Joint supplements for dogs and cats.

Joint Supplements for Dogs and Cats

Nowadays, it’s common for many of us to take supplements and nutraceuticals, and our fur babies are certainly not an exception. While many people have heard of glucosamine and chondroitin supplements, these products are no longer the sole options, as newer, more effective supplements have entered the market. This article will review a few promising over-the-counter supplements that you may want to consider adding to your pet’s joint management plan.

Choosing A Supplement

Before going into a discussion of specific products, there are a few things that must be taken into account no matter which supplement(s) you choose:


When choosing a supplement, you want to make sure that the brand is a reputable one with good manufacturing practices. While this is still not a guarantee of quality, it is a great starting point.

Quality Control

Supplements in the US do not need to go through FDA approval, which means that there is no promise that what’s noted on the label is exactly what’s in the bottle. In absence of FDA clearance, the National Animal Supplement Council, or NASC, aims to bridge the gap by providing a certification for products that have shown proper manufacturing processes and independent testing of products. They ensure ingredient quality and that a product adheres to claims made on its label. Products with the gold NASC label have undergone rigorous testing.

Ingredient List

With any product, it is imperative that ingredients and their amounts be listed on the product’s label. Beware of products whose label claims a “proprietary blend,” as this gives no indication as to what is exactly in the bottle. Some proprietary, imported “herbal” pet supplements contain dangerous amounts of arsenic, and are currently on a USDA watchlist. It’s always best to know exactly what you’re buying.

Check with Your Veterinarian

When in doubt, ask your veterinarian. They’ll be able to guide you to a safe brand and one that won’t interfere with your pet’s medications.

Joint Supplements for Pets

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acid supplements are not necessarily the newest item on this list, but definitely worth mentioning. These fatty acids are found in coconut oil, flaxseed oil, and cold water fish species. Omega-3s are made up of Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). When inflammation occurs, the Omega-3 fatty acids interfere with the inflammatory cascade, blocking the production of certain compounds that can lead to arthritis pain. The ideal form of Omega-3 fatty acids is that found in cold water fish, such as salmon, as pets are not able to utilize the plant form found in flaxseed oil.

In addition to their anti-inflammatory properties, Omega-3s have additional health benefits for the skin, haircoat, and brain function. When looking for an Omega-3 supplement, make sure you get a more concentrated veterinary formula, as the anti-inflammatory dose is quite high per kilogram of body weight in a pet, and far greater than that used in a human. This is why using fish oil on its own for anti-inflammatory properties is challenging, as many dogs develop gastrointestinal issues at such high doses. That does not mean your pet won’t receive positive results from fish oil. For those looking to incorporate anti-inflammatory levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, a prescription diet may be a better route to ensure appropriate dosing without gastrointestinal distress.

Eggshell Membrane

The eggshell membrane of a chicken under an electron microscope.

Eggshell membrane is exactly what it sounds like – it is the paper thin layer that lines the inside of an egg shell. This lining may not look like much, but it is packed full of proteins, namely the protein building blocks of cartilage – collagen and glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). In addition to providing necessary nutrition to the joint, eggshell membrane also affects inflammatory pain by decreasing the expression of pro-inflammatory compounds. Experimental studies in arthritic dogs supplemented with eggshell membrane and combined with glucosamine/chondroitin showed significant improvement in joint pain and function vs. those taking only glucosamine/chondroitin.


Boswellia serrata is in the same family of Indian frankincense. This ingredient comes from a resin extract of the Boswellia tree. It modulates pain by decreasing the synthesis of leukotrienes – compounds that are involved in inflammatory disease state. Boswellia has not only shown benefits in helping decrease joint pain, but it has also shown promise with other diseases like asthma and inflammatory bowel disease.

Milk Protein

The source of milk protein.

Microlactin is a protein that is extracted from the milk of hyperimmune/hyperimmunized cows. It is beneficial in that it prevents destructive factors from getting into the joints and causing further degeneration. An additional benefit is that milk protein has limited side effects, which makes it ideal for sensitive patients with chronic pain that have difficulty tolerating traditional anti-inflammatories. Microlactin is the form available to humans, while Duralactin is the veterinary form available for dogs and cats.


Methylsulfonylmethane (or MSM) is a product frequently combined with glucosamine and chondroitin supplements. MSM is a compound found in animals, humans, and plants. With both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, MSM helps ameliorate osteoarthritis pain by penetrating the membrane and combating inflammation. Additionally, MSM is a potent antioxidant that directly affects free radicals, which are known for destroying cell membranes. Multiple studies have shown that MSM decreases intensity, pain, and swelling of the joint in humans.

Green Lipped Mussel

The beautiful color and texture of the green lipped mussel.

Green Lipped Mussel or Perna canaliculus is a promising supplement found in many over-the-counter joint products. The Green Lipped Mussel (GLM) is native to New Zealand, with a name deriving from the green outer edge of the mussel’s shell. Contained within this mussel are high concentrations of Omega-3 fatty acids, as well as a high concentration of Eicosatetraenoic acid (or ETA). GLM provides the building blocks of cartilage (PSGAGs), thus helping with joint fluid health and cartilage repair. In addition, GLM can be a potent anti-inflammatory by inhibiting the inflammatory cascade and showing no significant gastrointestinal effects.


UC-II is the term to describe undenatured type II collagen. This type of collagen is sourced from within the breastbone of a chicken and allows the pro-inflammatory factors to “attack” it instead of the collagen found within the joints. A study performed on dogs that were fed a glucosamine/chondroitin supplement combined with UC-II showed significant improvement in activity and pain scores, as opposed to the group who were only taking glucosamine/chondroitin. Furthermore, once the UC-II combo was withdrawn, the group regressed and started to show original signs of pain and decreased activity.

The market is flooded with joint supplement options to help your fur baby deal with inflammation and joint degeneration associated with osteoarthritis. Some of these products can be used to supplement your pet’s current medical protocol or considered as first-line early intervention to help support the joints and aid in slowing degeneration. Because FDA approval is not necessary for supplements, it is strongly advised that you discuss potential recommendations with your veterinarian to make sure your pet is getting the right product for their particular stage of disease.