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The Role of Joint Supplements for Dogs

The Role of Joint Supplements for Dogs

Despite the reality that arthritis is one of the most common conditions experienced by companion dogs, we still lack the ability to prevent or cure the condition. Ultimately everything the dog experiences, ranging from day-to-day wear and tear as well as extreme forces and abnormal conformation, contributes to degradation of joint cartilage and ultimately contributes to arthritis.


Should I give my dog joint supplement?

In some dogs, this just looks like “slowing down” as the dog ages. In other dogs it is more obvious, especially if one joint or limb is worse affected than others, leading to a limp. As well as reducing pain and improving joint function in the arthritic joint, a dietary supplements can also help to maintain joint health for longer. They are indicated for dogs not only experiencing, but also at risk of joint pain. This includes dogs with arthritis, seniors, large breed dogs, puppies, and overweight individuals.

Active dogs and dogs recovering from joint injuries and surgeries

Cartilage is notorious for being slow and challenging to heal after damage. In the joint, cartilage acts partially as a shock absorber, having a very high moisture content around 70-80% water. The dry matter is composed of predominantly of collagen, a protein, and proteoglycans, which are protein-sugar complexes. Glycosaminolgycan, one of these compounds specifically found in cartilage, contains chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine. Dietary supplementation with glucosamine has been reported to support regeneration of cartilage tissue after injury (Tamai et al., 2002). This is important for dogs with highly active lifestyles and participating in high impact activities as well as dogs recovering from injury and surgeries. Glucosamine and chondroitin can take weeks of daily dosing before a noticeable difference is detectable, so long-term supplementation for active, at risk and recovering dogs is required.

Puppies and young dogs

Growing joints undergo changing forces as the long bones develop and angles between bone ends change until the dog reaches skeletal maturity. For small breed dogs their growth can slow as early as 7-8 months of age, while large breed dogs can still be growing noticeably well after a year of age. Proper nutrition during this time is essential for healthy skeletal development, and we can also support healthy joint cartilage development. Considering the roles glucosamine and chondroitin play in cartilage synthesis (Tamai et al., 2002), it would be expected that supplementation of these nutrients to growing puppies may help support healthy joint development. For dogs, the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acid (EPA and DHA, respectively) can only be obtained through marine sources, supplementation with other omega-3-rich fats like flax oil is ineffective (Bauer, 2016). In the past, these have been provided exclusively as oils derived from fish and other marine animals such as krill, making them unsuitable for a large number of dogs and pet parents. Now, however, EPA and DHA can be extracted from algae – after all, this is where fish acquire it in the first place! These fatty acids are not only beneficial to reduce joint inflammation, but are also essential for the development of growing puppies (Heinemann, Waldron, Bigley, Lees, & Bauer, 2005).


Dogs with arthritis and joint pain

Not only can glucosamine and chondroitin help with cartilage development and regeneration, they also appear to suppress inflammation (Henrotin, Sanchez, & Balligand, 2005). This has been demonstrated to be similar in action to the most common pharmaceuticals used for arthritis pain – non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs). Unlike NSAIDs, glucosamine and chondroitin do not have the adverse effects of suppressing useful, physiological mechanisms and do not carry the same risk for stomach and kidney health. Curcumin, a compound contained in the spice turmeric, has demonstrated excellent anti-inflammatory effects in vivo, but is problematic due to low absorption and systemic distribution. When combined with piperine, a compound in black pepper, the absorption of curcumin is improved and increasing potential for anti-inflammatory benefit (Henrotin, Priem, & Mobasheri, 2013). Of all of the active nutrients, EPA and DHA probably have the most efficacy in reducing clinical signs of inflammation and pain associated with arthritis in dogs. When properly supplemented, EPA and DHA have been demonstrated to reduce the same inflammatory mediators as NSAIDs in dogs with arthritis and improve weight bearing and indices of pain (Bauer, 2011).


Senior dogs

The ability to synthesize glucosamine is impaired with age, making older dogs less able to generate proteoglycan, a key component of cartilage. This means that the gradual degradation that occurs over time, which is already slow to repair, exceeds the ability of the body to regenerate resulting in arthritis (Tamai et al., 2002). Glucosamine and chondroitin have been shown to slow progression of arthritis and also have a protective effect for joints when given for a long period (Henrotin et al., 2005). Another potential benefit is an anticatabolic effect, which can possibly help combat muscle loss, a natural but negative occurrence as dogs age (Comblain, Serisier, Barthelemy, Balligand, & Henrotin, 2015). Maintaining strong muscle mass surrounding joints also helps to stabilize the joint and slow degradative processes.


An important factor to consider is that joint health nutraceuticals take 6 to 8 weeks of appropriate daily dosing to take effect. For dogs in acute pain, pharmaceuticals are required. However, unlike pharmaceutical agents, with their potential for side effects, nutraceuticals can be a safe, gentle and natural way to support healthy joint function for dogs. If your dog has a particular challenge, always discuss with your veterinarian what strategies there are to help them thrive. 



Bauer, J. (2011). Therapeutic use of fish oils in companion animals. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 239(11), 1441-1451.

Bauer, J. (2016). The essential nature of dietary omega-3 fatty acids in dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 249(11), 1267-1272.

Comblain, F., Serisier, S., Barthelemy, N., Balligand, M., & Henrotin, Y. (2015). Review of dietary supplements for the management of osteoarthritis in dogs in studies from 2004 to 2014. Journal of Veterinary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 39. doi:10.1111/jvp.12251

Heinemann, K., Waldron, M., Bigley, K., Lees, G., & Bauer, C. (2005). Long-Chain (n-3) Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids Are More Efficient than a-Linolenic Acid in Improving Electroretinogram Responses of Puppies Exposed during Gestation, Lactation, and Weaning. Journal of Nutrition, 135, 1960-1966.

Henrotin, Y., Priem, F., & Mobasheri, A. (2013). Curcumin: a new paradigm and therapeutic opportunity for the treatment of osteoarthritis: curcumin for osteoarthritis management. SpringerPlus, 2(56), 1-9.

Henrotin, Y., Sanchez, C., & Balligand, M. (2005). Pharmaceutical and nutraceutical management of canine osteoarthritis: Present and future perspectives. The Veterinary Journal, 170, 113-123.

Tamai, Y., Miyatake, K., okamoto, Y., Takamori, Y., Sakamoto, H., & Minami, S. (2002). Enhanced healing of cartilaginous injuries by glucosamine hydrochloride. Carbohydrate Polymers, 48, 369-378.

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