Monday Musings: Nourishing the Arthritic Dog

Osteoarthritis affects 1 in 5 dogs, showing higher rates in senior pets. Joints commonly affected by arthritis include the hips, knees, elbows, shoulders and spine. The pain and inflammation associated with arthritis is observed after extensive cartilage damage has set in. It is therefore beneficial to be proactive in preventing arthritis by supplying appropriate foods and supplementation to the diet.
The joint structure is made up of bone, ligaments, a joint capsule and articular cartilage. The joint capsule is lined with a synovial membrane which produces synovial fluid. Synovial fluid lubricants the joint and acts as a shock absorber. In addition, it nourishes the articular cartilage, which is composed of chondrocytes (cartilage cells), collagen and proteoglycans: molecules that protect the bone. When nourishing a dog with arthritis (or being proactive against the onset) it is important to support all aspects of the joint structure. As well, your goal is to reduce inflammation, maintain lean muscle mass and support a healthy weight.

As a pet owner it is difficult to watch the progression of arthritis. Whether it is caused by a degenerative joint disease or old age, our instinct is to help ease the pain and improve quality of life. Combining a healthy diet with appropriate supplements, can have remarkable results while improving overall wellness.

The three components of a diet for arthritic dogs:


Fat supplies the most calories to a diet and therefore its levels and quality must be closing monitored. Obesity is directly related to the onset or aggravation of arthritis, so if your dog is overweight, then your first job is to promote weight loss. This is best achieved through a high protein, low fat diet. Each extra pound of weight that your pet carries contributes directly to further degradation of the joint.

The quality of fat you choose should also be considered. A diet high in omega 6 fatty acids will promote inflammation within the body causing pain and discomfort. Adding omega 3 fatty acids(especially DHA and EPA) balances the omega 6 potency and reduce its inflammatory affects. The ideal supplement is wild salmon oil, keeping in mind to always combine vitamin E with fatty acid supplementation to avoid causing a deficiency.


Providing a lean protein source is ideal for arthritic dogs. Meats high in fat (such as certain cuts of beef) contain high levels of omega 6 fatty acids, which as we know, contributes to inflammation. Feeding a lean meat, or a grass fed meat, allows you to supply more calories in the form of omega 3 fatty acids.

Protein and carbohydrates supply equal amounts of calories per gram in a diet, however protein has a higher nutritional impact and therefore you can feed less of it (versus carbohydrates) to supply nutritional needs. Protein supports healthy muscles which aid the joints (this is particularly important in degenerative diseases such as hip dysplasia).


There are two types of carbohydrates that you want to avoid: grains/starches and night-shade vegetables. Both contribute to inflammation which aggravates arthritis. Grains, such as, wheat, rice, barley and corn, fluctuate the blood sugars levels and add to swelling. Night-shade vegetables are also aggravates of arthritis and these include tomatoes, peppers, egg plant and potatoes (not to be confused with sweet potato). If you are feeding a commercial diet check the ingredients carefully. Many products are ‘grain-free’, however companies use increased levels of potatoes as a substitute.

Foods that have shown to help with arthritis include; celery, ginger, papaya & mango (for their natural enzymes) and alfalfa. Dr. Pitcairn, who wrote Natural Health for Cats and Dogs, also recommends grated carrot and beets.

Once you have found a diet that works, there are a variety of supplements to choose from. Before offering an assortment of supplements there are a few other tools you can use:

1. Exercise your dog regularly. Slow, steady walks are a great way to release toxins, strengthen muscles and keep the joints limber. Talk to anyone that suffers from arthritis and they will confirm that regular light exercise keeps the body loose. Sessions should be short, 20-30 minutes twice a day and try to discourage activity that wears down the cartilage such as jumping, sprinting or climbing stairs. Swimming is also a great, low impact activity to try.


2. Introduce new supplements slowly and watch for improvement. Most supplements will take three to four weeks before improvements are noted, but if none are seen, then try a different product. All dogs are different and respond differently to various nutraceuticals.

3. Check with your veterinarian if you dog is currently taking medications. Some supplements can increase or decrease the potency of pharmaceutical drugs. For example, discontinue vitamin E and fatty acid supplementation ten days before and after surgery as they reduce blood clotting factors.

With those three points in mind, below is a summary of nutrients that can help with arthritis:

Glucosamine, Chrondroitin and Glycosaminoglycans (GAGs): 

These are always at the top of the list when it comes to managing arthritis. They nourish the articular cartilage and increase joint health. Glucosamine and chondroitin (often supplemented as glucosamine HCl, glucosamine sulfate and chrondroitin sulfate) are absorbed into the articular cartilage where they are made into GAGs and finally into proteoglycans. Proteoglycans help to heal articular cartilage and keep the joint lubricated. Glucosamine and chrondroitin are produced naturally in the body, however times of stress or damage (such as arthritis) require supplementation to maintain cartilage health. Green lipped-mussels are good sources of glucosamine and chrondroitin.

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)

Vitamin C supports the formation of collagen which is a structural protein found primarily in ligaments and the cartilage matrix. Vitamin C is also a potent antioxidant that serves to remove free radicals from the joint.

Old studies show that vitamin C supplementation throughout pregnancy and growth can dramatically reduce the incident of degenerative disease and osteoarthritis. These studies have not been furthered or verified.

The amount of vitamin C required varies with each dog. It is best to increase the levels slowly until an ideal amount has been reached. Most dogs tolerate 500-2000 mg daily. Too much will cause loose stools. It should also be noted that vitamin C supplementation can lead to calcium oxalate crystal formation in susceptible dogs. Talk to your veterinarian if you think this could apply to you.

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