Joint Supplements and the Younger Dog

I’ve been doing some research lately about the benefits of joint supplements for dogs who don’t already have problems. Can glucosamine and/or chondroitin prevent joint trouble, rather than just helping the arthritic?

Abby at The Doggerel mentioned that she was interested in this as well, so I thought I would put my research up here.

First up, a few things from the Whole Dog Journal. I personally feel like the WDJ does a good job moderating between the best of good traditional veterinary medicine and the best of good alternative medicine, so they’re a go-to source for me. Apologies if these links are behind the paywall; I’ve tried to include the relevant bits in my summaries.

Before we get on to supplements, a reminder that keeping your dog at a healthy weight is the most important part of joint health. No supplement can compensate for a lifetime of overloaded joints.

A casual google of “preventative glucosamine for dogs” turns up mostly forum posts, especially from forums devoted to dogs with “problem joints” like Shiba Inus and Golden Retrievers. There isn’t a lot of real information out there. Rounding up what I have found:

More concretely, this article from 2004 recommends “taking a proactive approach to joint maintenance and injury prevention starting when an athletic dog is one to two years old” because “athletic dogs have healthy joints that have not sustained damage yet. But, active dogs regularly ‘push the envelope,’ causing some joint inflammation that can develop into early joint breakdown.” The effect of this added glucosamine is to stop “the cycle of net cartilage loss due to overuse, injury, or joint disease.”

Dogs Naturally, whom I trust slightly less, argues that raw-fed dogs get adequate glucosamine from their diets, especially if you include cartilaginous foods. That article also contains some tips about picking a good supplement that my other research validated.

If you want to get your answer straight from the source you should trust the least, manufacturers of joint supplements seem to think they benefit every dog. Nupro claims that their formula “is not just for Senior Dogs or those who may have joint issues! Active athletes . . . show dogs, working dogs . . ., sled dogs, hunting dogs, herding dogs, AND large breed dogs, as well, will benefit from the addition of Glucosamine to their daily regimen.” Wapiti Labs sells a mobility supplement especially for dogs “in the first stages of life” (as opposed to their senior formula).

On the other hand, from a less-research-more-pragmatics angle: while glucosamine is reported to have almost no incidence of side effects, most of the manufacturers also have a lot of fine print about “stomach upset” and/or bragging that their formula is “easier to digest.” Dogs with diabetes or blood clotting problems should not take glucosamine. Also, my food allergy friends, WATCH OUT for sneaky animal-derived ingredients. The most common source of glucosamine is shellfish, which your dog may not be able to handle. I also saw at least one supplement that clearly listed its chondroitin as “porcine.” This is above and beyond the usual allergy cautions, namely that most dog pills have added meat flavors.

Also on the anti-side, joint supplements are expensive and the research on their preventative value is, at best, inconclusive. Combined with the fact that pet supplements are not extremely well regulated, that could easily mean you spend years and years giving what is little better than a placebo.

Hey, I promised to show you the research I have so far. I didn’t promise to make a conclusion.

Have any of you researched this?

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6 thoughts on “Joint Supplements and the Younger Dog

  1. I have researched it and found similar results. I started giving it to Kaya and Norman when they were around 1. I suppose I’ll never know if it is a helpful preventative but they have no ill effects so I’m thinking even if it doesn’t help, it’s not hurting. Zoey, on the other hand, who is our 10 year old German Shepherd seems to really benefit from it.

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  2. That’s actually one of the next things on my research to-do list for my dog. I have seen so many different dogs at various (albeit) older ages (but with varying degrees of joint pain) that have benefited drastically from it. I do know several people that have their younger dogs on it for prevention purposes. Prevention is always key when it comes to health. I think if it doesn’t have any bad side effects and you have a dog that is prone to joint problem, there can’t be any harm in giving it as a supplement. I will dig further into at my work and get the thoughts of those in the field about using it as a prevention. I’ll make my own post on it once I have enough research!

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  3. Great article! I’m not completely sold on the idea of supplements as preventatives. Our golden has arthritis and the one we have her on has done wonders. Now we have a puppy who looks like he’s going to be quite large, and I do wonder about putting him on something at some point. Or I wonder if what he will get in the large breed food we feed him will be enough.
    I occasionally take a multi-vitamin myself, or vitamin c in the winter, but I’m not really sure if it helps or if I’m wasting my money. So the same would go for my dogs. Things like this are so difficult too because you can always find information on both sides….and who’s to know who’s right, or maybe the answer is just somewhere in the middle.

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  4. When Thunder was being treated for his soft tissue leg injury a couple of years ago, we spoke to the orthopedic vet about supplements. He had just taken complete x-rays of both front legs, wrist, elbow, shoulder, and neck and found no abnormalities and no arthritis. He said that for a dog with normal joints, joint supplements are of no benefit. He suggested we get Thunder on supplements this year as he turns 8. Made sense to me.

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  5. (Just now catching up on all of my dog-blog posts to read from the weekend away…) Thanks for sharing this! It’s very helpful to hear what you’ve gleaned so far, and I certainly trust your opinion greatly. I know several GSDs who are on joint supplements (obvious reasons being the traditionally bad hips and elbows), and it’s something I want to look into for our girls in the future, although they are both young and have so far shown no signs of joint issues or weakness.

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