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Supplements & Diet Guidelines for Dogs with Arthritis

Photo of Cosequin bottle.

More information on arthritis:

Also see these articles:

Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian, nor do I have any formal training in any medical field. The information presented here is not meant to replace your vet's advice or prescribed medications, but only to suggest additional options to explore, based on your dog's condition.

Supplements and other Natural Therapies for Dogs with Arthritis

Glucosamine and other GAGs (Glycosaminoglycans)

Glucosamine is one of several supplements that help rebuild cartilage and restore synovial (joint) fluid. These types of supplements may be helpful in preventing disease as well as treating it. Note they treat the actual problem, and not just the symptoms. They include Glucosamine Sulfate, Glucosamine HCl, Chondroitin Sulfate, Green-Lipped Mussel (Perna  Canaliculus, found in products such as Sea Mussel Plus by Food Science of Vermont, also sold as Green Mussel Plus by Mountain Naturals, available at Vitacost and Amazon), Sea Cucumber (such as NutriSea's Vetri-LOX, Sea Jerky and related products), other forms of cartilage (including from food sources, such as chicken necks and bovine trachea), hydrolyzed collagen protein, undenatured type II collagen (UC-II), and the injectables Adequan and Cartrophen (Adequan is used in the US, Cartrophen is used elsewhere). These supplements may also work better when they include a small amount of manganese.

When giving glucosamine and chondroitin for arthritis, start out at high doses: at least 500 mg glucosamine plus 400 mg chondroitin daily for a small dog (up to 25 lbs), 1000/800 mg for a medium-sized dog (25 to 50 lbs), 1500/1200 mg for a large dog (50 to 100 lbs), and 2000/1600 mg for dogs over 100 lbs. If you see improvement, you can try backing off to a smaller dosage. Some dogs do well on less, some need the higher amount to get relief. If you don't see any improvement in four weeks, try a different brand. Different dogs seem to respond better to different brands. Glucosamine/chondroitin can be given with food.

There are many arguments about which form of Glucosamine is best. Glucosamine HCl, it should be combined with Chondroitin Sulfate for better uptake, whereas Glucosamine Sulfate can be given alone. Although glucosamine sulfate is absorbed better, there have been no studies published showing that glucosamine sulfate actually shows up in synovial tissue after it’s been ingested orally. It is best if supplements also include Manganese, which can help increase absorption.

Type II collagen (derived from cartilage) may work better than glucosamine and chondroitin, according to studies. See products at Amazon.

It is unknown whether giving glucosamine helps to prevent arthritis, but there is no harm in giving it for prevention. If you are looking for plain glucosamine, for a dog not yet in need of anti-inflammatories, the Greyhound Gang rescue organization offers high quality supplements at very low prices, with proceeds going to benefit rescue (they also offer MSM, Vitamin C and other supplements).

Some people report success with injectable glycosaminoglycans, such as Adequan (US) or Cartrophen (elsewhere) even when oral glucosamine and chondroitin have not worked (they can also be used together). Note that Adequan is giving intramuscularly (IM), while Cartrophen is given subcutaneously (sub-q). There appears to be no reason for this difference. I have heard of a number of people and vets giving Adequan sub-q with comparable results (sub-q injections are less painful for the dog and easier for the owner to give at home, if desired). See my post for more info on this topic. Warning: do not give Adequan to dogs with kidney disease. I've heard of two dogs with kidney disease who developed neurological problems after being given Adequan.

(Update: Another product called Ichon is used as an off-label substitute for Adequan. It is marketed only for surgical lavage and has not been approved for injection. It is identical to Adequan for a lower price (it is manufactured in China). One person who tried it with their dog reported, "I cannot believe the results. Tomorrow will be his sixth shot, doing two a week. He isn't limping at all, even today after a lot of playing in the snow." See The Atlanta Equine Clinic for more information and to order online.) has tested various brands of glucosamine supplements for people and pets and found several that do not contain as much glucosamine and/or chondroitin as they claim, and a few are contaminated with lead. Here are the products that failed their tests (results are from 2009 testing unless shown otherwise):

Hyaluronic Acid

There is also a  substance related to glucosamine called Hyaluronic Acid (also called Sodium Hyaluronate) that has been helpful for some dogs. Hyaluronic Acid has been used in intra-articular (into the joint) injection form for horses with great success. There is some question how effective it is when given orally.

I've seen dosage recommendations that range from 2 to 20 mg per day for large dogs. Following are hyaluronic products I've heard about:

Hyaluronic acid may be much more effective when injected directly into the joint (intra-articular), but this must be done under anesthesia. One version, Legend, can also be given IV (when given via IV, treatment may be repeated weekly for a total of three treatments). It is approved only for horses, but has been used to treat other animals, including dogs. A veterinarian who treats both horses and dogs might know what the dosage should be.

The injectable form is sold for horses under the brand name Hylartin V (and maybe others). One person reported using the injectable form on their dog and said that the improvement from one injection lasted for about 3 months.

See New Options for Old Problems - Relief from Arthritis for more information on these supplements.

Natural Anti-Inflammatories

When the dog becomes symptomatic, usually inflammation is involved, so you can use supplements that help relieve inflammation. These include but are not limited to the following (See Natural Anti-Inflammatories in my Arthritis article for more information):

See Joint supplements for dogs: The helpful vs. the hype for a veterinarian's take on several of these supplements.

At this point, it appears that grains may increase inflammation and can make the dog much more painful, so a home made diet that does not include grains may also be helpful.

The Chinese herbal formula Mobility 2 (Shu Jing Huo Xue Tang) is designed for arthritis with inflammation. See Getting Started With Chinese Herbs for more information on brands that can be trusted and dosages to use for dogs.

Supplements that have been successful for others include:

See the human-oriented article on Joint Support for additional information on several of the supplements mentioned here.

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Diet Guidelines for Dogs with Arthritis

Some dogs improve greatly simply by removing grains from the diet. There are a number of new grain-free foods available these days, which I note in the Commercial Foods section of my web site. Remember that it is very important to keep a dog with arthritis lean, as extra weight will contribute to the problem and its progression. See Pudgy Pups for a good article on helping your dog to lose weight. Also see the section on Senior and overweight dogs on my Commercial Dog Food web page.

If you are feeding a home-prepared diet, here are some notes from Ian Billinghurst's seminar about how to feed an arthritic dog, along with my own comments (in brackets):

Note that I feed more meat, including red meat, and fewer veggies than is recommended above. I also use fish oil (body oil, such as salmon oil or EPA oil, not cod liver oil) instead of flaxseed oil, as it is better utilized by the dog, and does not contain the pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids that flaxseed oil has.

Piglet's diet is around 35-40% raw meaty bones (including canned fish with bones -- jack mackerel, pink salmon, sardines -- once a week), 5% liver and kidney, 25% fruit and veggies, and the rest is muscle meat, eggs, yogurt, etc. I do include garlic, ginger and celery in her veggie mixture, to help with arthritis. I try to feed as much variety as I can, including red meat.

It is important that dogs with arthritis get adequate, but not excessive amounts of calcium, vitamin D and magnesium. If you are feeding a commercial diet, there should be no need to supplement with any of these. If you are feeding a home made diet, it might be helpful to supplement with small amounts of vitamin D (such as from cod liver oil) and magnesium. If your diet includes raw meaty bones, they should not account for more than around 50% of the diet. If your diet does not include bones, then you need to add calcium at the rate of around 1,000 mg per pound of food (1/2 teaspoon of ground eggshell yields about 1,000 mg of calcium).

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Rocky is a Yorkie-Poodle mix who had suffered from digestive problems his whole life. Click on his image to read about the diet his owner finally found to help him.
Pashoshe Fisher, a Chihuahua, was a wonderful, joyful companion to his owner for 19 & a half years. He was on a high quality raw diet for over half his life.
This is Ella, my Norwich Terrier.