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Joint Supplement Choice

When choosing a joint supplement, knowing your dog, researching and comparing supplement content and claims will serve dog owners very well in making the best choice. With careful management many dogs with impaired joint function can continue to have active lives.

Arthritis is one of the most common conditions of adult dogs, affecting approximately 20% of the entire dog population. It is even more common in large breed dogs, where up to 45% of dogs are affected.

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis seen in dogs. The wear and tear associated with aging can negatively affect the dog’s joint health over time and is one predisposing factor to the development of osteoarthritis. Additional predisposing factors include; obesity, joint dysplasia, joint trauma, joint infection, damage to joint supporting ligaments or autoimmune diseases.

Regardless of the cause, arthritis, which can initiate with mild signs, is insidious in nature and can reduce the quality of life for both pet and owner. Some signs of arthritis in dogs include: stiffness, shortened stride, swelling, limping, lameness (which the dog may warm out of), shorter walk duration, increased resting, reluctance to jump or reduced playful activity. Cats typically hide signs of illness or pain so often the first signs of arthritis in cats are reluctance to jumping to previously favourite perches.

Joints are strong, mobile areas of the skeleton, where two bones meet. The ends of each bone are covered with articular (joint) cartilage and the joint space is filled with synovial (joint) fluid. The cartilage acts as a cushion or shock absorber, while the synovial fluid acts as a lubricant.  Cartilage is created by chondrocytes, and composed of water bound to glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) and strong collagen connective tissue. The joint is surrounded by a tough fibrous tissue capsule (joint capsule) which isolates and holds the joint structure together. While cartilage is very resilient and tough, if damaged it cannot repair quickly. This is why joints are particularly prone to degeneration, when the repair required is outpaced by the damage accruing in the joint. The process of joint degeneration, leads to inflammation, which furthers degeneration and a cycle of deterioration ensues resulting in osteoarthritis.

For most owners the difficulty is not in suspecting joint disease in their dog, but in deciding what, if any interventions are appropriate for their pet. Clinical or prolonged unexplained lameness in your dog should always be investigated for underlying causes by a veterinary surgeon.

Expensive and cutting edge techniques such as, joint injections, biological anti-inflammatories and stem cell therapy and joint replacement surgery can be offered by your veterinary surgeon after extensive investigations.

Often however, particularly older dogs come to rely on anti-inflammatory treatments to disguise the pain of joint problems, enabling the dog to continue to have a reasonable quality of life. These anti-inflammatories however, do not redress the joint degeneration occurring.

Over the counter joint supplements are increasing in popularity, as an adjunct to veterinary therapeutics, as owner intervention, or as a preventative in young dogs with a predisposition to developing joint problems. The choices in this area of supplementation are vast, and owners do well to educate themselves on the various products offered and their composition.

Typically, joint supplements contain a number of ingredients such as: glucosamine, chondroitin sulphate, hyaluronic acid, MSM, green lipped mussel, Vitamin C or Omega 3. Further information on the function of these molecules is given below.


Glucosamine is a precursor to the disaccharide unit bound to glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). These disaccharide molecules are part of the core structure of cartilage and their absence limits the rate at which cartilage can be made by the body. Glucosamine absorption from the intestine is believed to be good in horses.

Chondroitin Sulphate

Chondroitin Sulphate is the primary glycosaminoglycan (GAG) found in joint cartilage. It is the central molecule giving structure go cartilage and contributing to cartilage’s cushioning function. Chondroitin sulphate, is derived from shark or bovine cartilage, and may be listed as “marine collagen” or “fish bone meal” in the composition section of a joint supplement.

Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic acid (HA) or hyaluronate, is a large molecule composed of a string of glucosamine molecules bound together, which attract and bind water.  Hyaluronic acid is present in joint cartilage and is particularly concentrated synovial (joint) fluid, where it functions to lubricate the joint.


MSM is a source of sulphur, used in disulphide bonds. Disulphide bonds cross link collagen strands, adding strength to cartilage. Sulphur is also required for the body’s production of chondroitin sulphate.

Green Lipped Mussel

Green Lipped Mussel (Perna canaliculus) is an edible shellfish powder from New Zealand that is a rich source of chondroitin, glucosamine and omega 3 essential fatty acid.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is essential to collagen and cartilage formation, it is also an antioxidant which functions to inactivate free radicals

Omega 3

Omega 3 is an essential fatty acids (EFAs), found in fish oil, linseed oil, green lipped mussel and Foran Petcares Top oil. The Omega 3 EFAs, are generally valued for their anti-inflammatory effects when taken in the diet. Human studies have shown an improvement in arthritis when Omega 3 supplements were taken.

When choosing a joint supplement, knowing your dog and it’s condition, doing your research and maintaining a healthy scepticism on product claims, will serve you very well. Take time to compare the ingredients of each product, the concentration included and the recommended daily allowance. Investigate the claims made in relation to the ingredients listed on the product.

With careful management of weight, exercise level and predisposing conditions many dogs with impaired joints can continue to enjoy and active and pain free life.