Arthritis is the most common chronic disease affecting pets. The condition can cause significant pain and mobility issues, and negatively impact your pet’s quality of life. While no arthritis cure exists, joint supplements can help manage the condition. Our Groves Veterinary Clinic team wants to help by providing information about what joint supplements are available and how these products work, so you can determine if your pet can benefit.

Pet arthritis overview

Many pets will suffer some type of arthritis in their lifetime—studies estimate that as many as 80% of senior dogs and 90% of senior cats are affected, and young pets can also suffer from the disease. The most common arthritis type is osteoarthritis, a degenerative disease that causes the cartilage that cushions the joints to slowly break down, leading to inflammation, pain, and decreased mobility. Pets tend to hide vulnerabilities, and osteoarthritis signs aren’t always obvious. Potential indicators include:

  • Slowing down — Affected pets may become less active, and while many owners think this is a normal part of aging, the slowdown could indicate the pet has joint pain.
  • Stiffness — Arthritic pets may exhibit stiffness, especially after sitting or lying down for an extended period.
  • New resting area — A pet who has difficulty accessing high resting areas may look for a more accessible napping place.
  • Behavior change— Affected pets may exhibit uncharacteristic irritability, especially when handled or while interacting with other pets.
  • Muscle loss — Muscle loss may occur over an arthritic pet’s hind limbs. 

Potentially helpful pet joint supplements

Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease, but when detected early and addressed appropriately, the joint inflammation and pain can be managed and your pet’s quality of life improved. Treatments include weight management, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), rehabilitation exercises, alternative therapies, and joint supplements. Potentially helpful pet joint supplements include:

  • Glucosamine hydrochloride — Glucosamine hydrochloride is a naturally occurring amino sugar that is a building block of the cartilage matrix and helps stimulate cartilage cell growth. A loading dose is necessary for four to six weeks for glucosamine hydrochloride to reach therapeutic levels, and NSAIDs may be helpful during this time to control your pet’s pain. 
  • Chondroitin sulfate — Chondroitin sulfate inhibits cartilage-destroying enzymes and is often used in conjunction with glucosamine hydrochloride to reduce pain, improve joint function and mobility, and slow arthritis progression. Similar to glucosamine hydrochloride, chondroitin sulfate requires a loading dose to reach therapeutic levels, so these products should be started as early as possible in high risk pets, such as large-breed dogs and pets predisposed to developmental conditions. Many treats contain glucosamine and chondroitin, but not in high enough amounts to reach therapeutic levels without feeding an excessive amount. Ensure you read labels carefully before investing in these products.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids — Omega-6 fatty acids are structural components of cell membranes that produce proinflammatory substances, such as prostaglandins and leukotrienes, during some biochemical processes. Omega-3 fatty acids, such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), infiltrate the cell membrane and inhibit these inflammatory pathways. 
    • DHA and EPA can be found in cold water fish oils, and they improve joint pain and function in arthritic pets.
    • EPA and DHA supplementation can also benefit pets affected by other conditions such as skin problems, renal insufficiency, and heart failure. While many maintenance diets contain omega-3 fatty acids, these amounts are not high enough to treat arthritic joints. Supplementation is needed to reach therapeutic levels. 
    • Alpha linolenic acid (ALA) is another omega-3 fatty acid found in flaxseed oil. People can readily convert ALA to DHA, but pets don’t have this capability, so flaxseed oil is not a sufficient DHA source for pets.
  • Green lipped mussels — An extract derived from New Zealand green lipped mussels contains nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids, amino acids, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, with natural anti-inflammatory and joint-protecting properties. Supplementation can help decrease joint pain and preserve joint function, especially when used in conjunction with glucosamine and chondroitin. 
  • Avocado soybean unsaponifiables (ASUs) — ASUs are vegetable extracts made from avocado and soybean fruits and seeds. These supplements stimulate proteoglycan and collagen synthesis to restore normal cartilage structure. Studies show that ASU efficacy is similar to NSAIDs, but they have a delayed onset similar to glucosamine and chondroitin. 

Pet supplement product evaluation

Pet supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which means they don’t have to prove safety or efficacy. Tips to help ensure you choose an appropriate product for your pet include:

  • Ingredients — Read the label to ensure the product contains scientifically proven levels of key ingredients. Our veterinary professionals can gladly recommend effective and safe products.
  • Concentration — Ensure the ingredient concentration is high enough to attain therapeutic levels without needing to administer excessive amounts.
  • Palatability — Ensure your pet will eat the product—if not, the product won’t help alleviate your pet’s joint pain.

Joint supplements are a great addition to help with your pet’s arthritis management. These products can decrease joint pain, increase joint function, and decrease your pet’s need for NSAIDs, which have harmful side effects. If your pet suffers from arthritis, contact our Groves Veterinary Clinic team, so we can help you determine the joint supplements that can most benefit your pet.