Have you noticed your dog straining to get up from lying down? Maybe they’re avoiding the stairs in your home, or seem to have less stamina during playtime. If your dog is a senior, the culprit could be arthritis or osteoarthritis—and that means it’s time to find the best joint supplements for your dog.
As dogs age, they’re more prone to developing joint conditions, particularly osteoarthritis (OA) and arthritis, says Patrick Mahaney, DVM, CVA, owner of Los Angeles-based California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness (CPAW) Inc. And though the conditions have similar names, there’s an important distinction between the two.
“Arthritis is joint inflammation, which can occur at any point in a dog’s life but is more common in adult and senior dogs,” he explains. “Osteoarthritis (AKA degenerative joint disease) is an advanced form of arthritis where remodeling of the joint surface occurs that can limit range of motion and further contribute to the sensation of joint pain.”
Aside from causing pain, joint conditions can result in a variety of symptoms, says Robin Downing, DVM, DAAPM, DACVSMR, CVPP, CCRP, hospital director at The Downing Center for Animal Pain Management in Windsor, Colorado. “The signs we watch for are behavioral changes, specifically changes in the dog’s activities,” including difficulty getting up or lying down; reluctance to use stairs; decreased stamina on walks or during play; reluctance to be groomed, brushed or petted in any specific part of the body; and limping, she says.
Veterinarians have a number of treatment options available, including joint supplements for dogs. These products come in a wide variety of formulas and often include ingredients like chondroitin, glucosamine, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) and omega-3 fatty acids.
With so many products on the market, how do you know which constitute the best joint supplements for dogs? To help you make an informed decision, we interviewed veterinarians for their recommendations. Keep in mind that you should always check with your veterinarian first before administering any supplement to your dog.
Dasuquin by Nutramax Laboratories
Nutramax makes two distinct joint-supporting lines of products, referred to as chondoprotectants: Cosequin and Dasuquin. While both contain glucosamine and chondroitin, the Dasuquin line of products—available as a soft chews or chewable tablets—have a distinct advantage: “The combination of glucosamine, low-molecular-weight chondroitin, and ASU (avocado soybean unsaponifiables) has been shown in clinical studies to provide good joint support better than any one of these by itself,” Dr. Downing says.
“I've had owners tell me they don't need to give additional medication (such as an NSAID) while the pet is taking Dasuquin,” she says.
GlycoFlex by VetriScience
Another chondoprotectant that some veterinarians recommend is GlycoFlex by VetriScience, which comes in chews or tablets. Aside from glucosamine, MSM and manganese, GlycoFlex also contains Perna canaliculus, AKA green-lipped mussel (GLM), Dr. Jeffrey says, adding that there’s plenty of scientific research backing the product: “There are peer reviewed studies of the effectiveness of the supplement.” In at least one study, more dogs receiving GLM improved than those in the placebo group.
GlycoFlex comes in products designed for different “stages” of a dog’s life. Stage I is formulated to ease large dogs’ growing pains, or for puppies who will be working dogs, competitive athletes, or may otherwise need joint support throughout their lives. Stage II is designed for dogs who are beginning to slow down and showing the first signs of fatigue. Stage III is VetriScience’s ultimate strength product, suitable for dogs with limited mobility or recovering after surgery.
Duralactin Tablets and Chews by PRN Pharmacal
Not all the best dog hip and joint supplements contain traditional ingredients. The active ingredient in Duralactin chewable tablets and soft chews is MicroLactin, a protein extracted from the milk of hyperimmunized cows, Dr. Downing says.
“This product has been evaluated in dogs, cats and horses, and has demonstrated efficacy for decreasing the inflammation and pain associated with early OA,” she says. “It can also reduce reliance on NSAIDs when OA is more advanced.”
A key advantage of the chew is its palatability. “Many dogs will also eat the [vanilla-flavored] tablets without an issue,” Dr. Downing says.
As with other supplements, Duralactin doesn’t work instantly; Dr. Downing says it takes seven to 10 days to reach a steady state of activity. But “it works by a different pathway than the NSAIDs, so it does not carry the same risks as NSAIDs. It can be used long term,” she adds. “The science makes it a compelling choice for joint support.”
Flexadin Advanced with UC-II by Vetoquinol
This product contains omega-3 fatty acids from both flaxseed oil and fish oil, as well as vitamin E, a known antioxidant. But the real standout feature of Flexadin Advanced with UC-II Chews, says Dr. Downing, is undenatured type II collagen (UC-II).
“The UC-II component supports joints by modulating the immune system,” she says. “This is a very unique method of action. The dose is exactly the same in dogs of all sizes (and for cats). The science behind this molecule (UC-II) is quite compelling.”
In one study, dogs receiving UC-II supplemented with glucosamine and chondroitin typically experienced significantly more symptom relief than dogs receiving only glucosamine and chondroitin.
Prescription Diet j/d Joint Care by Hill’s Prescription Diet
Commercial dog food labels can’t legally carry claims that the product can treat, cure or prevent disease. To be in compliance with the Food and Drug Administration, dog food companies must limit these claims to veterinary-prescribed therapeutic diets. One diet that falls under this category is Prescription Diet j/d Joint Care by Hill’s, available as canned or dry food.
Although you can purchase these items online, you do need your veterinarian’s approval. The good news: Many veterinarians, including Dr. Downing, recommend this product, and with good reason.
“This is still the only nutrient profile evaluated in blinded placebo controlled clinical studies in dogs with naturally occurring OA that has proven to decrease the need for NSAIDs,” she says. Translation: This diet has been scientifically shown to reduce joint pain in dogs.
“While it cannot be called a preventive,” Dr. Downing says, “dogs that have unusual or abnormal joint structure may benefit from utilizing this formulation before they experience crippling OA.”
Omega-3 Fatty Acid in Triglyceride Form
Omega-3 fatty acids help by reducing inflammation, which veterinarians say can ease the pain caused by arthritis. The key is to select the right form of omega-3s.
“The triglyceride form is the form that is actually usable by the body,” Dr. Downing says.
Pet parents have plenty of options when it comes to omega-3 triglycerides, which mainly comes in liquid form so it can be poured over your dog’s regular food. Omega-3 Pet Dog Supplement from Nordic Naturals sources its ingredients from sustainable anchovies and sardines from the South Pacific. Triglyceride Omega-3 Fatty Acid Liquid Supplement by Vetoquinol comes with a handy pump that makes administrating easy, while Welactin Canine Omega-3 Liquid Dog Supplement by Nutramax comes with a scoop for pet parents to use to measure their pup’s correct dose.
Dr. Lyon’s Advanced Strength Hip & Joint Support Soft Chews
Dr. Lyon’s Hip & Joint Support chews combine the joint care powers of glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, manganese and omega-3 fatty acids with another, unusual ingredient: hyaluronic acid.
You may have heard of hyaluronic acid’s rising popularity in human skincare, where it’s said to maintain skin hydration. So, what exactly is this stuff?
“Hyaluronic acid is a molecule that helps to make up the connective tissue of the body,” explains Dr. Sarah Wooten, DVM, CVJ, a private practice veterinarian in Greeley Colorado, “as well as the skin and the fluid in the eye.”
Though it’s not among the most popular ingredients in joint supplements, one study of hyaluronic acid’s effect on joints concluded that the substance “significantly improves symptoms of elbow dysplasia” in dogs, Dr. Wooten points out.
Dog arthritis supplements are not well regulated, so products can vary greatly in formulation and quality.
“That said, there are reputable companies that have sponsored clinical studies to demonstrate that what they make actually does have a positive effect,” Dr. Downing says. “This is a time when partnering with a veterinarian who can track down the science makes the best sense.”