Canine Arthritis, Part 1

Photo: Andrew Lightman

The most common source of chronic pain in dogs is arthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease. Arthritis develops with age in many dogs, but can also begin earlier in life in dogs with hip or elbow dysplasia or as the consequence of an injury. In a select few cases surgery may help, but in most dogs treatment involves attempts at preventing further joint damage, increasing mobility, and decreasing pain.

The best way to treat arthritis is via a multimodal approach combining several different therapies and medications to achieve a better result than one treatment alone. Your dog does not have to be in pain.

I will discuss some of the options available below. As always prior to starting any therapies and treatments, have a good discussion with your veterinarian about the condition at hand.

Joint Supplements/Nutraceuticals 

Omega-3 fatty acids, as found in cold-water fish oils, are known to have anti-inflammatory properties and may reduce some joint inflammation. Regular fish oils may work well, but there are veterinary specific brands that may have an even better effect. Many people use flaxseed oil, but it is not as effective in dogs because the oil in flax seeds needs to be converted in the body to an omega-3 fatty acid, and humans are much more efficient at this than dogs. Stick with fish oil. 

Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate

Cartilage is composed of a number of elements including chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine metabolites. These compounds are the building blocks of cartilage, and by supplementing the diet with them you are assuring that your dog has them available to repair damaged cartilage. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are available in oral chewable supplements, making administration very easy. Dogs have been found to absorb glucosamine better than humans, making it potentially more effective than in people. There may even be a subtle anti-inflammatory effect.

We have seen some remarkable results with glucosamine supplementation, but there a few caveats: it takes several weeks to months to show an effect, and the quality of the product is essential. Most glucosamines on the market (especially human-use brands and generics) are of poor quality and are not absorbed well. The branded veterinary products are tested and found to be far superior. We are happy to chat with you about them. 

Antioxidants and Free Radical Scavengers

Free radicals are compounds that can damage cells and are thought to contribute to aging. They are formed in the body via natural processes and from external sources, such as pollution, sunlight, or food contaminants. For humans, free radical scavenging molecules are being used to help retard aging and possibly arthritis. This is still a new field. Antioxidants include Vitamins C and E, S-adenyl Methionine (sAMe), and Superoxide Dismutase. 


MSM, or methyl sulfonyl methane, is frequently combined with glucosamine chondroitin sulfate. It too has anti-inflammatory properties. The compound contains a large amount of sulfur, an essential element in glycosaminoglycans, a main component of cartilage that enables cartilage to absorb water and stay soft. MSM provides another building block to help repair cartilage. 

Adequan(R) - Polysulfated Glycosaminoglycans

These supplements and nutritional additives are taken by mouth, but there is one that has proven very effective and is approved by the FDA for use in dogs that is given via injection. Adequan(R), composed of glycosaminoglycans, stimulates cartilage repair, inhibits destructive enzymes, and increases joint fluid. Giving Adequan(R) is not as scary as it sounds, because many dogs tolerate injections well, and we can even show you how to give them at home. The biggest fear is conquering your own fear of injections. The dogs don’t care! Adequan(R) is highly recommended for most dogs with arthritis, and the side effects are minimal. 

Next month I will discuss medications for the control of arthritis. As always, if you have questions about your pet please feel free to contact us or your veterinarian. Drop us a note:

Hill resident Dan Teich, DVM, practices at District Veterinary Hospital, 3748 10th St. NE, 202-827-1230.