It’s not just big dogs, working dogs, or dogs participating in sports such as lure coursing and flyball who need extra joint care. While these activities do put extra stress on joints, most dogs actively run, jump, and play. Everyday life can result in progressive cartilage deterioration -- osteoarthritis -- which leads to lameness. Inflammatory diseases and hereditary factors like hip dysplasia also cause loss of joint cartilage.

Why is the health of joint cartilage so important? Cartilage is the watery, shock-absorbing cushion between two bones in a joint. Without this thick, protective cushion bones rub together resulting inflammation of the bones and surrounding tissues including nerves and painful lameness.

For cartilage to remain in good shape it needs proper nourishment and, because it doesn’t have its own blood supply, physical movement, which is required to pump nourishment in from surrounding tissue. SInce there is no cure for osteoarthritis, only treatments to mask the symptoms, the best time to start taking care of your dog’s joints is when he’s still young.

The most common aid in the prevention of osteoarthritis is the nutraceutical (nutritional supplement) glucosamine, a key element in the creation and maintenance of healthy cartilage. Most commonly derived from the exoskeletons of crustaceans, its chemical forms are often glucosamine hydrochloride and glucosamine sulfate. Although either form is equally effective, glucosamine hydrochloride formulas are more concentrated because hydrochloride (the delivery vehicle) is more stable so less is needed.

Chondroitin is another key element in healthy cartilage. As a supplement chondroitin sulfate is the common form, although it’s naturally found in healthy cartilage and certain algae.

Many glucosamine-based joint supplements like Liquid Health K9 Glucosamine and Myristin include other synergistic ingredients such as chondroitin, MSM, yucca, alfalfa, omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, and certain vitamins and minerals.

Food based sources of joint nutrition include Wholistic Run Free, green-lipped mussels such as Kuku Chews, bovine cartilage like beef trachea, knuckle bones with cartilage, and cartilage-rich pig and cow ears

Nutritionally balanced diets that naturally high in glucosamine and chondroitin include Orijen Six Fish, Acana Pacifica, and ZiwiPeak Daily Dog formulas.

When shopping for supplements, food, and treats look for the guaranteed analysis. Many food and treats are marketed as “joint support” but contain very little glucosamine and/or chondroitin.

And let’s not forget the other aspect to healthy joints: exercise. It’s physical movement that gets all this great nourishment you’re feeding your dog pumped into the joints from surrounding tissue. Move it, or lose it!

As always, before adding supplements to your dog or cat’s diet or changing their exercise regimen, consult with your vet. Some conditions for which glucosamine and chondroitin supplementation is contraindicated include bleeding problems. diabetes, and a risk for diabetes.