Did you know that 1 out of 4 dogs suffers from arthritis? Arthritis isn’t always the result of old age either. One review found that osteoarthritis exists in 20% of dogs over 1 year old … and is likely “heavily underestimated.” (1)
So it’s never too soon to think about your dog’s joint health ... or natural joint supplements for dogs.
Before I get to that, let’s take a quick look at what causes arthritis and joint pain in dogs.
What Causes Joint Problems In Dogs?
The two main types of joint problems in dogs are developmental and degenerative.
Developmental joint disease includes:
Degenerative joint disease is usually seen as osteoarthritis. Degenerative joint disease can also get worse with age if you don’t treat it.
Both developmental and degenerative joint disease involve inflammation. This isn’t necessarily bad. Swelling and pain aren’t pleasant, but they’re part of the body’s attempt to heal from injury and wear and tear. Inflammation is how the body sends antibodies and white blood cells to promote healing.
But if inflammation goes unchecked for weeks, months or even years, it can add to your dog’s joint issues.
How Inflammation Leads To Joint Disease
A thin layer of cartilage lines your dog’s joints and produces a fluid that lubricates the joint. This helps the joints move and function without any friction or pain. Over time, antibodies from chronic inflammation will begin to attack the joint lining … and ironically, cause the joint disease they’re supposed to protect against.
And that’s when you’ll start to see the symptoms of joint disease in your dog. But before you go to the vet for pain meds, you’ll want to read this next bit …
The Trouble With NSAIDs For Joint Pain
NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories) are drugs your vet might prescribe for your dog. These drugs (including Rimadyl (aka carprofen), Metacam, Deramaxx and Previcox), are also called cox-2 inhibitors. This means they work by inhibiting the inflammatory process … which happens through something called a cyclooxygenase pathway (COX).
The COX pathways are important for many body functions including:
- Blood vessel constriction and blood clotting
- Stomach acid production and mucus lining
- Blood flow to the kidneys
- Inflammatory response
So controlling inflammation with NSAIDs can cause issues in other parts of the body. Boehringer Ingelheim, the makers of Metacam explain,
“As a class, cyclooxygenase inhibitory NSAIDs may be associated with gastrointestinal (gut), renal (kidney), hepatic (liver) toxicity. Serious adverse reactions associated with this drug class can occur without warning and in rare situations result in death.”
And in case you’re looking for another reason to avoid NSAIDs, here’s a good one …
… NSAIDs can make your dog’s joint pain worse.
Dr Ross Hauser MD, a prolotherapy doctor who focuses on pain and rehabilitation, wrote in a paper published in The Journal Of Prolotherapy (4) …
“It is clear from the scientific literature that NSAIDs from in vitro and in vivo studies in both animals and humans have a significantly negative effect on cartilage matrix which causes an acceleration of the deterioration of articular cartilage in osteoarthritic joints. The preponderance of evidence shows that NSAIDs have no beneficial effect on articular cartilage in OA and accelerate the very disease for which they are most often used and prescribed.”Ross Hauser MD
Simply stated, that means the risks of using NSAIDs outweigh the benefits … especially when there are natural alternatives that are just as effective. So let’s take a look at natural joint supplements for dogs.
Best Natural Joint Supplements For Dogs
There are tons of great hip and joint supplements that you can give to your dog. They will help reduce inflammation and pain so your dog can feel more comfortable. And you don’t have to worry about the side effects of harmful NSAIDs.
Here are our top 6 joint supplements for dogs.
1. Green Lipped Mussels (GLM)
Green lipped mussels (Perna canaliculus) come from pristine waters off the coast of New Zealand. They contain natural glucosamine, which can help repair joint damage, managing pain and inflammation.
Glucosamine is in many joint supplements … but it’s often synthetically made. This means your dog’s body may not “recognize” the substance. So he may not absorb it properly and then it won’t help him. Instead, natural sources of glucosamine like GLM can really improve your dog’s joint health. And unlike many other supplements, there’s been some research on GLM specifically in dogs.
GLM Research In Dogs
One study showed GLM powder significantly improved dogs’ joint pain, swelling and crepitus (crunching or cracking). In fact, GLM manage inflammation as well as NSAIDs. But they don’t have the harmful side effects of NSAIDs. (5)
The study concluded that whole freeze-dried GLM powder “may act synergistically to reduce inflammation and pain, to limit further cartilage degeneration.” The researchers also suggest GLM may help regenerate damaged cartilage and synovial fluid.
They also found an additional benefit: GLM can reduce gastrointestinal irritation from long term use of NSAIDs.
A Finnish study at University of Helsinki compared GLM to carprofen for dogs (6). The researchers found it was an effective alternative to manage arthritis, without the drug’s harmful side effects.
Fatty Acids In GLM
GLM contain the fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexanoic acid). These two fatty acids help manage inflammation. Even though EPA and DHA are in fish oil … fish oil is unstable and can turn rancid very quickly. Rancid fish oil is worse than no fish oil. So GLM offers a safer and more convenient source of these fatty acids.
Giving Your Dog GLM
First, verify you’re buying the right supplement. Not every GLM supplement has EPA and DHA. That’s because some companies remove them to sell the omega-3 oil separately. Always check the nutritional analysis of the product you buy. It should contain a minimum of 6% fatty acids.
You also want to make sure your GLM powder is cold extracted (freeze dried). Heat destroys nutrients so don’t buy a dehydrated product.
Give your dog 200 mg per day for every 10 lbs of body weight.
2. Natural Eggshell Membrane (NEM)
Everyone knows what a nutritional powerhouse the egg is. But did you know eggs also contain a valuable joint support substance? That substance is Natural Eggshell Membrane or NEM®.
It’s the thin membrane that’s on the inside of an eggshell. You can even peel the membrane off the shell yourself to give to your dog. But that’s a lot of work. So you might want to buy NEM® as a supplement instead!
In a 6-week trial on 51 dogs, researchers found pain improved 23.6% compared to placebo. Quality of life improved 26.8%. The study also assessed serum levels of the cartilage degradation biomarker CTX-II. This improved 47.9% in the dogs who got NEM®.
Giving Your Dog NEM®
Make sure the eggshell membrane you buy carries the NEM® registered trademark. Give your dog 60mg per 10 lbs of body weight a day.
Turmeric is one of the most researched herbs available today … and a ton of that research has focused on joint pain relief. The key constituent of turmeric is curcumin, also known as “Cure-cumin” because of its long list of amazing benefits. Not only does it decrease inflammation, it can also relieve the pain and stiffness.
In many studies (9), turmeric has outperformed:
- Anti-inflammatory drugs
- Pain killers
- Arthritis medication
Giving Your Dog Turmeric
To give turmeric to your dog , add it to his food. Give 1/8 to 1/4 tsp per day per 10 lbs of your dog’s body weight. Make sure you find organic turmeric. You can also buy a turmeric joint supplement and add it to your dog’s food. Just be sure to follow the directions on the label.
A word of caution: some dogs who are “hot” (seek out cool places to lie) may not do well with turmeric because it’s “warming.”
4. CBD Oil
CBD oil comes from the cannabis plant. Unlike marijuana though, which contains high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD oil must have a THC content of 0.3 percent or less, so it won’t make your dog high … but it can give him some major pain relief.
The cannabis plant contains many different chemicals, including CBD oil. Humans and dogs have specific cannabinoid receptor sites in the body, and when you feed these receptors there are major benefits.
Many cannabinoids, including CBD oil, have anti-inflammatory effects. Studies (10) have found that CBD oil can:
- Decrease chronic inflammation
- Reduce pain
- Stop premature aging due to oxidative stress
Giving Your Dog CBD
Buy a full spectrum CBD oil and use a 500 mg or 1000 mg strength.
How much should you give your dog? Every product is different. And indiviual dogs have different cannabinoid receptors so their response can vary. So, in general … follow the manufacturer’s dosing instructions. But always start out at the lower end and build up gradually until you find the dose that works for your dog.
When some algae get stressed they release a powerful antioxidant called astaxanthin. Astaxanthin (red algae) is a red pigment and animals who eat it actually turn pink. Salmon and shrimp would be a different color if they didn’t eat astaxanthin. And flamingos are born with grey feathers. They don’t actually turn pink until they start eating algae and crustaceans.
It’s one of the most popular natural joint supplements for dogs because it relieves pain and inflammation and cleans the cells in the body. It actually blocks and handles several different chemicals that create pain (11).
It’s also great for heart health, cancer prevention, immune system health and slowing the aging process.
Giving Your Dog Astaxanthin
If you buy an astaxanthin supplement for dogs, follow the directions on the label. If you buy one made for people, assume the dosage is for a 150 lb person and adjust for your dog’s weight. For example, many human astaxanthin supplements recommend 8 mg to 12 mg per day, which means you can give your dog 1 mg to 1.6 mg daily per 20 lbs of body weight.
Chondroitin is the major glycosaminoglycan in cartilage. You’ll often find supplements with both glucosamine and chondroitin for double the effect. Chondroitin may:
- Inhibit destructive enzymes in joint fluid and cartilage
- Help the body repair damaged cartilage and
- Restore joint integrity
- Help with shock absorption
- Protect existing cartilage from premature breakdown
- Keep cartilage tissue hydrated
Giving Your Dog Chondroitin
You can find chondroitin at your local health food store. You want one that’s made from the cartilage of animal bones. Avoid products made from synthetic ingredients. To give it to your dog, assume the dosage is for a 150lb human and adjust according to your dog’s weight.
How To Ease Your Dog’s Joint Pain
Natural joint supplements for dogs are a great step to take. Here are some other things you can do to help relieve the pain and inflammation:
Switch To A Raw Diet
Carbs are high-glycemic index foods that fuel the production of advanced glycation end (AGE) products. When manufacturers process food, AGEs form. When your dog eats processed foods (kibble), AGEs get released into the body and cause inflammation. A fresh, whole-food diet without the inflammatory agents in kibble will help protect your dog’s joints from disease. Foods with antioxidants will also help combat the oxidative stress that causes inflammation.
Keep Him At A Healthy Weight
If your dog is carrying more weight than he should be, that can put extra pressure on his joints. Keeping his weight controlled will reduce the strain on his joints and can also decrease joint inflammation caused by fat.
Research at Purdue University (12) showed that vaccines can create antibodies that destroy your dog’s collagen, the tissue that keeps joints stable. Collagen makes up over 70% of your dog’s muscles, tendons, ligaments and other joint supporting tissues. When it breaks down, your dog’s joints can’t handle movement as well and the muscles and tissues become brittle. This leads to inflammation, pain and eventually joint disease.
Regular exercise will tone the muscles around the joint, support the joint and keep the joint fluid viscous. Better muscle mass and muscle function can protect your dog’s joints, so you want to make sure you keep up the exercise. Research in humans shows that exercise significantly reduces pain and improves function, performance and quality of life in osteoarthritis patients (13). If your dog’s in pain, try to a few short walks a day, rather than one long one. If you can, take your dog swimming for exercise since it relieves stress on the joints.
These drugs work by blocking inflammatory mediators. So they’ll reduce your dog’s pain … but they also limit his body’s ability to heal itself. As described earlier, NSAIDs cause the breakdown of cartilage that your dog’s joints needs to be healthy, so they can actually make the joint issues worse (4). They’re also known to have serious adverse reactions, including digestive, kidney and liver problems.
If arthritis or joint pain is stopping your dog from enjoying the things he loves, it’s time to give him the relief he needs. These natural joint supplements and valuable tips will really help.
- KL Anderson et al. Risk Factors for Canine Osteoarthritis and Its Predisposing Arthropathies: A Systematic Review. Front. Vet. Sci., 28 April 2020
- Selman J, Towle Millard H. Hypertrophic osteodystrophy in dogs: diagnosis and treatment. J Small Anim Pract. 2021 Sep 7.
- Berzon JL. Osteochondritis dissecans in the dog: diagnosis and therapy. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 1979 Oct 15;175(8):796-9.
- Ross Hauser MD. The Acceleration of Articular Cartilage Degeneration in Osteoarthritis by Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs. Journal of Prolotherapy Vol 2, issue 1, February 2010.
- Tiffany Linn Bierer, Linh M. Bui, Improvement of Arthritic Signs in Dogs Fed Green-Lipped Mussel (Perna canaliculus), The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 132, Issue 6, June 2002, Pages 1634S–1636S.
- Hielm-Björkman A, Tulamo RM, Salonen H, Raekallio M. Evaluating Complementary Therapies for Canine Osteoarthritis Part I: Green-lipped Mussel (Perna canaliculus). Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2009;6(3):365-373. doi:10.1093/ecam/nem136
- Ruff KJ, DeVore DP, Leu MD, Robinson MA. Eggshell membrane: a possible new natural therapeutic for joint and connective tissue disorders. Results from two open-label human clinical studies. Clin Interv Aging. 2009;4:235-240.
- Ruff KJ et al. Effectiveness of NEM® brand eggshell membrane in the treatment of suboptimal joint function in dogs: a multicenter, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Vet Med (Auckl). 2016;7:113-121. Published 2016 Aug 18.
- Goel A, Kunnumakkara AB, Aggarwal BB. Curcumin as “Curecumin”: From kitchen to clinic. Biochem Pharmacol. 2008 Feb 15;75(4):787-809
- Formukong EA, Evans AT, Evans FJ. Analgesic and antiinflammatory activity of constituents of Cannabis sativa L. Inflammation. 1988 Aug;12(4):361-71.
- Kumar, A., Dhaliwal, N., Dhaliwal, J. et al. Astaxanthin attenuates oxidative stress and inflammatory responses in complete Freund-adjuvant-induced arthritis in rats. Pharmacol. Rep 72, 104–114 (2020).
- Hogenesch H, Azcona-Olivera J, Scott-Moncrieff C, et al. Vaccine-induced autoimmunity in the dog. Adv Vet Med 1999;41:733–47.
- Goh S et al. Efficacy and potential determinants of exercise therapy in knee and hip osteoarthritis: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Ann Phys Rehabil Med. 2019 Sep;62(5):356-365.