Glucosamine for Dogs: A Vet’s Guide to Joint Supplements for Seniors

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Thanks to advancements in pet food quality and access to veterinary health care, our pets are living longer and healthier than ever. With longevity, however, come increases in chronic degenerative conditions related to aging and genetics. Joint problems are high on this list.

As a vet, I encounter many pet owners wondering how they can slow this age-related joint damage in their dogs. This leads to questions about glucosamine for dogs as along with other joint health supplements. If you’re considering giving glucosamine to your dog, here’s what you need to know first.

Joint Pain in Dogs

While aging is a condition, not a disease, it carries with it a higher risk of health problems.  Even before arthritis develops, joint pain and stiffness is a common concern for aging dogs, especially in larger breeds.

Why does this happen? Well, it’s the same for dogs as it is for humans. As our bodies age, we lose the natural ability to make healthy cartilage and thus, incur damage to our joints.

Thankfully, key nutrients that aging bodies once produced naturally are now available in supplement form to support and rebuild joints. This is where glucosamine comes in. Another popular joint health supplement, chondroitin, works in much the same way.

What Are Glucosamine and Chondroitin?

Glucosamine hydrochloride is an amino sugar produced in the body naturally. It’s a building block of the cartilage matrix used to stimulate the growth of cartilage cells.

Glycosaminoglycan, or GAG, are a group of polysaccharides and amino compounds found in connective tissue, such as cartilage. In theory and practice, supplementation with glucosamine could stimulate new GAG production.

Chondroitin sulfate is a sulfated GAG found in the joints, tendons, ligaments, skin, and blood vessels. It is the major GAG and gives cartilage its resilience.

When supplemented in the food, both glucosamine and/or chondroitin are considered nutraceuticals that are chondroprotective. This means they are food supplements that provide a health benefit to protect joints and cartilage.

Glucosamine and Chondroitin: The Science

Together, glucosamine and chondroitin may repair joints and promote healthy cartilage, which should relieve arthritic pain.

Chondroitin promotes water retention and elasticity in the cartilage. This helps with absorbing shock and providing nourishment to the joint lining. It also inhibits destructive enzymes in joint fluid and cartilage, reduces clots in the small vessels, and stimulates the production of GAGs and proteoglycans in the joint cartilage.

Cartilage cells use glucosamine to produce GAGs and hyaluronan. Glucosamine also regulates the synthesis of collagen and proteoglycans in cartilage and has mild anti-inflammatory effects because it can scavenge free radicals. These cells can use supplemented glucosamine in the same manner as naturally produced glucosamine.

Taken together, these mechanisms are beneficial to the joints and can cause increased joint flexibility and mobility.

Should my Dog take Glucosamine?

Look for the following symptoms in your dog before giving joint health supplements.

  • Joint stiffness
  • Reluctance to jump or climb stairs
  • Being slow to rise or walk

If these symptoms occur and increase, it’s a good time to ask your veterinarian about using these supplements. (And rule out anything more serious.)

Do Dog Joint Supplements Really Help?

A randomized, double-blind study performed in 35 pet dogs showed that supplementation with glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate had a positive clinical effect in dogs with osteoarthritis.¹ Thus, it could be beneficial in dogs with this condition.

Even young dogs that are not showing signs of arthritis or joint pain can take supplements to maintain healthy joints. This is more of a preventative measure for dogs predisposed to certain joint diseases and can be used early to prevent or delay damage.

Dogs that have recently undergone surgery may also benefit from these supplements in addition to other prescribed pain medication.

If your dog has bone-on-bone arthritis, determined by your veterinarian, then supplements won’t do much for that joint.

They can, however, still be used to protect other joints that aren’t as severely damaged, and slow down damage to joints that aren’t yet affected.

Glucosamine Dosage for Dogs

It’s important to go by the recommended dosage by body weight for your dog when using supplements. This information should be provided on the product label.

It will take at least 2-3 weeks for you to notice if these products are improving your dog’s condition. The following dosages were not evaluated by the FDA but have been used in the adjunctive treatment of chronic pain conditions:

Anecdotal recommendations

  • 15-30 mg/kg/day based on the chondroitin ingredient
  • After 4-6 weeks, 7.5-15 mg/kg every other day if improvement is seen

Giving your dog glucosamine supplements for the entirety of their life could provide health and well-being benefits related to mobility.

If you stop giving your dog glucosamine, you will notice stiffness and reluctance to be move within a few weeks of stopping.

It’s important not to switch products while supplementing before you’ve seen an effect, as there are differences in concentration and formulas between manufacturers.

Best Glucosamine for Dogs

Some of the best products combine these chondroprotective agents. That means that the best glucosamine supplements also contain chondroitin.

Some top recommended products for dog joint health include:

Many of these products come in different forms like chews, tablets, and liquid so you have options in how you can supplement your dog’s diet depending on their preferences.

Safety Tips

  • If you’re giving these supplements in treats, watch out for the added calories. Some of these treats will need to be fed in large quantities to get the right dosage.
  • Avoid supplements sourced from shark cartilage. These pose an integrity risk to our oceans and are no more beneficial than bovine cartilage sources.
  • Never use human glucosamine and chondroitin supplements for your dogs.

Side Effects of Glucosamine and Chondroitin for Dogs

These supplements are well-tolerated in dogs and side effects are minimal. Mild GI effects (soft stool or gas) may occur but are unlikely.

We’ve covered that glucosamine and chondroitin are nutritional supplements that are relatively safe and with regular administration, may help improve your dog’s activity level, health, and overall well-being.

Starting your dog on a healthy supplementation regimen should have her or him jumping and playful again, ready to go on your daily walks.

Further Reading

Sources used to inform this article:

1. McCarthy G, O’Donovan J, Jones B, et al. Randomised double-blind, positive-controlled trial to assess the efficacy of glucosamine/chondroitin sulfate for the treatment of dogs with osteoarthritis. Vet J 2007 174(1):54-61.
2. Plumb, Donald C. “Plumb’s Veterinary Drug Handbook, 9th Edition.” Plumb’s Veterinary Drugs, Wile-Blackwell, 2018, www.plumbsveterinarydrugs.com/#!/home.
3. Wooten, Sarah J. “Joint Supplements for Dogs: The Helpful vs. the Hype.” DVM 360, 16 June 2017, veterinarymedicine.dvm360.com/joint-supplements-dogs-helpful-vs-hype.

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