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Joint Protection: Supplements And Best Practices

Updated: Jun 17, 2023

One thing that unfortunately many pet parents don’t know about until it is too late is the importance of integrating joint protection into your dog's daily dietary regimen. As a responsible dog owner, taking measures to support and maintain joint health should be one of your top priorities.

Studies have shown that more than 80% of dogs over the age of 8 suffer with some form of degenerative joint disease. Conditions such as rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, which cause a great deal of pain and can significantly reduce mobility and quality of life and the likelihood of a dog developing arthritis increases exponentially with age.

As osteoarthritis progresses, there is a degradation of cartilage and reduction in synovial fluid volume. As these changes occur, bone spurs form and nerve cell proliferation increases pain signalling within the joint.

Certain breeds have a higher risk of arthritis than others, with large breeds being particularly affected - especially in dogs that come from backyard breeders that fail to perform responsible health checks on hip and elbow scores. Having two standard poodles, I am aware that my dogs are at a high risk of developing joint problems, and so every aspect of their life - from daily activities to what kind of treats I feed - is mindful of preventative strategies.

Most Dogs Will Develop Arthritis

Given the statistics, it's fair to say that, provided he lives long enough, your dog will eventually experience some degree of joint degeneration. Therefore, joint support and responsible practices are vital from day one if you wish to increase the healthspan of your companion animal and delay the onset of arthritis for as long as possible.

This doesn’t just mean giving a joint supplement once per day. It can mean finding solutions for slippery floors to prevent the risk of injury - such as putting rugs down or getting dog shoes with rubber grips for the house. It also means ensuring that your dog only engages in low-impact exercise - no running on asphalt or concrete, only on sand or earth.

Provided your dog is not afraid of water, going swimming with them in a nearby lake during warmer months would offer an immense benefit to both their health and yours. I wish I could take my dogs swimming more often - Prince is a natural swimmer and loves the water but Yoto is terrified; despite being a waterdog he cannot swim to save his life.

Top Tip: Feed Treats High In Glycosaminoglycans

Glycosaminoglycans are the building blocks of connective tissue and are beneficial from everything from skin health to joint health. In mammals, glycosaminoglycans are found in the highest doses in cartilage and tendons, so if you want to boost your dog's intake of these compounds, an easy way of doing this is swapping high calorie processed treats for dried or dehydrated snacks made from these body parts. This option is also ideal if you don't have the time or resources to weigh and mix a bunch of different supplement powders into your dog's food each day.

Beef tendons

I make sure to give my dogs connective tissue as a snack after our long evening walk every day, so that they can benefit from the vital nutrients they contain and maintain optimal joint health. Recently, they've had beef nose cartilage, buffalo trachea, horse tendons and deer skin. I'm not sure if I'm going to buy the trachea again, however, because I've noticed that they do not easily digest the cartilage that it contains. The nose cartilage doesn't seem to be a problem, though.

How To Supplement For Joint Protection

There are many all-in-one joint supplements available for dogs and cats, claiming to have everything your companion animal needs for optimal joint health all in one (often rather expensive) pill.

While many of these supplements do contain substances that have been found in numerous studies to be beneficial for preventing or slowing the progression of degenerative joint disease, rarely do they contain these ingredients in the doses that have proven in studies to be effective.

Both of my dogs are given the therapeutic doses of the following individual supplements:

  • Green lipped mussel

  • Glucosamine

  • Devil’s claw

  • MSM

  • Golden paste

  • Omega 3s

1. Green Lipped Mussel

Green lipped mussel comes in freeze-dried powdered or pill form, and is a much used supplement in canine joint formulas due to the vast amount of supporting evidence that it has potent anti-inflammatory properties that help to protect the joints.

Interest in the potential health benefits of Green Lipped Mussel was first sparked after a correlation was suspected between this mollusc and the low incidence of arthritis among Maori people living in coastal areas, where GLM is part of the staple diet, versus the Maoris living inland who tend not to eat a staple diet that is high in GLM.

Multiple studies have indicated that green lipped mussel extract is useful in alleviating the symptoms of osteoarthritis, though the jury is out as to why it appears to be beneficial.

One theory is that it is the omega 3s that are present. Green lipped mussel powder actually contains a spectrum of omega 3 fatty acids. While it would have to be consumed in enormous quantities to provide your dog's recommended intake of DHA and EPA, one theory is that it's their relatively high concentration of the omega 3 ETA that provides the benefit.

ETA is known to have greater anti-inflammatory properties than either of the better known omegas, so it could be. In addition to its omega 3 content, green lipped mussel extract contains glycosaminoglycans.

The doses of green lipped mussel that I feed to my dogs are as follows:

  • As Yoto weighs 60lbs (27.2kg), he receives 7g of freeze-dried green lipped mussel powder per day

  • As Prince weighs around 42lbs (19.2kg), I give him 5g of green lipped mussel powder per day

2. Glucosamine And Chondroitin

Glucosamine and chondroitin are two ingredients that are found in many joint supplements, and are two natural cartilage building blocks that are believed to play an important role in maintaining optimal joint health and slowing, or potentially reversing to some extent, the symptoms of various degenerative joint diseases.

There are many studies that have been done on these two supplements, though some of it is conflicting. On the whole, the general consensus is that glucosamine can be effective but evidence to support the efficacy of chondroitin is limited.

In light of this, and the fact that chondroitin is significantly more expensive than glucosamine, when I ran out of capsules that contained both of these supplements together, I swapped these to an appropriate glucosamine pure powder supplement.

  • Yoto receives roughly 1g of glucosamine per day

  • Prince is given roughly 0.75g of glucosamine per day

3. Devil’s Claw

This supplement is occasionally found in some of the popular all-in-one formulas for joint health and has, in a number of studies, shown promise in alleviating the inflammation which leads to the degradation of joint tissue and in reducing joint pain.

On the tub of powdered herb that I bought for them, it suggested that the doses should be 7g for Yoto and 5g for Prince, but I later read that the necessary doses are much lower for both dogs and humans.

In order to play it safe, and reduce the likelihood of potential side effects, I supplement each dog with around 0.5 to 1g per day.

4. MSM

Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) has been the subject of numerous scientific investigations in recent years, and has shown promise in a broad range of applications, including alleviating the symptoms of arthritis, reducing inflammation, increasing bone density and improving skin health.

MSM is a naturally occurring compound and is also known as organic sulfur. It is found in varying concentrations in many fruits and vegetables, though it can be easily degraded by processing and cooking.

Each of my dogs receives 1g of MSM per day, and I personally take 3g most days. In most cases, MSM has few side effects, though in some people (and animals) it can result in stomach upset if too much is given at first.

5. Golden Paste

Golden paste is a preparation of turmeric that increases the bioavailability of the active compound, curcumin, which has proven in many studies to have numerous health promoting properties, such as reducing the incidence of cancer and heart disease and promoting joint health.

It is a potent anti-inflammatory and can alleviate the pain in arthritic joints, though it is best used as a preventative. I make my own at home every couple of weeks. If you decide to supplement your dog with golden paste, you should only give a tiny amount at first, until they develop a tolerance, or they may suffer from diarrhea.

When I started supplementation with golden paste, I gave each dog less than an eighth of a teaspoon. Gradually we’ve built up to half a teaspoon per day. I’ll write down the recipe I use for my golden paste in a separate post.

If you don’t have time to make this supplement yourself, another option is buying a curcumin supplement that is suitable for dogs. As with golden paste, however, be sure to gradually build up to the therapeutic dose, to avoid stomach upset.

6. Omega 3s

It’s long since been established that the powerful anti-inflammatory properties of omega 3 fatty acids can have a major positive impact on joint health, as well as reducing the risk of many other degenerative diseases.

I’ve supplemented Prince with a high quality fish oil from when he was a mere puppy. However, the blend of oils in the product I purchase has recently altered, and so the concentration of omega 3 fatty acids has dropped from 29% to 22%, and the proportion of DHA and EPA has dropped even further.

Therefore, in addition, I have started supplementing with an algae oil that contains a very high concentration of DHA and EPA, and linseed oil. Linseed oil contains a very high concentration of an omega 3 called alpha-Linolenic acid (ALA).

The reason why I don't just supplement with linseed oil alone is that ALA has to be converted in the body to EPA and DHA. This conversion in dogs and humans is very inefficient, so not much of it is converted. In dogs, around 10% of ALA gets converted to EPA, and less than 1% to DHA.

However, ALA has other benefits and linseed oil works out as a low cost, harmless booster nonetheless.

  • Yoto gets 10ml fish oil, 1ml algae oil and 5ml linseed oil

  • Prince gets 7.5ml fish oil, 1ml algae oil and 5ml linseed oil

What To Look For In A Fish Oil Supplement

When selecting a fish oil supplement for your dog, you should always look at the EPA and DHA content, rather than just paying attention to the overall omega 3 content. If this information is not readily available, you can email the supplier to request an analysis, as I did recently before buying mine.

Fish oil should be refrigerated and used within a month of opening, as omega 3 fatty acids are highly volatile and they go rancid in a short amount of time - this is also why you need to supplement with omega 3s, even if the brand of food you feed your dog claims to contain fish or fish oil.

On days when you give your dog fresh fish, it is not necessary to also supplement with fish oil. I have started giving the boys a portion of fresh fish, such as sprats, mackerel or herring, two to three times per week. Provided that the fish has been frozen for a couple of weeks, you don’t have to worry about the risk of parasites.

The Bottom Line: Prevention Is The Cure

If you want to give your dog the best life with the least amount of suffering, engaging in responsible practices for the sake of preventative joint care is essential. If you find it hard to motivate yourself to take action on this topic, consider the fact that your dog will almost certainly develop arthritis if they live long enough, and it is likely to cause them a great deal of suffering.

Ensuring your dog gets lots of low-impact exercise, is protected from hazards such as slippery floors, and is given appropriate foods and supplements that support and maintain optimal joint health, is imperative if you want to ensure that he or she enjoys the best possible quality of life until the end of their life.



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