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Do Dogs Need Joint Supplements? Vet-Approved Facts & FAQ

Chantelle Fowler

By Chantelle Fowler

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Vet approved

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Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Tabitha Henson

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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One in five dogs will experience problems with their joints during their lifetime. These joint issues can result in extreme pain and mobility challenges for your pup. If you want to keep your dog in tip-top shape for as long as you can, you might be curious about joint supplements. Do they work? Are they necessary for every dog? Should you start your pup on them young?

The truth is yes, you might need to start supplementation to ensure optimal joint health for your pup. Keep reading to find all the answers to the rest of your joint supplementation questions today.

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What Causes Joint Problems in Dogs?

There are two main causes of joint problems in pups—degenerative and developmental.

Developmental joint issues are coded into your pup’s DNA and are present from birth. These genetic problems happen when your dog’s joints develop improperly throughout their youth. Things like elbow or hip dysplasia are common conditions that can occur because of developmental joint issues.

Some dog breeds are predisposed to joint issues due to their size and body mechanics. Rottweilers, for example, commonly develop issues with their knee and ankle joints. Newfoundlands often develop problems in their cruciate ligament, with some estimates suggesting it affects more than 20% of dogs in this breed.

rottweiler standing
Image Credit: Ricantimages, Shutterstock

Degenerative joint issues are caused by overuse. Your pup’s cartilage may start to wear down and his tendons can become injured when they’re used so much.

Cruciate ligament problems are one of the most common degenerative joint issues. It happens when your dog’s tissues begin to degenerate due to overuse, trauma, or arthritic diseases. At first, the ligament will stretch or may even become torn, and you might only notice your dog limping slightly. If he continues to use that joint, though, the condition will worsen to the point that a complete cruciate ligament rupture occurs.

What Are the Symptoms of Joint Problems?

Joint problems can be hard to notice when they’re in the early stages. The main symptoms tend not to show up until the joint in question has already been badly damaged. Dogs can also be very stealthy when it comes to pain and can hide it until it’s severe and past the point of no return.

Symptoms to be on the lookout for include:

Symptoms to be on the lookout for include:
  • lethargy
  • difficulty getting up or sitting down
  • struggling to jump
  • lifting a limb in the air
  • swollen joints
  • audible popping or cracking in the joints
  • pain when touched
  • sudden weight gain
  • loss of muscle mass in limbs
  • appetite changes
  • difficulty urinating
  • sudden unexplained toileting accidents in the home
sick german shepherd dog unable to play
Image By: Ivor Ilic, Pixabay

Some of the symptoms above are a natural part of the aging process, but you should never ignore them. Keep the line of communication open with your vet at all times, especially if your dog has one or more of the risk factors for osteoarthritis. If you keep up with your pup’s regular vet visits, you will be more likely to catch the condition early and keep your pup in tip-top shape or out of pain for longer.

What Are the Risk Factors for Joint Problems?

While joint issues are mostly seen in older pups, any dog can develop joint problems like osteoarthritis. That said, certain breeds are more susceptible to this condition.

Risk factors that may make your pup more predisposed to joint issues include:

  • large and giant dogs like Saint Bernards and Bernese Mountain Dogs
  • being neutered at an early age
  • high activity levels like those seen in sporting and working dogs
  • obesity
  • age
  • infections that can affect the joints like Lyme Disease
  • poor nutrition
  • genetics
  • hip or elbow dysplasia diagnosis

It is important to note that even if your pup has one or more risk factors, he may not develop osteoarthritis. It is important to be on the defense, though. If you know your dog is at a higher risk of the condition, it’s important to stay up-to-date on his wellness exams at the vet.

Saint Bernard sitting in meadow
Image Credit: rokopix, Shutterstock

Does My Dog Need a Joint Supplement?

All dogs need vitamins and organic compounds for a balanced diet and to encourage normal growth. Like humans, dogs are not able to produce the vitamins and minerals they need naturally, so they have to be given to them via food.

Many commercial dog foods on the market are formulated to meet the very specific dietary requirements that dogs have. Most foods labeled “complete and balanced” should contain the nutrients your dog needs for optimal health.

That said, dogs that are at risk of joint issues may need additional help meeting the needs of their joints and cartilage.

When Should I Start Joint Supplementation?

You can start supplementation once you and your vet have decided it is the best course of action for your pup. Most joint supplements are available over-the-counter at pet stores or online, but you should approach them with caution until you’ve consulted your vet. Your vet can provide guidance about when to start supplementing and what will be the best one to offer your pup.

If your dog has one or more of the risk factors for joint issues, your vet might recommend supplementation when your pup is as young as one year. This will provide a preventative measure that can help reduce any potential symptoms of joint problems before they appear.

Husky dog lying on vet table with doctor and owner near by
Image Credit: Pressmaster, Shutterstock

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What Are the Best Types of Joint Supplements?

There are many different joint supplements on the market. The most effective options, however, all contain one (or more) of the following active ingredients.

Glucosamine

Glucosamine is one of the most common and most recommended supplement ingredients for dogs with joint issues. It is a natural substance that can be found in joints, but levels of glucosamine will decline naturally as your dog ages. His body needs this substance to maintain his joint health and repair his cartilage, so as he ages and his natural levels of glucosamine decline, supplementation can help.

Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM)

MSM is a naturally occurring supplement that is often used as an anti-inflammatory for dogs with arthritis. MSM can be produced in the body and is present in many different dog foods on the market, but most levels of MSM will decline gradually as your pup ages.

When MSM and glucosamine are combined, the two supplements work together to reduce stiffness so movements become easier for your dog.

man and dog walking
Image Credit: Jaromir Chalabala, Shutterstock

Chondroitin

Chondroitin is often found in supplements alongside glucosamine and MSM. It is another naturally occurring substance in the body that works by not allowing harmful enzymes to break down joint cartilage. It also works by supporting fluid retention in your dog’s cartilage, thus improving his mobility and flexibility.

Manganese

Manganese is an essential mineral that’s vital to your pup’s growth and joint health. Dogs need it for optimal bone health and to boost healthy joint cartilage, too. Manganese can activate the enzymes your dog’s body needs to build collagen, making his soft tissues stronger and more resilient.

Green-Lipped Mussel (GLM)

GLM is another great joint supplement that’s chock full of beneficial nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. GLM comes from marine aquaculture and is found off the coast of New Zealand. This ingredient can help improve your dog’s joint lubrication, reduce inflammation, and provide relief from joint pain.

dog treat
Image Credit: Pezibear, Pixabay

How Do I Choose the Best Joint Supplement for Dogs?

You should always talk to your veterinarian before starting your pup on any medication or supplement. That said, there are some general guidelines you can follow when choosing a joint supplement.

Look for brands that have clinical studies for their products. These studies should prove that the supplement works in clinical trials.

Read every label carefully and thoroughly to find the active ingredients. Research the ingredients if you are unfamiliar with them. Try to choose a well-rounded supplement that contains a blend of glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, and manganese.

Choose products made in the USA if possible. This is because there are stringent guidelines in the US that may not be present in other countries.

Be wary if the supplement company is making claims that seem too good to be true. When we want the best for our aching pets, it’s easy to fall victim to these marketing gimmicks. Supplements are exactly that: supplements. They aren’t a cure.

Czech mountain dog having treats
Image Credit: Jaromir Chalabala, Shutterstock

 

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Final Thoughts

While you can buy over-the-counter joint supplements for your pup, we do recommend checking in with your vet first. Your vet can perform a wellness exam on your dog to confirm that his problems stem from a joint issue and not something else. Plus, your vet should always be your go-to person for any questions relating to the health and nutrition of your dog. Once you have been given the OK from the vet to start supplementing, you can begin your hunt for the best option for your pup.

Check out our breakdown of the best dog joint and hip supplements on the market today to find one that best suits your dog’s needs.

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Featured Image Credit: Christian Mueller, Shutterstock

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