Nutraceuticals – essentially foods or supplements that provide health benefits that exceed their nutritional value – appeal to many dog owners, and they are currently administered to treat a range of conditions.
Glucosamine is one of the most commonly used nutraceuticals, and it is often used to treat joint problems in dogs.
Below, we’ll explain what glucosamine is, the conditions it’s used to treat and compare the different forms in which it is available.
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Quick Picks: Best Glucosamine for Dogs: Liquid, Chewables, & More
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What Is Glucosamine?
Glucosamine is a naturally occurring amino sugar that is an important component in the synthesis of several different biological substances. It is used in the production of several lipids (fats) and proteins, and it is an important component of the external shells of crustaceans and other arthropods.
However, the most noteworthy role played by glucosamine is in the production of tendons, ligaments, cartilage and synovial fluid – a thick liquid found in most of the joints in your dog’s body. Technically, these tissues are created from compounds called glycosaminoglycans, and glucosamine is thought to stimulate the production of these chemicals.
Your dog’s body produces glucosamine naturally, but it is also used as a supplement by humans and companion animals, including dogs, cats, and horses, among others. It is thought by many to provide several different therapeutic benefits, but it is primarily used to treat painful or arthritic joints.
Glucosamine is available in several different forms. The two most common forms glucosamine takes include glucosamine sulfate and glucosamine hydrochloride. Although most of the research conducted thus far has targeted glucosamine sulfate, both forms appear to work for dogs.
Commercially, glucosamine is either derived from crustacean shells or produced through the fermentation of grains.
Conditions that Glucosamine May Treat
Although there is some dispute about glucosamine’s ability to treat various health conditions (more on this below), glucosamine is potentially helpful in treating the following conditions:
- Hip dysplasia
- Elbow dysplasia
- Spinal disc disease
It is also used to help accelerate the healing process following surgery or traumatic injuries, as well as a performance-boosting supplement for active dogs. Humans can use glucosamine to treat similar issues, including knee problems and osteoarthritis.
The rationale behind the use of glucosamine is that it will aid the body in regenerating cartilage and joint-protecting compounds, which will help reduce and repair the damage caused by overuse or improper structure. It is also used as a preventative supplement in dogs who are at risk for joint problems.
Dogs Who May Benefit from Glucosamine Supplements
Even though glucosamine is typically considered a very safe supplement, it is wise to discuss the issue with your vet before initiating a supplementation regimen. However, some of the dogs who may benefit from the supplement include:
- Large breeds, for whom hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and arthritis are common
- Overweight dogs, whose joints are forced to support more weight than necessary
- Highly active dogs, whose joints suffer from a lot of wear and tear
- Dogs genetically predisposed to dysplasia or other joint problems
- Dogs who’ve had surgery
- Dogs who’ve suffered a traumatic joint or spinal injury
Empirical Data: Does Glucosamine Actually Work?
Glucosamine is widely recommended by human doctors and veterinarians, and they have been for decades (glucosamine was first isolated in 1876, although it wasn’t well understood until the 1940s).
However, empirical studies investigating its efficacy have been a bit of a mixed bag: Some have found that glucosamine is at least moderately effective for treating osteoarthritis and other joint problems, while others have found it no more helpful than a placebo.
The overwhelming scientific consensus? More research is necessary. Glucosamine may be helpful; it may also provide no real therapeutic value.
Most of these studies have focused on the human use of glucosamine (there’s much more funding available for human-based research than veterinary studies), but because our joints are pretty similar to those of dogs, the results of human studies may very well provide valuable data for pet owners and vets too.
Takeaways from a few of the most relevant studies are listed below:
- A three-year-long study of 212 human patients with osteoarthritis of the knee compared the results of those given glucosamine sulfate, with those given a placebo. The results, which were published in 2001, demonstrated that the placebo group suffered more joint space loss than those given glucosamine. Further, positive results were recorded when the placebo group was subsequently administered glucosamine.
- A 2006 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that “Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate alone or in combination did not reduce pain effectively in the overall group of patients with osteoarthritis of the knee.” However, the researchers contended that “the combination of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate may be effective in the subgroup of patients with moderate-to-severe knee pain.”
- A 2002 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that “Symptoms improved modestly with placebo use but as much as 20% to 25% with glucosamine sulfate use.” The researchers noted particular improvement with respect to pain, joint function, and
- A 2001 study of dogs found that “Our study of a canine model of surgically induced OA (osteoarthritis) is among the first to provide in vivo evidence that chronic oral administration of CS–G–M resulted in modulation of articular cartilage metabolism that was reflected in synovial fluid 3B3 and 7D4 epitope concentrations,” which essentially means that glucosamine administration changed the chemistry of the fluid in a dog’s joints. This provides some support for the use of glucosamine in dogs.
- A 2000 review found fault with many of the studies investigating glucosamine and chondroitin supplementation but concluded that “some degree of efficacy appears probable for these preparations.”
- A 2007 review of various clinical trials investigating osteoarthritis treatments was published in the Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association. The reviewers concluded that “A moderate level of comfort exists for… a combination of chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine hydrochloride, and manganese ascorbate.”
This is just a small sampling of the research that has been conducted on the subject. Some of this research is obviously somewhat contradictory, so you’ll need to research the issue carefully and work closely with your vet to determine whether glucosamine may be helpful for your dog.
Typical Glucosamine Dosage
Because the FDA does not approve glucosamine or other nutraceuticals, no “official” dosage is recognized.
Nevertheless, standard practices typically call for 500 milligrams of glucosamine per 25 pounds of body weight every 12 hours. In other words, you’ll want to give your 50-pound pit bull mix about 1,000 milligrams in the morning and another 1,000 milligrams at night.
Glucosamine is generally thought to take four to six weeks to generate positive results. After all, it takes time for your dog’s body to create cartilage and other joint tissues. Accordingly, you’ll have to be a bit patient when initiating a supplementation regimen.
Once you start to see a reduction in your dog’s symptoms (such as reduced pain or improved mobility), it is often recommended that you reduce the dosage given to perhaps half of what you were providing. This will hopefully allow you to determine the minimum effective dose for your dog.
If your dog’s condition continues to improve, you can reduce the dosage even further. If, however, the negative symptoms reappear, or your dog’s condition worsens, you’ll need to gradually increase the dosage again.
Glucosamine Formulations: Liquid, Chewables, and Powders
Glucosamine supplements typically come in liquid, chewable or powdered form. Each form offers different benefits and drawbacks, so you’ll want to be sure to pick the best option for your pooch.
Liquid glucosamine supplements are easy to administer, as they can simply be added to your dog’s food. Alternatively, you can administer them directly in your dog’s mouth via an eye dropper if he doesn’t mind the taste. Note that some liquid supplements may require refrigeration.
K9 of Mine’s Recommendation: Liquid Health K9 Level 5000
- K9 Level 5000 concentrated liquid glucosamine chondroitin for dogs is recommended for all dogs,...
- Liquid Health’s most powerful formula yet! 5200 mg of Glucosamine Hcl and sulfate forms per...
- K9 Level 5000 also contains a comprehensive blend of natural, cutting-edge support ingredients to...
Liquid Health K9 Level 5000 is packed with glucosamine, and it also provides chondroitin and methylsulfonylmethane too. In fact, every ounce of the supplement contains 2600 milligrams of glucosamine sulfate and glucosamine hydrochloride, as well as 1000 milligrams of chondroitin and 1000 milligrams of methylsulfonylmethane.
Liquid Health K9 Level 5000 contains natural beef flavor, which most dogs appear to love. Personally, this is the glucosamine supplement I’d choose, given that it is widely reported as being palatable, it contains two different forms of glucosamine and the fact that it is made in the USA.
Chewables are great for dogs who will take them, as they needn’t be mixed with anything or prepared in any way at all. You simply grab one and give it to your dog like a treat. Problems can arise, however, if your dog doesn’t like the taste. Just check out our suggestions (below) for getting unwilling pups to take their supplement.
K9 of Mine’s Recommendation: Nutramax Cosequin DS Plus with MSM Chewable Tablets
- Your veterinarian may suggest Cosequin supplements if your dog is having difficulties climbing...
- Cosequin supplements are formulated to meet a variety of needs
- Cosequin for dogs is available in a tasty chicken flavored chewable tablet to help your dog maintain...
- Manufactured in the United States with globally sourced ingredients, Cosequin is a high quality, dog...
Nutramax Cosequin DS Plus chewable tablets are made with several different joint-supporting supplements, including glucosamine hydrochloride, sodium chondroitin sulfate and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM). Each tablet provides 600 milligrams of glucosamine, so small dogs will only need a portion of a tablet.
It is made with (unidentified) natural and artificial flavors, which some dogs appear to find tasty. However, a non-insignificant percentage of owners reported that their dog would only eat them if coated in peanut butter or some other masking agent.
Powders are often one of the easiest ways to administer supplemental glucosamine to your dog. You can simply sprinkle the recommended quantity on your dog’s food, or you can mix it with a little water to create a supplemental “gravy.” Note that some powders appear extremely unpalatable, so try to pick one most dogs seem to like.
K9 of Mine’s Recommendation: The Missing Link All Natural Dog Supplement
- SUPPORTS MOBILITY & JOINT FUNCTION: Glucosamine, balanced omegas and superfoods help keep joints...
- HEART HEALTHY: Fresh ground flaxseed, taurine, and nutritional yeast help support heart health.
- THE ORIGINAL: The first commercially sold pet supplement developed by Veterinarian, Dr. Collett -...
The Missing Link is a multi-ingredient joint supplement, which provides about 400 milligrams of glucosamine hydrochloride per three teaspoons. It also contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which may offer further benefits for your pup. It’s made without any artificial colors, flavors or preservatives, and most dogs appear to like the taste.
Can I Give My Dog Glucosamine Made for People?
Probably, but it is not a good idea.
As previously discussed, glucosamine is available in several different forms. And while some appear to be more effective than others, there is no real difference between the glucosamine used in human supplements and that which is used in canine supplements.
Glucosamine sulfate, for example, is glucosamine sulfate – there’s no real difference between that formed in your dog’s body and that formed in yours.
This would seem to indicate that you can, in fact, use human-intended glucosamine for your pup. However, there are a number of inactive ingredients used in the production of glucosamine supplements for people, and some of these may be harmful to your dog.
As long as you select a product that doesn’t contain dangerous additives, there is nothing wrong with giving your dog a glucosamine designed for people. But few people will do the necessary homework to ensure they aren’t giving their dog a supplement with dangerous ingredients.
Accordingly, it is generally wisest to choose a glucosamine supplement made by a reputable manufacturer and explicitly intended for canine use.
What About Glucosamine-Fortified Foods?
Many premium dog foods are fortified with glucosamine, chondroitin and other joint supplements. This causes many owners to wonder if they really need a supplement, or if one of these foods can provide all of the glucosamine their dog needs.
Unfortunately, while several foods do include glucosamine, they generally only contain a relatively small amount – far below that which is typically recommended for supplementation.
Let’s take an example: Wellness CORE Natural Grain-Free – specifically their Large Breed formula.
This recipe – like most other Wellness recipes – is quite impressive and features most of the things you’d want in a dog food. We’ve recommended several of these recipes in our food reviews.
Wellness CORE Grain-Free is very nutritious, it is loaded with premium ingredients, and it contains all of the bells and whistles an owner could want. It is also fortified with several valuable supplements, including glucosamine. Long story short, it’s a 4½- to 5-star product, depending on the situation and your dog’s needs.
According to the label, Wellness CORE Grain-Free (Large Breed) contains “Not Less Than” 750 milligrams of glucosamine per kilogram of food (it also provides “Not Less Than” 250 mg/kg or chondroitin).
That sounds like a reasonable amount of glucosamine – until you do the math:
Most guidelines recommend providing a 100-pound dog with 4,000 milligrams of glucosamine every day (split into two doses). That means your dog would need to eat 5.3 kilograms of food each day to see any real benefit from the added glucosamine.
I know these metric units are baffling to most of us Americans, so let me put that into better context: 5.3 kilograms of food is 50 cups, give or take. That’s something like 17,000 Calories. That’s more than a male lion needs every day. It is about 10x the amount of food our hypothetical 100-pound dog needs.
We looked at the glucosamine content of several other premium foods (including Instinct Raw Boost, Merrick Grain-Free, Blue Buffalo Life Protection, and NUTRO ULTRA Senior) but none have significantly more glucosamine than Wellness CORE does. A few have much less, and some fail to indicate the amount contained at all.
So, it is unlikely that your dog will ingest the recommended daily dose of glucosamine from his food. It is conceivably possible that some food is packed with about 10 times the glucosamine that these foods are, but I don’t think it is very likely.
If you know of a food with a significantly higher amount of glucosamine in the recipe, please let us know.
Does Glucosamine Present any Risks?
Glucosamine is generally considered a safe supplement, which rarely causes health problems or side effects. However, a few minor problems are occasionally noted, including:
- Mild intestinal disturbance
- Insomnia and sleep disturbances
- Excessive thirst
- Excessive urination
Some doctors and veterinarians are concerned that because glucosamine is a sugar, it may trigger diabetes or cause problems with insulin resistance. Accordingly, you should consult your vet before administering it to a diabetic dog. It has also been shown to increase cholesterol levels in some animals, and there is a possibility that it may increase blood pressure too.
Blood-thinning medications may interact with glucosamine, so dogs taking such medications should not be given glucosamine without veterinary approval. It is also important to discuss your dog’s glucosamine usage with your vet if your dog requires surgery. Few studies have been conducted on pregnant or lactating dogs, so care is required in these situations.
Additionally, because many glucosamine supplements are derived from crustaceans, humans or dogs with shellfish allergies should avoid supplements harvested from such sources.
What Other Treatment Strategies Are Effective Alongside Glucosamine?
Realize that while glucosamine may very well help treat hip dysplasia, arthritis, and other joint ailments, there are a number of other treatment strategies that can be implemented concurrently, to help give your pup the best chance at recovery.
Some of the most notable strategies include:
All owners should strive to keep their dog’s body weight in the ideal range, as obesity can cause a number of health problems. However, weight loss is often especially critical when treating hip, elbow, knee or back problems, as excessive weight burdens your dog’s bones and joints.
Just be sure that you help your dog lose weight gradually and in a safe manner – don’t just start withholding food. Begin by cutting out all of the empty calories your dog receives (including treats and people food), and then, switch to a low-calorie food or simply reduce the quantity you feed your dog slightly.
In most cases, you’ll want to consult with your vet while trying to get your dog to lose weight.
Exercise can help improve mobility and your dog’s mental well-being (which is helpful in treating just about any ailment). Exercise can also help strengthen the muscles around the ailing joints, which can help support the joint and improve your dog’s quality of life.
However, it is important that your dog gets exercise in the right way, as overuse is one of the primary causes of joint problems in the first place. Typically, this means you’ll want to provide your dog with low-impact exercises that won’t cause a lot of stress on your his joints.
Because the water will support your dog’s body and it doesn’t involve much impact, swimming is one of the best options for dogs who are healthy enough to do so safely.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are sometimes effective at reducing the pain and inflammation that accompanies arthritis, dysplasias, and other joint problems. While you should never give your dog an NSAID without first consulting your vet, they are generally regarded as safe when used properly.
Aspirin and ibuprofen are two of the most common NSAIDs, but there are a litany of drugs in this class, including several that are specifically formulated for canine use. Some of these include:
- Meloxicam (Also goes by brand name Metacam)
Canine physical therapists may be able to provide your dog with some pain relief and improve your dog’s mobility through various stretches, exercises, and stimulation techniques. You’ll have to cough up a bit of cash to obtain the services of a qualified canine physical therapist, but the results often justify the cost.
Chondroitin is another naturally occurring compound that is important in the production and maintenance of cartilage and other joint tissues. Chondroitin is actually produced by glucosamine in the body (glucosamine is a precursor to chondroitin).
Chondroitin is often given in conjunction with glucosamine, and some studies have shown that the combined effects of the two supplements exceed those produced by either supplement by itself. Like glucosamine, chondroitin is largely considered safe, although its efficacy is similarly unclear.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are important for a variety of biological processes, and they exhibit a pretty significant anti-inflammatory effect, which can help reduce your dog’s pain. Omega-3 fatty acids are available as supplements, and you can also provide them via your dog’s diet. Many fish-derived oils are rich in omega-3s, as are flaxseed-based products.
MSM is another naturally occurring substance that some contend supports joint health and counteracts the pain and mobility limitations caused by osteoarthritis. Like glucosamine and chondroitin, there’s mixed evidence regarding its efficacy and it is largely considered safe. Accordingly, it is often used in conjunction with glucosamine and is present in many supplements.
A Spoonful of Sugar: Getting Your Pup to Take Her Glucosamine
Some of the glucosamine supplements on the market are unpalatable to dogs. This can make it difficult to get your furry friend to swallow the supplement, and leave you frustrated and prevent your dog from getting better. Fortunately, there are a few tricks you can embrace to help make the process go easier.
Mix Powders or Liquids in With Your Dog’s Food
Most glucosamine powders and liquids are designed to be mixed with your dog’s food (although liquids can sometimes just be dispensed on your dog’s tongue). However, your dog is more likely to slurp up their medicine if you mix it in with something truly delicious. A few of the best mixers include:
- Peanut butter
- Olive oil
- Fish oil
- Low-fat cheese spread
- Chicken fat
- Beef fat
- Bacon fat
Don’t get carried away with these high-calorie mixers – you don’t want to give your dog a gut while trying to get him to take his medicine. We’re talking about using a tablespoon or so for a big dog, and perhaps only a teaspoon’s worth for a little yapper.
Use Pill Pockets
There are a number of commercially produced “pill pockets” designed to help mask the flavor of supplements and medications. Most are essentially small treats that feature a hidden pocket, into which you can put a tablet or capsule.
Greenies makes a great pill pocket, which is available in a few different flavors.
Use Cheese as a Trojan Horse
You can co-opt the pill pocket idea by simply inserting a pill or capsule in a small piece of cheese. You’ll have to engage in a little bit of cheese surgery to do so, but with a little practice, you’ll find this pretty easy to do. The little cubes of cheese available at most grocery stores will work well for medium to large dogs.
If you have a small pup or one that is overweight, you may want to opt for a low-fat cheese, rather than the full-fat stuff.
Do you use glucosamine to help support your dog’s joints? How has it worked for you? Have you noticed any improvements in your dog’s condition since beginning the practice?
We’d love to hear about your experiences. Especially those involving tangible differences in your dog’s mobility. Let us know all about it in the comments below.