Glucosamine for Dogs: The Complete Guide
If you’ve walked through the dog health aisle at your local pet supply store, you’ve likely seen a glucosamine supplement. This popular supplement supports joint health, especially for dogs suffering from arthritis.
Watching a pet struggle with arthritis as they get older is terrible. They no longer can jump up to snuggle with us on the couch, they lose interest in their daily walks, and even lying down seems to take some effort. For most of us, we want to help our pets any way we can. In the case of arthritis and joint pain, glucosamine supplements are often part of the treatment.
Arthritis and Glucosamine: What are they?
Arthritis is a progressive disease characterized by joint inflammation, leading to loss of joint mobility, stiffness, and lameness. It can be caused by either an acute event, like an injury or an infection, or an underlying problem, such as a joint deformity or stress from being overweight. While the cause may start early in life, symptoms typically emerge as our pets age. A lifetime of increased stress on the joints starts to show.
Dog and human joints are built the same way. Each bone end is covered in a thin layer of cartilage. This spongy layer acts as a shock absorber for bones as they move and protects each bone from the other. Around the bone and cartilage is a liquid called synovial fluid that acts as a lubricant, making joint movement easy and pain free.
With arthritis, the cartilage and synovial fluid break down due to the pressure or trauma, making movements stiff and uncomfortable. Over time, the bone-on-bone rubbing can cause bony outgrowths to develop on the bone ends, making movement even more painful.
Treatments for arthritis try to improve mechanical joint function, slow progression of the disease, or stimulate the body’s ability to repair the joints, if possible. That is where glucosamine comes in.
Glucosamine is a naturally occurring compound made of glucose (a sugar) and glutamine (an amino acid). Your dog’s body already produces
glucosamine, but supplements can increase the levels of this important compound. The glucosamine aids in the growth and repair of the cartilage and synovial fluid that protect your joints, so increasing the glucosamine levels can improve joint health.
Because glucosamine is a natural compound that dogs already produce, it is considered a nutraceutical (as opposed to a pharmaceutical). That means glucosamine supplements can be sold over the counter, without a prescription from your veterinarian. The glucosamine for these supplements is often extracted from crab, lobster, or shrimp shells. The great benefit of nutraceuticals it that there are very few side effects. It is limited to allergic reactions (especially shellfish allergies), fatigue, insomnia, and excessive thirst and urination.
Signs Your Dog Needs Glucosamine
Arthritis is common in dogs, but unfortunately is hard to detect. Symptoms start out mild, and most dogs ignore them at first. Owners should watch for the following signs:
- Lethargy and increased sleep
- Disinterest in walks and exercise
- Slow or reluctant to stand
- Decreased mobility, e.g., can no longer jump onto the couch or bed
- Abnormal gait
- Intermittent lameness, especially if arthritis is affecting one particular joint
- Visible joint deformities or swollen joints
- Pain or aggression when joints are touched
- Weight gain
Stiffness and pain is often worse when waking up in the morning or after a long nap. Cold or damp weather can also increase discomfort. Many of these symptoms are similar to symptoms of other problems, so a veterinarian should be consulted if you think your dog may have arthritis and could benefit from joint supplements.
Even if symptoms have not been detected, it may be worth consulting with your veterinarian if you suspect arthritis may become a problem due to a history of joint trauma or a genetic predisposition. Your veterinarian may recommend a glucosamine supplement as an easy, preventative measure.
Sources of Glucosamine
Glucosamine can be found in kibble, oral supplements, injectable supplements, and raw meats.
Because of the popularity of glucosamine, many kibble brands have started adding it to their senior or joint support foods. Unfortunately, most of the glucosamine levels are too low to provide any results on their own. Research says that dogs need, on average, 25 mg of glucosamine per pound of bodyweight a day. If you do the math based on the glucosamine in kibble, it would take way more food than your dog is eating to get the needed amount of glucosamine! If you are serious about supplementing glucosamine for your dog, kibble is probably not the right place. However, your veterinarian may recommend it for additional joint support.
Oral supplements are the most popular form of glucosamine. They can be chewable tablets, powders, or liquids.
Injectable glucosamine supplements work quickly because they deliver the glucosamine directly to the affected joints. Adequan is one brand of injectable glucosamine. It is administered twice weekly for up to four weeks.
Glucosamine, since it is a naturally occurring substance, is found in many raw meats. This may be the best way to supplement your dog’s glucosamine because it is easier for your dog’s body to recognize and use. Sources include trachea, chicken feet, oxtails, pig tails, beef knuckle bones, shellfish shells, bones broth, and green lipped mussels.
How to Choose a Glucosamine Source
If your dog is diagnosed with arthritis, glucosamine should be part of a comprehensive treatment plan that is developed between you and your veterinarian. They will most likely a recommend a chewable, veterinarian grade dose of glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM. But you should come to the discussion armed with some knowledge to ensure you and your vet develop the best plan.
Switching to a raw food diet is one of the best things you can do for arthritic pets. Compared to kibble, raw food diets are often more nutrient-rich and do not contain as many grains or preservatives. This can help promote weight loss and reduce inflammation, which will reduce arthritis symptoms and slow additional damage.
Unfortunately, a raw food diet is a big commitment for many pet owners. But a raw food diet does not have to be all-or-nothing. For example, you could serve one raw meal and one kibble. Or you could serve a beef trachea or chicken foot as a treat for that extra glucosamine. If you’re interested in learning more, you can check out our raw dog food guide.
If choosing a synthetic source of glucosamine, you will have to decide between an over-the-counter supplement or an injectable. Injectable glucosamine works quickly and is the most effective, but it is also time consuming and expensive.
If an over-the-counter supplement will work better for you and your pup, there are a few things to look for:
- Buy from a reputable brand and a reputable seller. Supplements are not regulated, so you want to ensure what you buy actually has glucosamine.
- Choose glucosamine sulfate over glucosamine hydrochloride, as glucosamine sulfate may be more effective.
- Find a joint supplement that also contains chondroitin. Chondroitin is another naturally occurring substance that may help repair cartilage, and glucosamine and chondroitin may even work best together.
- Decide if your pup would prefer chewable tablets, powder, or a liquid form.
How Much Glucosamine Does My Dog Need?
Dogs need approximately 500 mg of glucosamine per 25 pounds of body weight per day. This can be a great guide when supplementing through raw food. Since glucosamine is a naturally occurring substance, overdose or toxicity is nearly impossible through natural sources.
If choosing a supplement, talk to your veterinarian to determine the appropriate dosage level and schedule. Many vets will suggest using the glucosamine supplement for a trial period of approximately three months to see if it is having any impact.
Should I Give My Dog Glucosamine?
Talk to your veterinarian! Now that you’re informed about all of your options, you can have an educated discussion about your dog’s risk factors for arthritis and the potential benefits of a glucosamine supplement.