There are so many choices out there today of different supplements to help your senior dog with their mobility it can be overwhelming. I thought it would be a good idea to go over some of these supplements, how they work and the efficacy of them to assist people when making choices on what would work best for their dog’s needs.
Glucosamine is probably the most common one and most easily recognized when looking for a mobility supplement as many people take it themselves. So, what exactly is glucosamine and how does it work to aid in joint pain relief. Glucosamine, in its natural form, is found in the cartilage which is the rigid tissue that cushions the joints. The glucosamine found in supplements is made from the shells of shellfish or a there is a synthetic form which is made in a lab. You many see it as a few different names, Glucosamine HCl and Glucosamine Sulfate.
Glucosamine Sulfate has 74% purity and requires stabilizers in the compound that are in the form of salts, whereas, Glucosamines HCl does not have the sulfate group and has a purity of 99%. Glucosamine, both the sulfate and the HCl work by reducing inflammation in the joints and they have anti-inflammatory properties, as well as cartilage protecting effects.
Veterinarians will usually recommend Glucosamine HCl for dogs rather than the sulfate as studies have shown it works very well in dogs and there hasn’t been any evidence to show glucosamine sulfate gets into the cartilage where it needs to be. The dose of glucosamine for dogs is recommended as 20 milligrams per pound of body weight, an example, dogs 5-20lbs will get 250-500 milligrams of glucosamine and dogs weighing 20-40lbs will get a dose of 500 milligrams. Treatments usually start with a loading dose period, a higher dose given at the beginning which tapers to a maintenance dose, and it can take 4 to 6 weeks to see a difference in your dog. While you can give the human version to dogs, it is not recommended as many human Glucosamine supplements contain Xylitol or other ingredients which are toxic to dogs even in small amounts. It is recommended to buy it from a veterinarian or a pet store as these versions would not contain toxic ingredients.
Chondroitin or Chondroitin Sulfate is like Glucosamine but instead of it being extracted from animal tissue it is extracted from animal cartilage, although it can be synthesized. It is generally extracted from bovine and shark cartilage though it is suggested to use a supplement containing bovine cartilage as there has been no distinct advantage to using shark cartilage found and bovine cartilage is more sustainable. How it protects cartilage is by stopping the enzymes that damage it. It is safe in dogs older than 8 weeks but not recommended for dogs with end stage arthritis as their cartilage is so worn down there is none left to protect.
Chondroitin is typically combined with Glucosamine as evidence has shown the two together works best to help alleviate the pain associated with arthritis, though they can be taken individually. If taken by itself Chondroitin has the same dosage as Glucosamine and a loading dose is also required when first starting the supplement as it builds up in the system tapering, like Glucosamine, to a smaller dose to maintain therapeutic levels. However, it is common to see both Chondroitin and Glucosamine together in a mobility supplement; when the two are combined the dosages of both are lowered as they help boost the efficacy of each other.
Green Lipped Mussel is another joint supplement that comes from the Green Lipped Mussels of New Zealand. They have high levels of Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty acids as well as being shown to contain glycosaminoglycans which have protective properties when it comes to joints. While there are other supplements containing high levels of Omega-3’s it is the ETA or eicosatetraenoic acid which is unique to the green lipped mussel. The ETA found in the mussels binds to the enzyme cyclooxygenase which causes inflammation. While the process of how exactly the Green Lipped Mussel works in the body is unknown, a 2013 study has shown it to reduce pain and inflammation in arthritic joints.
This supplement can be found on its own as a capsule or powder, or already added to some veterinary therapeutic diets in dry form only as the canning process for wet food can affect its efficacy. This supplement does not require a loading dose and dogs usually begin to show signs of improvement in about 4 to 6 weeks. When giving this supplement orally it is generally suggested that small dogs get 500mg, medium dogs 750mg and large dogs 1000mg per day. If you are feeding a veterinary diet containing Green Lipped Mussel, it is usually recommended that the food account for at least 80% of your dog’s total diet to be considered therapeutic.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids are also great joint supplements for your dog and good for them at any age. Not only do they help promote a healthy heart, skin, and kidneys, they have been shown to reduce inflammation and pain for your dog due to osteoarthritis and degeneration of cartilage. Fish or krill oil is the best source for Omega-3 fatty acids and these sources also have EPA and DHA which are long-chain fatty acids abundant in fish, shellfish, and some algae. You can get Omega-3’s from flaxseed oil, however, that is only the ALA or alpha-linolenic acid, and it is not recommended as a supplement on its own as it doesn’t contain the EPA and DHA which is very beneficial for your dog.
Studies have shown giving Omega-3 supplements can provide relief for the pain and inflammation your dog is experiencing due to osteoarthritis, as well as being part of a multimodal approach to combat your dog’s mobility issues. The dosage of Omega-3 fatty acid supplements can vary depending on the reason your dog is taking them, ailments such as osteoarthritis generally require a higher dose which may not be tolerated by all dogs. Fish oil capsules can cause gastrointestinal upset in some dogs, especially in higher doses, so you may not be able to give them as an addition to their current diet to help treat their pain and inflammation from osteoarthritis. For these dogs there are veterinary therapeutic diets that do contain the proper levels of the Omega-3 fatty acids so that they may benefit from the high amount of Omega-3’s and no additional supplementation is needed. In fact, it is not recommended to use both a veterinary diet containing the Omega-3 supplements and Omega-3 capsules concurrently.
You may see treats which claim to contain Omega-3’s however, these may not contain them in the levels needed to provide therapy for your dog, unfortunately there is no minimum standard for these ingredients in dog treats and they generally do not contain enough to be considered therapeutic. With therapeutic diets or treats it is best to consult your veterinarian to make sure you are getting a product for your dog that does contain the right amount ensuring your dog is getting what they need.
MSM or methyl sulfonyl methane is a naturally occurring compound containing organic sulfur. While there have only been some limited studies done on the supplement, there has been anecdotal evidence to support the claim it can work to treat inflammatory and immune conditions. It was first discovered in the 1980’s by Stanley W. Jacob, MD, though it was known about since the 1930’s, he was the one who pioneered it as a supplement for osteoarthritis. It is usually in powder or capsule form and is given orally either with a meal or just after a meal to prevent any possible stomach upset that may happen from the supplement. The general recommended dose for MSM is about 50 to 100 mg per 10 pounds of body weight. It should be noted that there can be drug interactions with MSM, and anticoagulants or non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) so please check with your vet if your dog is currently on one of these medications before considering an MSM supplement.
ASU or Avocado and soybean unsaponifiable is an extract from both avocado and soybean oils. Evidence has shown the effectiveness of using ASU to help protect cartilage. There is a synergistic effect when combined with Glucosamine HCl and Chondroitin Sulfate resulting in an increase of the actions of each reducing the amount you may need to give to get the same results. There quite are a few ASU supplements on the market today that are already formulated with Glucosamine and Chondroitin, it usually comes in the form tablet or capsule. Like Glucosamine/Chondroitin, it takes time to build up in the system, so allow 4 to 6 weeks before you start to see a difference in your dog. The dose can vary depending on the ASU supplement and what additional additives it contains.
Cannabidiol is a relatively new idea for most pet parents and while marijuana is toxic to dogs Cannabidiol or CBD can be administered safely at the proper doses and has been shown to reduce pain and inflammation in dogs suffering from osteoarthritis. CBD is a compound found in both cannabis and hemp, but it does not contain THC which is the compound that is responsible for marijuana’s psychoactive properties and makes you feel “high”. It works by way of the endocannabinoid system in your dog’s body which regulates pain and inflammation.
There is a lot of hype about CBD right now and it can be hard to know which product to choose. A few things to watch out for, is it organic, as this would not contain harmful pesticides, and is there an analysis, the manufacturer of the product should provide a guaranteed analysis letting you know how much CBD is contained in the bottle and how much is in each milliliter. The recommended dose for dogs is 2mg per kg of body weight and it is best given as an oil. While there are dog treats on the market that do contain CBD you can better tailor the dose for your dog when using an oil by how many drops you add to their food.
So, which one do you choose? When deciding which supplement to try there can be factors to weigh such as cost, availability, administration, and ease. It may be that giving a capsule each day works great for you and your dog or you may have a dog who is suspect of anything added to their meal so you may want to try switching them to a food which already contains the supplement. Your dog may already be on medication for osteoarthritis or another issue so you may have to choose a supplement based on any possible interactions with their current treatment.
Another thing to consider is the age of your dog and what stage of osteoarthritis they may be in as some of these supplements are more preventive, protecting the cartilage before it degrades and others are to aid in pain relief and inflammation from where the cartilage is so worn down, there is little left. Before starting anything new, it is always best to check with your veterinarian as to what may be best for your dog and their pain management plan going forward. They should be able to find one that will work best for both you and your dog, improving their mobility and helping alleviate the pain due to osteoarthritis.
Emily Charlton is a lifelong animal lover drawing on more than 12 years experience in a veterinary clinic.