Can your pet benefit from a joint supplement?

Helping you to make the right choices about joint supplements.

Joint supplements may help to support and protect a joint from osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis describes the wearing down of the protective cartilage that exposes underlying bone and the development of bone spurs that cause further pain and damage. Veterinary treatment usually includes weight loss, regular and moderate exercise, pain medications e.g. non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAID) or a course of pentosan injections, and joint supplements.

Joint supplements are a form of nutraceutical of complementary animal health product. The definition of a nutraceutical or complementary animal health product (CAHP) is a nondrug or natural substance that is purified or extracted to improve health and well-being. They are not medications and are considered food. Therefore, they are not regulated or bound by the stringent guidelines of manufacturing. This means that anyone can make a nutraceutical with no quality control.

When reviewing a joint supplement, always look at the label for:

Labels can make claims that are confusing. So, it is important to always ask the company for research papers that show efficacy in dogs. And always, stick to reputable companies when it comes to selecting a nutraceutical.

It is also important to check the amount of joint supplement within the product, as too little ingredients will offer very little in terms of efficacy.

Differences between Nutraceutical and Pharmaceutical

Nutraceutical product or CAHP Pharmaceutical product
Contain only natural ingredients Highly purified plant extracts that have been chemically or biologically developed
Can only make general health claims Can make therapeutic claims for prevention, cure or alleviation of a condition
Administered orally or topically only Administered orally, topically or by injection
Includes herbal remedies, probiotics, prebiotics, therapeutic diets, oral vitamins, minerals and fatty acids Includes non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, parasiticides

Common oral joint supplements

Glucosamine hydrochloride* It is a building block of cartilage and stimulates growth of cartilage cells. It often requires a loading dose and can take 4-6 weeks to reach therapeutic levels. Maintenance dose rate is approximately 15mg/kg.
Chondroitin sulfate Inhibits cartilage-destroying enzymes. It often requires a loading dose and can work synergistically with glucosamine when given together.
Avocado soybean unsaponifiables (ASUs) Protects the cartilage matrix againts damage and may stimulate healing. Can be used together with glucosamine and chondroitin (doses of chondroitin may be reduced).
Omega 3 fatty acid Support heart, kidney and joint health, as well as may boost immunity. DHA and EPA are the best forms found in wild coldwater fish. Pet owners may ask about flaxseed but it does not provide sufficient DHA or EPA for dogs. Dose rate is approximately 100mg/kg which is 5,000 mg/day for a 50kg dog!
MSM/DMSO No published research in the use and absorption of it in dogs.
Eggshell membrane Eggshell membrane contains high levels of glucosamine, chondroitin, collagen and hyaluronic acid. No published research in the use and absorption of it in dogs.
Green-lipped mussels Some studies show improvement in dogs fed with green-lipped mussels. However, these studies are inconsistent in terms of results. Dose rate is approximately 77 mg/kg.
Boswellia serrata A tree extract that has anti-inflammatory-like effects such as reducing lameness, local pain and stiffness when treated for 6 weeks. Dose rate is approximately 50 mg/kg.
Curcumin The yellow pigment of turmeric. Offers anti-inflammatory support for osteoarthritis. Not much is known about the absorption in dogs and turmeric, which curcumin is derived, is not safe for pet health.
Elk or deer antler Mode of action is not known and only one study showed that high quality powdered antler improved the osteoarthritis in dogs. Antler chew toys do NOT contain this active ingredient.
Hyperimmune milk factor Duralactin may reduce inflammation and has been studied extensively in humans but has yet to show effiicacy in dogs.

* Note that glucosamine sulfate is not the same as glucosamine hydrochloride and has not been shown to have an effect on the synovial tissue after orally ingested.

Never give a human brand joint supplement to a pet. Human products often contain too high salts such as calcium and magnesium that can cause illness in pets. Always recommend nutraceuticals formulated for veterinary use.

Product formulations

Formulation Comments
Therapeutic diets

Easy to administer

Kibble or tinned formula

Offers therapeutic levels of Omega 3

May not get the full dose of other joint supplements required in the amount fed

Controlled calories

Has added antioxidants


Good for dogs with difficulty chewing or dental problems

Good for pet owners who aren't confident in giving tablets

Concentrated dose

Often fat, protein and salt reduced so is good for dogs with restricted calories or other health conditions

Oil capsules

Good for dogs with difficulty chewing or dental problems

Good for pet owners who aren't confident in giving tablets

Maybe expensive when given in the dose required

Chewable tablets


Can be crumbled over the food

Treats Do not offer the recommended effective dose of joint supplements


Easy to put over food

Easier to absorb compared to a tablet

Easier to swallow

Applications for joint supplements

Here are some scientifically researched applications of joint supplements in dogs:


  1. Joint supplements should be started as early as possible, particularly in large-breed dogs or dogs predsiposed to osteoarthritis.
  2. Joint supplements can be given to puppies from 8 weeks of age for cases such as congenital joint problems.
  3. Care must be taken with joint supplements as they can cause stomach upsets and interfere with platelets, which are important for blood clotting
  4. Onset can be slow, particularly with glucosamine hydrochloride and chondroitin sulfate
  5. Joint supplements can be expensive and a waste of money if the pet has end-stage bone arthritis in multiple joints - it can be used to protect joints that do not exhibit arthritis
  6. Many dog treats contain glucosamine and chondroitin, but often in such small amounts that it will not have any therapeutic effects
  7. Unfortunately, because nutraceuticals are not considered a medication, they are not bound by the same stringent regulations and guidelines nor good manufacturing programs.
  8. Management of osteoarthritis is often multi-modal, which means it requires a number of treatments such as a combination of joint supplements, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, moderate exercise and weight management.

Further Reading

1. McCarthy G, O'Donovan J, Jones B, et al. Randomised double-blind, positive-controlled trial to assess the efficacy of glucosamine/chodroitin 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. Altınel L, Sahin O, Köse KC, et al. [Healing of osteochondral defects in canine knee with avocado/soybean unsaponifiables: 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.

6. 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.

7. Colitti M, Gaspardo B, Della Pria A, et al. Transcriptome modification of white blood cells after dietary administration of curcumin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug in osteoarthritic affected dogs. Vet Immunol Immunopathol 2012;147(3-4):136-146.

8. Moreau M, Dupuis J, Bonneau NH, et al. Clinical evaluation of a powder of quality elk velvet antler for the treatment of osteoarthrosis in dogs. Can Vet J 2004;45(2):133-139.