If your aging dog or cat is experiencing trouble moving around and seems to be having joint pain, or if your pet is diagnosed with osteoarthritis, your veterinarian may recommend two supplements: glucosamine and chondroitin.
These supplements have been used more and more to treat the symptoms of arthritis in humans, and the benefits for dogs and cats may be similar.
Used separately or together, chondroitin and glucosamine for dogs and cats may be able to improve joint health.
What are Glucosamine and Chondroitin?
- Glucosamine is an amino sugar (a compound including amino acids and sugars) that is naturally produced and found in your pet's cartilage. It helps cartilage perform two of its main functions: lubrication and shock absorption. When bones meet at joints, healthy cartilage keeps the bones from rubbing against each other, which would cause bone damage and pain.
The glucosamine you can buy in supplements comes from the hard chitin shells of shellfish or is chemically synthesized.
- Chondroitin is a carbohydrate naturally produced in animal cartilage. It keeps cartilage hydrated and healthy, and also helps inhibit some of the enzymes in the joints that destroy and degrade cartilage.
The chondroitin found in supplements and foods for pets usually comes from bovine (cow) or chicken cartilage. Some supplements come from whale and shark cartilage. While the source doesn’t seem to have an impact on the effect of the supplement, if you're concerned about the source for ecological or preservation issues, you may want to check where it comes from.
How Do I Know if My Pet Can Benefit from Them?
Joint cartilage deterioration is most common in older dogs and cats, and in large breed dogs, making older large breed dogs the most at-risk. Many vets think there’s no way to avoid at least some natural cartilage deterioration as your pet ages.
As the body ages, cartilage production slows, and new cartilage is not made fast enough to replace the cartilage that your pet’s normal movements will break down. Inflammation in the joints can accelerate this process.
If your pet is suffering from arthritis or hip dysplasia, glucosamine and chondroitin may increase their comfort and slow the further degeneration of cartilage.
If your pet seems to be moving stiffly, or with difficulty, check with your vet to see if supplements will help with their joints.
Why Use Them Together?
Some experts contend that some dogs and cats metabolize glucosamine quicker than chondroitin, or vice versa. Therefore for maximum benefits, it may be best to use both forms.
Many supplements you can buy supply both at once.
What if My Pet Food Already Contains Glucosamine and Chondroitin?
Many pet food manufacturers include glucosamine and chondroitin in large breed or senior pet food, but it can be hard to determine if your pet is getting the right dose every day from these foods. Most manufacturers will list the “mg/kg” or “parts per million (PPM)” of a supplement in pet food.
A pet food would have to contain a total of 1500 mg/kg, or PPM, of glucosamine and chondroitin together for there to be enough in the food to be effective as a maintenance dose, and few pet foods contain this much.
Additionally, there have been no studies done to examine the absorption--or whether glucosamine and chondroitin stay intact, or useful, when processed into a dog or cat food.
For these reasons, a supplementation is probably best.
How Do I Give These Supplements to My Pet?
Glucosamine and chondroitin supplements, alone or combined, usually come in either chewable tablets or capsules full of sprinkles. Put the tablet in your pet’s food, and let the tasty flavor that most supplements have entice your pet to eat it along with the rest of their food. If you have a capsule full of sprinkles or powder, pour the powder over the food.
Use the label on your product to find the correct dosage for your pet.
Are There Any Side Effects?
- The good news is that glucosamine and chondroitin supplements don’t interact with the vast majority of other drugs or vitamins. Check with your vet if your pet is on other medications, just to be sure.
- Since you’ll be using these supplements to help with the symptoms of arthritis in your pet, you’ll have to keep using the supplements to see results. Unfortunately, there is no way to reverse bone or cartilage damage through diet, and cartilage production will naturally continue to decline in aging dogs and cats. The goal is to decrease the rate of this decline.
- If your pet vomits or gets diarrhea, reduce the dosage, and be sure to give it to your pet with food, not on an empty stomach.
Keeping your pet moving freely will mean more than just comfort—it’ll mean more playtime and memorable moments. Be sure to watch your pet for signs of stiffness or arthritis, and ask your vet at yearly checkups about a good time to consider glucosamine and chondroitin supplements.
More on Joint Health
Arthritis in Dogs and Cats
Hip Dysplasia in Dogs and Cats
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. It has however been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine.