I am not a big fan of nutritional supplements. As long as a dog is eating an appropriate amount of a nutritionally complete dog food that is made from high quality ingredients, supplementation shouldn’t be necessary. I also question whether many supplements actually deliver what they advertise, both in terms of the ingredients listed on the label and their ability to improve a dog’s wellbeing. More often than not, I’m afraid that supplements are a waste of money that would be better spent improving the overall quality of a dog’s diet.
There are a few times, however, when supplements are beneficial. One example is in the management of canine degenerative joint disease (otherwise known as osteoarthritis or simply arthritis). Enough practical experience and scientific evidence is available to make recommending some types of nutritional supplements aimed at improving joint health standard.
Fairly solid evidence exists supporting the positive effect of the following:
- a combination of chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine hydrochloride, and manganese ascorbate
- Avocado/Soybean Unsaponifiables (ASU)
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids
- green-lipped mussels
- polysulfated glycosaminoglycans
- P54FP (an extract of turmeric)
- injectable pentosan polysulphate (available from compounding pharmacies)
Wonderful, you might be thinking, where do I buy a product that includes all of those ingredients and nothing else? There’s the rub. Each joint supplement on the market contains its own blend of ingredients. Some may have several of the above, others a different combination or only a single ingredient with or without the addition of other things of questionable value. And that’s not all. Quality control in the supplement market can be less than ideal, so even if the label states that a particular ingredient is included at a particular dose, consumers may still have reason to question the product’s composition. Finally, a lot of individual variation exists in patient response to joint supplements (and medications in general). What works best for one dog may be ineffectual in another.
In an attempt to deal with the uncertainty surrounding joint supplements, I generally recommend products made by reputable manufacturers that contain at least a couple of the ingredients mentioned above. I also like to see scientific research that supports the effectiveness of a particular product (not just the ingredients that are included) as a method of quality assurance. After a dog has been on one joint protectant for a month or so, I evaluate how he or she is doing. If the owner and I agree that the improvement is satisfactory (granted that’s a nebulous assessment) then we continue as is. If we think we could do better, I’ll recommend another product with a different set of active ingredients, and we’ll try that one for a month.
If the dog’s condition has not improved after trying three highly regarded products with dissimilar ingredient lists for a month each, I’ll stop recommending joint protectants for that particular individual and start leaning more heavily on other ways of treating degenerative joint disease. It is important to remember that a multi-modal approach to treatment is almost always best. Joint supplements are good, but work even better in combination with weight loss, non-steroidal antiinflammatories, other pain relievers (e.g., tramadol, gabapentin, or amantidine), physical therapy, acupuncture, stem cell therapy, massage, cold laser treatments, and even surgery in extreme cases.
Dr. Jennifer Coates
Systematic review of clinical trials of treatments for osteoarthritis in dogs. Aragon CL, Hofmeister EH, Budsberg SC. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2007 Feb 15;230(4):514-21.