You may have heard about joint supplements and be curious about whether they might be of benefit to your pet. Joint supplements are products designed to maintain normal joint health, or to aid in the treatment of joint disease. They can be formulated in various ways, such as tablets or capsules, liquid solutions or in special diets. 

What do joint supplements contain and how do they work? 

There are a wide range of ingredients found in joint supplements; the ingredients and the concentration of these ingredients vary widely between individual products. Some of the substances you may see on the label include glucosamine, chondroitin (these two are usually found together), omega oils, green lipped mussel extract, hyaluronic acid and various vitamins and minerals. 

These substances are included in joint supplements for their reported beneficial effects on joint cartilage and fluid. For example, glucosamine and chondroitin are two of the components of joint fluid. The idea is that by supplementing these, this will add to the concentrations already present within the joint and so promote better joint health and improve movement. Similarly, hyaluronic acid is also a normal component of joint fluid. Green-lipped mussel extract and omega oils may be included for their anti-inflammatory effects. These, in turn may reduce joint pain and stiffness. 

When would my dog or cat need a joint supplement? 

A joint supplement would most commonly be recommended for your pet if he/she has been diagnosed with a joint condition such as osteoarthritis (often shortened to arthritis). Such a diagnosis would be made after consultation with your vet, physical examination of your pet and often x-rays to assess the health of affected bones and joints. 

Joint supplements may also be suggested in situations where arthritis is predicted to be a likely occurrence in the future. This is effort to prevent or slow down this process occurring, for example after a traumatic injury to a joint. 

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It is important to note that, although joint supplements can improve joint health and your pet’s comfort, they are not analgesic drugs (pain killers). So if your pet is in some discomfort due to a joint condition then they normally need to be prescribed a painkiller in addition to a joint supplement. 

How effective are joint supplements? 

The evidence for the various ingredients found in joint supplements is quite varied. For some of the ingredients, such as glucosamine and chondroitin, there are scientific studies showing they have a beneficial effect on joint health and can improve the comfort of pets with joint disease. For other ingredients, the evidence is less certain. Often, not much research has been done on how effective individual products are. (There’s a short summary of what is known here). This means that it can sometimes be a case of trying out a joint supplement. If it does not appear to be helping then it may be worth trying another product with different ingredients. 

There can be a wide variation between products in terms of how they are formulated, the ingredients they contain and in what concentration. It is worth being aware of this when you purchase a joint supplement. Some may be of higher quality than others. Your vet will be able to advise you on which products would be most suitable for your pet. They will also take into account which supplements would be easiest for you to administer. 

How safe are joint supplements? 

An important benefit of joint supplements is that most are generally considered to be very safe. Many with little or no side effects. Your vet can advise you about any possible side effects with particular products. However, most joint supplements on the veterinary market can be given to pets of all breeds and ages without adverse effects. They are also usually very safe to use alongside other medications. This is useful as many pets with arthritis need to be treated with a combination of treatments. They can be given long-term, often for the rest of the pet’s life, without any issue. 

Joint supplements can be a very useful and safe addition to any treatment regime for a joint condition such as arthritis, or to prevent joint problems in the future. If you think that your dog or cat could benefit from a joint supplement, contact your veterinary surgeon for advice.