The Truth About Dog Joint Supplements

The Truth About Dog Joint Supplements

14 minute read

Table of Contents

One in five dogs over the age of one suffer from joint disease.

That’s not a happy number, and it’s even less happy when you consider that there are 80 million pups in the US.

That’s a lot of furry friends, in a lot of joint pain. Dog bone and joint supplements have been designed to treat and prevent our furry friends from joint erosion.

As a loving dog owner, you know that supplements are an important way to keep your dog healthy, happy, and free.

But how do you know which joint supplements will legitimately keep your pup running circles around the dog park for years to come, and which ones are snake oil?

It’s not easy. When it comes to dog supplements, there’s a lot of hype out there. After you sort through the noise, though, you’ll find that with most of these “supplements,” the companies have never performed any clinical research in vivo – that is, on live dogs. 

Pretty shocking, right? 

Joint supplements for dogs, whether good or not, have been around for ages. Diving into the research, though, is exhausting.

That’s why we did it for you. All the studies mentioned below have been published in scientific journals, such as the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine. Want to read deeper?

The links are provided. Don’t worry, we might love dogs, but we don’t let them eat our homework. 

However, before you can understand why some supplements work – and others don’t – it’s important to examine the root cause behind Spot, Rover, or Fido’s achy joints.

 
 

The Scary Truth About Osteoarthritis

When it comes to bone and joint issues, bigger dogs tend to have bigger issues. Sorry, mastiff fans, that’s just how it is. Older dogs, as you might expect, also are prone to having hip & joint issues, just like older humans. Joint pain can lower your baby’s quality of life, especially as they get older.

The key to grasping how arthritis develops in your fur baby is to understand cartilage: basically, think of it as a pillow, which allows every joint to move through its full range of motion.

Good stuff, but eventually, that pillow breaks down.

Aside from age and size – not to mention excess weight – some danger factors include genetics, infections, injuries, and stress.

When the cartilage deteriorates, the joint pain level goes up. Joint Inflammation, reduced range of motion, and overall lower quality of life come next. If it breaks your heart to imagine your furry friend limping around with these issues, and that puppy dog look in their eyes … well, you aren’t alone.

Hips and leg joints tends to be the most affected by this condition.

Instead of waiting for these issues to first crop up, you can start preventing them with the use of supplements.

That said, not all supplements are created equal.

By the end of this article you’ll be a semi-pro when it comes to understanding which supplements work, and which don’t.

We’ll examine supplements from the most-to-least researched, and see how they stack up.

Let’s dive into which joint supplements for dogs work.

Don’t worry if all the science is a bit overwhelming, either.

Dog Bone And Joint Supplements and The Research

 

Glucosamine & Chondroitin

Generally used and sold together, glucosamine and chondroitin are the two most popular, most researched supplements in the game. When taken as a one-two combo punch, these supplements have been shown to have beneficial effects for dogs with joint issues, and for helping younger dogs stave off future hardship.

The reason they work? It’s simple. Both glucosamine and chondroitin are naturally found in joint cartilage, so it only makes sense that they help rejuvenate it, particularly when used together. The anti-inflammatory qualities of these supplements will protect your furry child’s muscle mass from breaking down, thus adding years of fetch to their lifespan. Good dog!

Glucosamine for dogs has been used for decades, but let’s dive into the research and how it solves joint problems.

In one study, 35 dogs with arthritis participated in a randomized, double-blind positive trial, done to assess the effectiveness of glucosamine hydrochloride and chondroitin sulfate. The results? Used together, these two supplements had a hugely positive effect on arthritic dogs. The success metrics were measured on pain score, weight-bearing, and condition severity, over the course of 70 days.

Another study compared the effectiveness of glucosamine/chondroitin alone, and then in combination with Type II Collagen. For research purposes, 20 dogs were divided into the following four groups, and treated for 120 days:

  • Group 1: Placebo
  • Group 2: 10mg UC-2
  • Group 3: 2000mg glucosamine + 1600 mg chondroitin
  • Group 4: a mix of the others.

Here’s what happened: the combination of glucosamine, chondroitin, and UC-2 showed the best results. Pups that participated showed a significant reduction in overall pain —  57% —  plus an improvement in exercise-associated calmness. No side effects, either.

Now, there’s some still unknowns, when it comes to this stuff.

One question is the bioavailability – or, in layperson’s terms, the amount of the supplement that legitimately makes its way into your dog’s circulation, when they eat it.

Pretty important info!

That said, the average bioavailability of glucosamine, after your pup eats it, is around 12%. For chondroitin it ranges from 4-5%.

In order to improve the effectiveness of the supplement, there has been some research around an ingredient known as chitosan, which has been known to improve the bioavailability of supplements.

All in all? When it comes to joint health, Glucosamine and Chondroitin are the most researched and proven supplements out on the market.

Pro-tip: Want your joint supplements to be even more effective? Look for joint supplements with chitosan to improve their effectiveness.

Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids

Hey, not all fat is bad. Take Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs). This is the good stuff you’ve heard rumors about: the omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids, or the omega-9 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly, can be found in stuff like fish oil, flaxseeds, and walnuts. It’s highly beneficial, and it contains many anti-inflammatory properties.

In one study it was shown that, in dogs with chronic arthritis issues, a 12-week period of enriching their food with omega-3s resulted in a reduction of carprofen medication use. A separate study found that arthritic dogs, when their food was enriched with omega-3s, showed dramatic improvement in the areas of lameness, mean peak vertical force, the ability to rise from a resting position, and walking. Another study examined the effects of dosing omega 3s.

Basically, if you’re wanting to reduce the inflammation of your furry best friend’s joints – and keep them happily chasing squirrels through the yard – omega-3s are a wonder supplement. They reduce the inflammatory markers (arachidonic acid, IL-1, IL-6 and PGE2) that naturally occur in your doggo’s body.

Now, PUFAs can be found in many different food sources, and you may be curious: what’s the best source to get these fats? Don’t worry, the answers aren’t buried in the yard: they’re right here for you to look at.

Green Lipped Mussels (GLM)

New Zealand’s Green Lipped Mussel might have a weird name, but it’s good for Fido. A liquid extract from these mussels, called Perna Canaliculus, is extremely rich in omega-3 fatty acids, as well as other beneficial vitamins and amino acids that are good for your pup.

There have been extensive studies conducted on the effect of an enriched diet with GLM for dogs with chronic arthritis. A double-blinded study showed that dogs with clinical arthritis outperformed the control group after their diet was enriched with GLM for a 12-week period. Other studies have shown that GLM has no significant adverse effects on dogs. 

The only downside? Well, GLM has a strong taste. That said, there have been no reports of dogs refusing to eat capsules or kibbles incorporated with GLM. Considering some of the bizarre things your dog does eat, of course, that shouldn’t be a surprise.

Fish Oil

The benefits of fish oil on canine arthritis is extensively researched: in study after study, fish oil supplements have been shown, consistently, to have a positive effect on dogs with clinical arthritis. Fish oil works because it both reduces inflammation and prevents cartilage breakdown, making it a go-to formula for both prevention and treatment alike.

Because fish oils have proven themselves to be a winning supplement, recent studies tend to focus on dosage and effectiveness. One study concluded that increasing the fish oil dosage in a dog’s regular diet showed modest additional improvements. 

All in all, whether the PUFAs come from fish oil or mussels, these fats are well-researched, so you can rest assured they’re good for your dog, primarily thanks to the omega-3s. 

Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM)

This supplement is generally sold along with glucosamine and chondroitin. Thanks to the unwieldy name, it’s usually abbreviated to MSM, which will definitely save you a lot of mispronunciations. A naturally occurring compound, MSM can be found in fruits, vegetables, grains, cow’s milk, beer, wine, and coffee. When it comes to joint health, MSM is an anti-inflammatory, with pain relief properties. It also improves allergies, and maintains healthy keratin levels in hair, skin, and nails. First introduced in the 1950s, clinical trials of MSM have, so far, been narrow. However, the results of these trials are looking good for human and doggo alike.

Now, some disclaimers regarding MSMS: most research on this supplement dates back to the 1970s-to-1990s, and it was mainly conducted on humans with arthritis, rather than canines. That said, one study showed that when human patients with severe knee osteoarthritis took MSM for 12 weeks straight, it significantly reduced pain and stiffness. Not bad!  

For now, the research on how effectively MSM works for dogs is limited, but it has been used to treat pups with arthritis. 

Collagen

 
 

A naturally occurring protein, collagen possesses many health benefits. Chief amongst this is the wealth of amino acids it offers, which are essential for the regeneration of cartilage and makes for a good joint health supplement. 

What does your furry child get out of this? Well, collagen helps protect their joints from damage, strengthens them, and reduces arthritis-caused pain. For example, one study saw 15 dogs treated for 120 days, and then measured on the pain score, checked for pain during limb manipulation, and observed for lameness after physical exertion. The results showed that using collagen UC-ii can alleviate pain and improve performance in dogs with arthritis. 

Another study examined the use of collagen in combination with another set of supplements: chromium nacinate and hydroxycitric acid. This study split 25 dogs into five groups, where they received one of four treatments for the next 120 days. The group that received UC-II – collagen, alone, for 90 days, showed a 50% reduction in overall pain, and an alleviation exercise-associated lameness. By 120 days, that pain reduction went north of 60%, which is a big deal. These are seriously positive results that any furry friend would wag their tail over, and furthermore, the dogs tested showed no adverse side effects.

Avocado/Soybean Unsaponofiables

Avocado/Soybean Unsaponifiables, called ASU for short, are extracts from avocado and soybean oils. ASU possesses both anti-inflammatory and anticatabolic effects, which can reduce pain in arthritic dogs, and protect them from muscle breakdown.

However, not many studies on ASU have been performed on live dogs (yet). Of the known research,  one study compared sheepdogs that received ASU on a daily basis to those who ate a regular diet, without ASU.

The dogs with ASU supplements did have a spike in joint fluid level, compared to the control group, but the exact benefits of putting additional joint fluids into dogs is currently unknown.

 Another study showed that treatment with ASU could, theoretically, reduce the development of early arthritis in dogs. However, since this study only researched dogs with induced arthritis in dogs, the process might not replicate for naturally occurring arthritis. 

For now, while ASU does show some promise, additional research is definitely needed. 

 

Curcumin

You’re familiar with curcumin, though you probably know it by its spice name: Turmeric. It’s a reducing agent that has been used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for hundreds of years. More recently, lab studies have proved it to have anti-inflammatory, anti-catabolic properties. Curcumin also aids in cancer prevention, and it has the capacity to increase collagen synthesis.  

It’s good stuff. However, for doggos, there’s a downside. 

Remember that whole thing about bioavailability? Okay, here’s the thing. Currently, there’s not a lot of information regarding the bioavailability of curcumin, when taken by dogs — and furthermore, it’s known to have a low level of bioavailability in humans. Knowing the bioavailability of a supplement is crucial before we feed it to our beloved canine friends.

Because of this, most of the research surrounding curcumin, as a dog supplement, has been less about how well it works, and more about trying to increase its bioavailability. This would, in turn, increase its effectiveness. For now, curcumin hasn’t shown such promising results for dogs, so until more studies are done, treat curcumin skeptically.  

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Quick Recap

All right, dog lovers! Here are the treats you should focus on when searching for supplements:

  • Understand the bioavailability of a supplement: basically, how much of the supplement ends up circulating in your pup’s system, when they eat it.
  • Always look for high concentrations of an active ingredient.
  • Look for supplements containing MSM, which has many health benefits for fur babies.
  • Fish oil and GLM have consistently proven to have positive effects on dogs with bone and joint issues.
  • More fish oil doesn’t necessarily mean increased benefits.
  • Curcumin bioavailability is currently unknown, and there haven’t been consistent results on effectiveness. 
  • Look for supplements with anti-inflammatory properties and cartilage breakdown inhibitors.
  • ASU has anti-inflammatory properties, but not enough studies have been conducted.
  • Collagen is great for strengthening bone and joint health, as well as prevention.
  • Chitosan helps improve the effectiveness of supplements. Always look for Chitosan to be in the formula.

This is not an exhaustive list of all the studies done on bone and joint supplements, by any means, but it does cover most of the studies conducted on live doggos like yours. Want to double-check you’re not buying snake oil? Hey, understandable. Visit the NCBI database. Also check out the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, and poke around for more info.

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In the meantime, got any questions? Want to chat it up with some fellow dog people? Just send us as an email at Woof@TryTheBasic.com.

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