation or depression
  • Displaying difficulty when climbing up to higher places
  • Excessive panting
  • Favoring one leg over another
  • Having accidents around the house
  • Trouble getting up on their feet
  • Trouble laying down
  • An audible popping or cracking sound in the joint
  • Holding one leg up off the ground
  • Limping or lameness
  • Moving stiffly and slowly
  • Muscle wasting or atrophy
  • Noticeable swelling of the joints (visible in short-haired breeds)
  • Obsessive licking of the joint area
  • Unwilling to walk or jump or climb in general
  • Whining or whimpering when it moves or gets up from the floor

Joint supplements available for dogs

Natural joint supplements, also known as nutraceuticals, are sometimes prescribed for dog joint problems. A nutraceutical is basically a food or part of a food. It is a non-drug substance produced in a purified or extracted form that provides medical or health benefits.

These common nutraceuticals are considered safe for dogs and have more supporting research than some other products in the market:

1. MSM

    Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is a natural anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain killing) product. It is found in small quantities in horsetail (Equisetum sp.), milk, fruits, vegetables and grains.

    2. Glucosamine hydrochloride

      It's a building block of the cartilage matrix and stimulates growth of cartilage cells. There is another variant of glucosamine called glucosamine sulfate.

      Although glucosamine sulfate is absorbed better, there have been no studies published showing that glucosamine sulfate actually shows up in synovial tissue after it's been ingested orally.

      Glucosamine hydrochloride dosage must be accurate to have therapeutic effects. A study using glucosamine hydrochloride and chondroitin sulfate was conducted on 35 dogs with confirmed osteoarthritis of the hip or elbow. Dogs treated with glucosamine-chondroitin showed statistically significant improvements in pain scores, severity and weight-bearing by day 70.

      3. Chondroitin sulfate

        This supplement works by inhibiting cartilage-destroying enzymes. Chondroitin requires a loading dose similar to glucosamine, and the standalone dosage is the same as glucosamine. When given with glucosamine, chondroitin has a synergistic effect and has been shown to lessen inflammation if given before a joint injury in dogs.

        4. Omega-3 fatty acids

          These fatty acids – docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) – are known to support heart health and joints. The best are sourced from fish.

          One study found that some dogs receiving carprofen for osteoarthritis pain that were also fed a diet supplemented with fish oil omega-3 fatty acids needed less carprofen (an anti-inflammatory drug).

          5. Green-lipped mussels

            A 2013 study found increased concentrations of plasma omega-3 fatty acids and improvement of peak vertical force in dogs fed a diet enriched with green-lipped mussels.

            6. Avocado soybean unsaponifiables (ASUs)

              This avocado and soybean combo extract protects cartilage from further damage in osteoarthritis. It also stimulates healing of osteochondral defects in the canine knee. When combined with glucosamine and chondroitin, ASUs modify and amplify the actions of each and reduce the amount of chondroitin required.

              What can I give my dog for joint pain?

              Natural supplements help to treat joint problems but they are not fast-acting like chemical-based drugs. Sometimes, a veterinarian will prescribe drugs for serious cases to provide quick relief.

              In most cases, they will be Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs). These help to reduce swelling, stiffness and joint pain.

              Veterinarians usually don’t prescribe steroids for pain, as these can have serious side effects. Steroids and NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen) should never be used together.

              You should never self-prescribe medicine for your pooch. Ibuprofen or acetaminophen are a big no-no.

              Examples of NSAIDs just for dogs:

              • carprofen (Novox or Rimadyl)
              • deracoxib (Deramaxx)
              • firocoxib (Previcox)
              • meloxicam (Metacam)
              • gabapentin 
              • tramadol

              NSAIDs are usually safe for dogs and have few side effects. But in some cases, they can cause kidney, liver or digestive problems.

              Bad reactions to watch out for:

              •  Behavior changes
              •  Eating less
              •  Skin redness, scabs
              •  Tarry stool/diarrhea/vomiting

              Stop giving your dog the drug immediately and call your vet if you see these reactions.

              Does glucosamine really work?

              The most common joint supplements for canine arthritis are glucosamine and chondroitin. As cited by the Rheumatoid Arthritis Support Network in USA, glucosamine is effective in pain reduction, joint inflammation reduction, and increased joint mobility.

              Glucosamine supplements are often paired with chondroitin, which promote joint repair.

              However, this doesn’t mean there are no side effects if used long-term. Many people think that because joint supplements are herbal, it means that they are generally safe. However, there are recent reports of glucosamine toxicity in dogs linked to joint supplements that are priced very cheaply.

              Correct dosage is very important. Before giving your dog any type of supplement, you should consult your veterinarian. Your vet will be able to determine the correct formula for treating your dog, and recommend a safe brand.

              A recent report by ConsumerLab.com uncovered that many joint supplements on the market contain lead and other contaminants. In fact, only 50% of the joint supplements tested passed ConsumerLab.com’s quality criteria.

              In a recent report published in The Canadian Veterinary Journal, toxicity levels of the joint supplements of glucosamine and chondroitin were reported when studying dogs who overdosed.

              When taking large amounts of joint supplements, many dogs exhibit symptoms of liver damage (hepatotoxicity). This is because herbal supplements are not regulated for safety.

              Anti-inflammatory foods for arthritic dogs

              Avoid these foods

              Dogs will feel excruciating stiffness and pain in joints when synovial fluid that separates the joints begins to thin. In addition to your dog’s clinical treatment, you can improve its quality of life by eliminating certain foods from its diet that can cause additional inflammation.

              Nightshade Vegetables

              These include eggplant, white potatoes, tomatoes and peppers. They contain a type of chemical that can produce muscle spasms, aches, stiffness and inflammation throughout the body if eaten regularly. 


              Wheat, rye and barley contain gluten, which can aggravate arthritis symptoms. 


              Many dry dog foods available on the market contain fillers such as corn bran, grain by-products, soybean, peanut, cottonseed, or rice hulls and modified corn starch.  Fillers increase the body’s inflammatory response.  Avoid foods that have bran, hulls, meal or by-products.

              Feed them these

              Green-lipped mussel (GLM) contains beneficial nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, glycosaminoglycans and antioxidants. When combined with glucosamine and chondroitin, GLM is a powerful anti-inflammatory that can help decrease pain and preserve joint function. They are available in supplement form and even as treats.

              Fruit-and-veg smoothies can be made from anti-inflammatory greens and fruits. These include celery, alfalfa, ginger, mango, papaya, blueberries and kale. You can blend these together to make a juice or smoothie.

              Fruit-and-veg toppers for arthritic dogs can be made from celery, carrots, zucchini, sweet potatoes, kale, spinach, quinoa, lentils, parsley and apples. The overall product should contain 2 parts quinoa/lentils to 8 parts fruits/vegetables.  Boil them together in a large pot. Simmer on low for 1 hour or until quinoa and lentils are cooked. 


              Although there is no permanent cure for joint problems, you can give your dog a good quality of life by doing a few things. Give it proper treatment and a healthy diet, modify its environment and activities, and give it the correct supplements. Most importantly, never self-medicate or self-prescribe supplements. Always work with your vet for this.













              1. McCarthy G, O'Donovan J, Jones B, et al. Randomised double-blind, positive-controlled trial to assess the efficacy of glucosamine/chondroitin sulfate for the treatment of dogs with osteoarthritis. Vet J 2007 174(1):54-61.
              2. Boileau C, Martel-Pelletier J, Caron J, et al. Protective effects of total fraction of avocado/soybean unsaponifiables on the structural changes in experimental dog osteoarthritis: inhibition of nitric oxide synthase and matrix metalloproteinase-13. Arthritis Res Ther 2009;11(2):R41.
              3. Alt?nel L, Sahin O, Köse KC, et al. [Healing of osteochondral defects in canine knee with avocado/soybeanunsaponifiables: a morphometric comparative analysis]. Eklem Hastalik Cerrahisi 2011;22(1):48-53.
              4. Fritsch DA, Allen TA, Dodd CE, et al. A multicenter study of the effect of dietary supplementation with fish oil omega-3 fatty acids on carprofen dosage in dogs with osteoarthritis. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2010 236(5):535-539.
              5. Rialland P, Bichot S, Lussier B, et al. Effect of a diet enriched with green-lipped mussel on pain behavior and functioning in dogs with clinical osteoarthritis. Can J Vet Res 2013;77(1):66-74.

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