Finding the Best Joint Supplement For Your Dog May Be Easier Than You Think

If your vet recommended a joint supplement for your dog, you might be at a loss. There are hundreds on the market. Which do you choose? The best joint supplement may surprise you. And it may cost a lot less than you think it will.

I first began to research joint supplements when my four-year-old German Shepherd mix, Astro, injured his anterior cruciate ligament. This is a common injury for people and dogs, and it can happen at any time.

All it takes is one misstep on a slippery surface, one jump that lands wrong, or, in Astro’s case, one ill-advised rush down the stairs, and bam! Your hyperactive canine jogging partner is sidelined for life.

If the injury is severe enough, some vets will recommend surgery to fix it. Other times, surgery may not be necessary. In either case, though, my vet told me, dogs will develop arthritis in the joint. An ACL injury often means a lifetime on anti-inflammatory or other pain-killing medicine, but joint supplements can help.

The problem is, there’s a dizzying array of joint supplements for dogs. You’ll find a breathtaking range of ingredients, dosages, claims, and testimonials — with price tags to match. And choosing one can be almost as stressful as the initial diagnosis.

The good news is, the best joint supplement isn’t necessarily the most expensive. Nor is it the one with all the exotic herbal ingredients. Nor is it even a special canine formulation. The magic, according to my vet, comes from the proper combination of four key ingredients. And the simpler the formulation, the better.

Why Your Dog May Need Joint Support

The number one reason a vet may recommend joint support supplements is arthritis. Arthritis is common as dogs — and humans — age. However, your dog may also develop arthritis because of an injury. Either way, finding the best joint supplement can make a world of difference for your pup.

According to my vet, there are four main components for joint support: glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, and the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA. Omega-3s? Don’t doctors recommend those for heart health as well? You bet they do, and that’s a bonus. But the important thing for your dog is that these fatty acids also increase joint mobility.

Now, here’s the best part. You don’t need a special canine formulation with all sorts of fancy herbal additives. Human-grade supplements are fine, according to my vet. In fact, she specifically recommended against additional ingredients. The best joint supplement is simple and effective. And often cheaper, too.

The important thing is to follow your vet’s recommended dosage of the key ingredients. The dosages will vary according to your dog’s age, weight, and health conditions, so this is very important.


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Glucosamine is an amino sugar. Most often, it comes from the exoskeletons of shellfish. If you prefer to avoid animal ingredients, or if your dog is allergic to shellfish, there are also grain-derived glucosamine supplements.

You may have to look for them, but, thankfully, they’re not that much more expensive than the shellfish-derived variety. Many glucosamine supplements also contain chondroitin, and research has shown that the best joint supplement contains both glucosamine and chondroitin together.

Cartilage acts as a cushion for joints like the knee. Healthy cartilage contains water, collagen, and proteoglycan. The water and proteoglycan lubricate and protect the cartilage. Glycosaminoglycans help to hold the water in, which also protects the joint.

Arthritis causes cartilage to become thin and wear down. This, in turn, causes arthritis pain. Glucosamine helps the body to form more glycosaminoglycans, which holds in the water to cushion the joint. It also stimulates the production of proteoglycan, which protects the cartilage from breaking down.

A recent study by the National Institutes of Health showed that a combination glucosamine and chondroitin supplement resulted in a statistically significant reduction in arthritis pain for many study participants. Patients with moderate to severe pain experienced significant benefits. Patients with mild pain did not. This was a human trial that took place at sixteen different medical centers across the United States and involved 1,583 participants.

Anecdotally, I can tell you that the best joint supplement regimen for us is a combination of glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM. I’d read that a lot of dogs develop a permanent limp following an ACL injury. Two years after his injury, Astro not only has no limp but enjoys long, daily walks.

He’s retired as my jogging partner, but he gets around just fine. What’s more, once my mother saw how much Astro’s supplements helped him, she started taking them for her own arthritis. My mom is an avid runner in her seventies and had begun to suffer arthritis in her knee.

After supplementing with glucosamine and chondroitin, she not only experienced relief from arthritis pain but was also able to switch back from the special, expensive running shoes she’d been using to regular running shoes.

Your mileage may vary, of course. And you should never begin a supplement regimen without discussing it with your doctor (or vet). But the combination of glucosamine and chondroitin helped Astro, and it turned out to be the best joint supplement for my mom as well.

Glucosamine comes in pill form. Often it is paired with chondroitin. You can also find glucosamine with both chondroitin and MSM. Generally, instructions recommend giving it to your pet once per day.

It’s very important to use the specific dosage your vet recommends. Your dog’s dosage will depend on your dog’s specific health problem, as well as his or her age and weight. Too little glucosamine will not help. Too much can cause vomiting and diarrhea — and that’s no fun for anyone.

According to my vet, it’s fine to use human-grade glucosamine and chondroitin supplements. The most important thing is to make sure that the dosage matches your vet’s recommendation. When you examine the ingredients label, you’ll find that formulations can vary widely.

Some labels will tell you how much of each ingredient you’ll get per pill, while others might give you the dosage for two, three, four, or even more tablets. I’ve found that the Walgreen’s house brand triple-strength glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM supplement is economical and works well. But again, this was for my dog, using the advice of my vet.

Another important consideration is extra ingredients. Be aware that human formulations may contain herbs or extras that are harmful to dogs. As for canine formulations, many of them contain fancy-sounding herbal ingredients that may or may not be worth the money. Do your own research and talk to your vet to see which “extras” your vet thinks might be helpful.

Glucosamine is an amino sugar. So if your dog is diabetic, your vet may advise against this particular supplement. Common side effects, especially at the beginning, include vomiting and diarrhea.

If your dog experiences symptoms or behavioral changes while taking this supplement, it’s important to contact your vet right away.


Like glucosamine, chondroitin is one of the building blocks of cartilage. In arthritic joints, chondroitin will need to be replaced daily. Chondroitin is derived from animal cartilage. Specifically, it comes from cartiliginous tissues from cows, pigs, fish, and birds.

Remember proteoglycans? While glucosamine stimulates the body to produce more of them, chondroitin attracts fluid to the proteoglycan molecules. And this helps to lubricate, cushion, and protect the arthritic joint.

A 2018 study published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases found that supplementation with pharmaceutical-grade chondroitin sulfate is as effective against arthritis of the knee as the NSAID drug Celecoxib. It also found that chondroitin was superior to a placebo. This was a randomized, 6-month, 3-arm, double-blind, double-dummy study of 604 patients, which tested chondroitin against both Celecoxib and placebo.

Personally, I have found that a single, high-strength human-grade formulation that contains both glucosamine and chondroitin, is the best joint supplement for my dog. You can find both canine and human formulations that contain both. Again, I recommend using your vet’s advice for dosage and finding a combination that maximizes dosage while minimizing extra ingredients.

Chondroitin comes in pill form. You can find it sold alone, or, commonly with glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM. How much to use will, again, depend on your vet’s recommendation.

Chondroitin can also cause digestive symptoms in some dogs. If your dog suffers from symptoms or behavioral changes while taking chondroitin, it’s important to contact your vet for advice.


MSM is short for Methylsulfonylmethane. What on earth is that? Its an organic sulfur found in fruits, vegetables, grains, and animals. And it can help with tissue and cartilage repair.

How it works

Many believe that MSM works by encouraging your body to repair joint cartilage and tissue. Some also believe that it helps to reduce inflammation, such as occurs with osteoarthritis.

A 2006 study of human osteoarthritis patients showed that oral MSM supplementation results in significantly less arthritis pain. It also improved mobility. Most importantly, it did so without side effects. However, this study had a very small sample size — fifty people. More research is definitely needed.

Anecdotally, I can say that a regimen combining glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM has helped my dog.

MSM comes in pill and powder form. Often, you can find it together in a single product with glucosamine and chondroitin. How much to use, of course, depends upon your dog, your dog’s health issues, and the advice of your vet.

I find it most effective and economical to buy a supplement that contains a combination of glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM together. The most important thing, however, is to find the combination of products that meet your vet’s recommendations in the best and most cost-effective way for you.

Studies have reported no serious side effects from MSM.

Fish Oil

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Fish oil, specifically salmon oil, has been shown to have numerous benefits for dogs’ health. In addition to specifically helping with symptoms of arthritis, fish oil is also beneficial for dogs’ hearts, hair and skin. Some people prefer salmon oil to oil from other fish, as it contains naturally-occurring Vitamin E. It’s also higher than most fish oils in the Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which are important to arthritis relief.

Fish oil contains two Omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA. These can reduce the inflammation that causes arthritis pain.

A randomized, double-blind study of fish oil in a canine diet showed significant health benefits for the dogs in the study. Specifically, the fish oil diet resulted in increases EPA and DHA in both plasma and synovial fluid. It also resulted in a reduction in some processes that result in cartilage destruction. Overall, this means it had an anti-inflammatory effect, as well as significant benefits for joints and cartilage.

You can find fish oil in some different forms, from pills to capsules to liquid. Some may prefer pills or capsules for ease of use. I like the liquid because Astro loves the way it tastes on his morning kibble. Most packages will come with instructions for use. However, you should always follow your vet’s recommendations.

I prefer to buy liquid Scottish salmon oil for several reasons. First, the salmon oil contains higher levels of EPA and DHA than many other kinds of fish oils, like oil from Pollock. Also, salmon oil has naturally-occurring vitamin E, which is essential for absorbing and digesting these nutrients. As for buying Scottish salmon, I live in Scotland and like to support local industry. Alaskan salmon, no doubt, is just as nutrient-packed.

Too much fish oil can cause numerous side effects, including diarrhea. Too much may also keep wounds from healing as quickly as they should.

You might hear about the arthritis benefits of other supplements, such as turmeric and green-lipped mussel. It’s important to do your own research when trying to find the best joint supplement for your best friend. As for me, my vet’s recommendations of glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, and fish oil have worked well, and I’m happy to stick with them.