Joint supplements for dogs: how they can help with arthritis in dogs and support conditions like dog hip dysplasia

Joint supplements for dogs

Joint supplements for dogs, also called chondroprotectants, and special diets tailored to joint health contain a variety of ingredients to provide cartilage and muscle support by helping to rebuild cartilage, reduce inflammation, and in some cases help with your dog’s healing. Before digging into these joint superheros like glucosamine for dogs, let’s talk about a few common conditions that might necessitate their usage.

Arthritis in dogs

Arthritis in dogs, otherwise known as osteoarthritis, is a degenerative joint disease. This means that there is a progressive and irreversible change in the joint cartilage, which is the protective material that cushions the bones within joints. With time, the loss of protective cartilage leads to the bones rubbing directly on each other in the joint. This causes inflammation, exposed nerve endings on the bones, scarring of the connective tissue, and bony growths that overall cause pain and discomfort for your dog. 

Osteoarthritis is a vicious cycle because once it gets rolling, inflammation releases destructive enzymes that break down cartilage even more. Arthritis in dogs is an irreversible condition that affects approximately 60% of dogs within their lifetime. It is estimated that only 25% of dogs are diagnosed with arthritis in their lifetime, and 60% have evidence of osteoarthritis if radiographed (ie. if X-rays are taken).

Main risk factors for the development of arthritis in dogs

There are two main causes of osteoarthritis: primary and secondary. Primary osteoarthritis is usually associated with aging. It is a disease of older dogs that arises from years of wear and tear on their joints, causing the cartilage to slowly deteriorate. From daily zoomies to frisbee and fetch – all activities can play a role on your dog’s joints over time.

Secondary osteoarthritis is usually associated with extra stress or strain on joints that is not simply due to aging. Some of the more common examples of this type of arthritis in dogs include:

Overweight or obese dogs: additional weight causes additional strain on dog joints. The joints are not made to support the added weight over a long period of time, leading to the cartilage deteriorating faster than in patients with a healthy body weight. This is why ensuring your dog’s ideal body condition score is maintained is so important, and also why you’ll see one of these body condition score guides in nearly every veterinary clinic.

Infographic: body condition score guides

Abnormal joint conformation: when a pet has a diseased joint like dog hip dysplasia, has experienced fractures, significant trauma, or severe soft tissue damage (cranial cruciate ligament rupture), the joint is no longer working in the way it was designed. Because of this, abnormal joints undergo excess wear of their cartilage.

Signs of arthritis in dogs

Symptoms of osteoarthritis in pets are often vague, and are commonly mistaken as dogs just “getting older”. Essentially, dogs with osteoarthritis demonstrate signs consistent with being painful or uncomfortable and can show up in your dog as:

  • Decreased activity or energy levels: not as rambunctious on walks
  • Lower appetite: they do not finish their meals like usual
  • Less willing to go up/down stairs: hesitant to jump into the car
  • Intermittent lameness: shifting or adjusting their weight on various limbs

Lameness from arthritis in dogs can be exacerbated by exercise, long periods of laying down, or cold weather. It often improves as the dog warms up with some activity, like once they’ve taken a few steps after a long snooze.

All in all, dogs can develop any number of joint diseases. Some of these diseases are more likely to occur as they age, and others can happen when they are young. So far we have talked about arthritis in dogs, one of the most common degenerative joint diseases. Degenerative joint diseases occur as a result of gradual deterioration of the cartilage of the joint with age, and factors like obesity can hugely impact its progression. 

Next up, we’ll dig into one of the most common developmental joint diseases or congenital joint disorders: hip dysplasia in dogs. Developmental joint diseases occur due to an abnormal (or poor/unusual) conformation and often have a genetic component, meaning they are inherited from the parents. Examples of this would be hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, or even extra toes (called polydactyl).

Hip dysplasia in dogs

Dog hip dysplasia is a common condition of large breed dogs in particular that results from the abnormal growth, or development of their hips. With time, these gentle giants can also develop secondary osteoarthritis alongside their hip dysplasia.

Remember, hip dysplasia in dogs can be congenital, meaning even young pups can be affected. In certain puppies as they grow, the ball of their femur and the socket of their pelvis don’t fit together nice smoothly as they should. Typically the hip socket is too flat, so the ball isn’t held securely enough within its socket. This leads to slipping of the femur and an unstable hip joint. Because of this joint instability, as the puppy grows it leads to abnormal hip joint development, or hip dysplasia in dogs. The abnormality eventually overloads the cartilage (the cushion protecting the bone) causing multiple small fractures and early osteoarthritis to develop.

Which breeds are at higher risk of developing dog hip dysplasia?

Dog hip dysplasia can happen in any breed, however it is much more common in large breed dogs. The most common breeds diagnosed with hip dysplasia include Saint Bernards, German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers, Dogue de Bordezus, Neapolitan Mastiffs, and Newfoundlands. 

While some large and giant dog breeds are more likely to develop dog hip dysplasia, a big deciding factor in whether or not the disease presents itself is if there is rapid weight gain as a puppy. Therefore, it is more likely to happen in large or giant breed puppies that undergo rapid weight gain, or are overweight or obese. Hip dysplasia is considered a disease caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Signs of hip dysplasia in dogs

Like those with arthritis, dogs with hip dysplasia can show a range of symptoms based on how long the disease has been present, and how severe it is. In very severe cases, early symptoms of dog hip dysplasia can show up as early as 3-4 months of age. These dogs can look like they are bunny hopping when running or having a swaying backend gait. As hip dysplasia in dogs progresses and secondary osteoarthritis develops, dogs can once again develop signs of appearing uncomfortable or painful like discussed above.

When should I take my dog to the veterinarian?

If your dog is showing symptoms of dog hip dysplasia, arthritis, or really any signs of pain or discomfort, it’s a great time to go have a chat with your family veterinarian. They are trained to assess each and every joint and help pick out signs of pain. Until your pet sees the vet, do not give them any human pain medications. Dogs metabolize drugs completely differently than humans and cannot tolerate many of the medications we take. You can make your dog very sick quick, so leave medication administration to the experts.

Once your veterinarian has examined your dog and taken a thorough history of what you have been noticing at home, they may suggest some additional tests like radiographs or bloodwork. If pain or discomfort is identified they will want to confirm their suspicion of possible joint pain, or rule out other diseases that may look similar to osteoarthritis or dog hip dysplasia in order to come up with the best treatment plan. 

In the case of joint pain due to hip dysplasia or arthritis in dogs, early diagnosis and intervention will ensure that your dog is as comfortable as possible with the best quality of life. For example, in certain early cases of hip dysplasia, surgery may be an option which could help preserve the function of the joint and delay the onset of osteoarthritis.

Your veterinarian will work with you to come up with a multimodal treatment plan, or make treatment suggestions based on their findings. This is where joint supplements for dogs might come in handy.

Joint supplements for dogs:

Joint pain due to osteoarthritis and hip dysplasia in dogs are treated using multimodal management. This approach to pain management involves using a handful of different types of therapies together in order to optimize treatment and overall, decrease pain and discomfort. Just like how we curate our Waggle Mail boxes specifically to each dog’s unique needs, your vet will tailor a treatment plan specific to your pup. Treatment plans for joint pain can include physical therapy, weight management, pain relievers, surgery, or joint supplements.

It is important to note that joint supplements for dogs can take a few weeks to months before an improvement is noted. There are many veterinary joint supplements on the market along with over-the-counter supplements that are poorly regulated. Your veterinarian is the best source of information on which supplement they trust and would recommend for your dog. Here are our top 5 categories of joint supplements for dogs, along with our veterinary founder’s favourite product picks that are often included within our vet-curated Waggle Mail boxes when indicated:

1. Glucosamine for dogs

Glucosamine hydrochloride and chondroitin sulfate are two superstar ingredients that make up part of the cartilage protecting our bones. Think of them as building blocks for cartilage. By taking these two ingredients by mouth, your dog’s body can then use them to repair and rebuild damaged cartilage while also having some anti-inflammatory benefits. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfates are extracted from sea mollusks, shark skeleton, cattle and chicken bones. They are considered nutritional supplements and are well-accepted as part of arthritis management.

Usually an initial higher dose is given for the first month or so and then a lower maintenance dose thereafter. The dosage depends on the brand of supplement chosen because of differing concentrations of the above ingredients. You should use the chosen supplement for a minimum of 4-6 weeks to see whether a positive response is seen.

Our top product pick(s) are:

2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids (EPA and DHA)

Omega-3 fatty acids are becoming quite a popular addition to dog’s daily meals as they are proving to be effective in reducing the production of inflammatory factors. They can help in the management of arthritis in dogs, particularly if they are derived from cold water marine mammal sources (instead of plant sources). 

Our top product pick is:

3. Methyl sulfonyl methane (MSM)

MSM is considered an anti-inflammatory ingredient, along with green tea extract, turmeric, avocado/unsaponifiables, bromelain, and boswellia extract.

Our top product pick(s) are:

4. Vitamin C & Vitamin E

These vitamins act as antioxidants and free radical scavengers, meaning they help remove destructive cells from your dog’s body. S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAM), and asthaxanthin also fit within this category.

5. CBD Oil for dogs

The potential benefits of cannabis products like CBD oil for dogs are vast, so much so that we wrote a whole blog on the topic here.

There are a lot of additional joint supplements for dogs that can help play unique roles, like hyaluronic acid for lubrication and creatinine for improving muscle strength. Ultimately the goal is to alleviate your dog’s discomfort, or better yet – minimize arthritic changes from happening in the first place.

What can you do to help prevent joint disease?

At Waggle Mail we are passionate about preventative health and wellness and there are a few steps you can take to reduce the risk or the severity of dog hip dysplasia or osteoarthritis in your precious pup. 

  • Regularly visit your veterinarian: this helps catch things early giving you more options
  • Keep your dog at a healthy weight: an ideal body condition score is imperative
  • Feed your dog an age-appropriate diet: properly formulated diets with AAFCO standards. Avoid pushing large dogs to grow faster and larger with added protein and calcium.
  • Use reputable breeders if shopping vs. adopting for your next dog: they have their adult dogs undergo genetic screening or radiographs to ensure they have a lower risk of certain diseases, such as dog hip dysplasia. 
  • Discuss with your vet when to spay/neuter: In some studies, early spaying or neutering in large/giant breed dogs before 5.5 months of age may slightly increase the risk of developing hip dysplasia. This is why in certain cases, it may be beneficial to wait until your dog is an adult before spaying or neutering. 

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