Joint care for dogs – to supplement or not?

With many dogs suffering from some form of joint condition or disease, many pet owners turn to supplements or alternative treatments to help ease the pain. However not all supplements or home remedies are effective, or even safe. So let’s explore the current research on joint supplements and joint diets in dogs, both what works and what doesn’t. It’s always important to discuss your treatment options with your vet, and what they would recommend including in your dog’s joint management regime.

Reluctance to move, walk or get up can be a sign of arthritis in your pet

Supplements that actually work:

  • Glucosamine hydrochloride (not sulfate) in combination with chondroitin sulfate showed improvement in pain scores in dogs with hip or elbow arthritis however, it has a slow onset of action1. The dose rate of glucosamine hydrochloride is approximately 15mg/kg.
  • Boswellia serrata is a tree extract that has a NSAID-like effect. It has shown promise in clinical trials2, however the study was conducted with no placebo so the results need to be taken with a pinch of salt. Dose rate is approximately 50 mg/kg.
  • Biota Orientalis seed oil is used in both human and animal joint supplements, and has recently undergone two clinical trials where greater than 50% of the dogs in the study saw an improvement in pain scores and quality of life scores.3
  • Omega 3 fish oils from wild caught cold water fish in joint diets needed less pain medications (NSAIDs) to control their pain.4 Dose rate is 100mg/kg and should be used in certain ratios with omega 6 fatty acids.
  • Avocado soybean unsaponifiables (ASUs) protect the cartilage matrix against damage and they stimulate healing of osteochondral defects in the canine knee. It also reduces the need for chondroitin, but works best with a glucosamine hydrochloride/chondroitin sulfate combination.5
  • Rosa Canina or rosehip powder is supported by two canine studies that showed anti-inflammatory effects and improved the endurance of working dogs. However not all products are made equal, and the studies refer to specially manufactured rosehip powder not rosehip oil or rosehips alone.

Supplements that don’t work (or lack evidence)

  • Eggshell membrane contains high levels of glucosamine, chondroitin, collagen and hyaluronic acid however there is no research in its effectiveness in managing canine arthritis or if these nutrients are bioavailable to dogs. I often see clients putting cracked eggs with the shell in with their pet’s food – this is providing little to no benefit.
  • MSM/DMSO currently has no published research on its absorption or use in dogs.
  • Green lipped mussel is highly variable in how effective it is in dogs, some studies say it works, others disagree. It is often included in pet food as a joint supplement, however the dosage is approximately 77mg/kg and most enriched diets don’t contain enough to offer a benefit.6
  • Curcumin is not well absorbed in dogs and turmeric (from which curcumin is derived) is not safe for pets to ingest.

Tips for assessing diets and supplements for joint care

Check the amount in the supplement/food: Many diets and dog treats claim to contain glucosamine and chondroitin, or green-lipped mussel but always look at the label. Many of these diets (unless they are therapeutic or prescription diets) do not contain anywhere near enough of the active ingredient to be effective. Don’t be lured in by claims of added joint supplements, always check what is the dose that your pet will require, and if this food provides it at a therapeutic level.

Limit the amount of products: If you are feeding a therapeutic joint diet, always check with your vet before adding supplements; particularly omega 3’s and 6’s as these can easily interfere and unbalance the precise ratio within the diet, thus cancelling out any potential benefit your pet will receive.

Avoid making your own supplements: A common mistake I see clients making is mixing their own ‘golden paste’ or some other joint recipe they’ve found online. Not only are these potentially dangerous, it’s near impossible to tell what is going to be a safe and effective dose.

Always ask your vet for their recommendation and products they use. It’s also advisable to purchase your supplements through them to guarantee safety, and not use human products. Products available through vets already have done the research for you, are clinically proven and are stocked by your vet because they have seen what works (and what doesn’t) in their patients. Your vet will also be able to support your pet’s condition with other medical treatments (such as cartilage building injections, pain relief, surgery, weight management and exercise ideas) that can also improve your pet’s quality of life.

Do you have a pet with joint disease? What supplements do you use to manage their condition?

References

  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. Reichling J, Schmökel H, Fitzi J, et al. Dietary support with Boswellia resin in canine inflammatory joint and spinal disease. Schweiz Arch Tierheilkd 2004;146(2):71-79.
  3. Beths, T., Munn, R., Bauquier, S., Mitchell, P. and Whittem, T. (2020), A pilot study of 4CYTE™ Epiitalis® Forte, a novel nutraceutical, in the management of naturally occurring osteoarthritis in dogs. Aust Vet J. https://doi.org/10.1111/avj.13024
  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. Henrotin, Y.E., Sanchez, C., Deberg, M.A., Piccardi, N., Guillou, G.B., Msika, P. & Reginster, J.Y. (2003) Avocado/soybean unsaponifiables increase aggrecan synthesis and reduce catabolic and proinflammatory mediator production by human osteoarthritic chondrocytes. Journal of Rheumatology, 30, 1825–1834.
  6. 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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