Natural Alternatives to Support Joint Health in Pets

Written by: Dr. Jean Hofve, Holistic Veterinarian, DVM

Can Dogs & Cats Get Joint Discomfort?

As our companions age, many will develop joint discomfort, a common issue. Gradually you may notice that your feline friend no longer jumps up on the counters or furniture as easily. Your dog may hesitate to jump in the car or climbs stairs more slowly. You may notice your companion is stiff upon rising. These are all signs of joint discomfort. Up to 30% of companion animals have joint discomfort.

Joint discomfort is a slowly progressing issue found in hips, knees, ankles, and any other of your pet's joints. Joint discomfort can be present in any pet, but it is more common in large dog breeds.

No matter the type of joint discomfort, a maintenance program developed specifically  for your pet with a holistic veterinarian can be supportive.

Natural Supplements for Joint Support

There are many ways to support your pet's joint health with an alternative or natural approach. Joint health can often be supported for years using diet, supplements, herbs and acupuncture.

Glucosamine & Chondroitin

One of the best ingredients to promote joint health is a high quality glucosamine & chrondroitin sulfate supplement. Glucosamine supports glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), important proteins found in cartilage, and proteoglycans, the water-holding molecules that make up cartilage.

Glucosamine has been shown not only to help maintain cartilage as well as support a healthy inflammation response within the joints.

A typical amount would be at least 1000 mgs. per 50 lbs. of body weight daily, but this should be determined for your companion's specific needs with your veterinarian.

I often recommend that dogs be started on a good joint supplement that includes glucosamine by the time they become "senior": 8 or 9 for larger breeds, and 10 or 11 for smaller breeds, even when no symptoms are present.

Supporting joint health can go a long way to maintaining your aging pet's quality of life.


MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane), is another supportive supplement used for joint health. MSM is a naturally occurring sulfur compound found in every cell of the body, which helps to maintain healthy connective tissue and flexibility. It also  supports a healthy inflammation response.

Digestive Enzymes & Probiotics

Digestive enzymes & probiotics are important. They support the digestion and assimilation of the nutrients in cooked and processed foods.

Digestion issues may indicate an unhealthy inflammation response. Maintaining a healthy gastrointestinal system may also help maintain a healthy inflammation response within joints.

Fatty Acids

Fatty Acid Supplements, especially with fish oil, help support a healthy inflammation response, including within pet's joints. In addition, fatty acids help maintain gastrointestinal health.


Additional supplements, such as high-potency antioxidants, are also commonly recommended for joint support. Antioxidants support a healthy inflammation and free radical response.

Diet for Joint Health Support

Diet is a key factor in the support and maintenance of your pet's joints. Feeding your companion a quality diet is the foundation of good health, and is one of the most important thing you can do for your dog or cat.

I recommend a combination of home-prepared cooked meals, a very high quality canned food or dehydrated food, and the best quality kibble you can afford.

Chinese Herbs

Chinese herbs can also be very helpful in the support of joint health. It is best to have the guidance of a veterinarian trained in Chinese Medicine to select the proper herbs specific to your pet.


Constitutional Homeopathy has also produced good results for some pets. For a list of practitioners see The Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy website.

"There are a variety of herbal remedies and supplements available for joint support, which can be safely used in conjunction with glucosamine and other nutraceuticals. Keep in mind, however, that response to these or any remedies will vary by individual."

Herbal Supplements

There are a variety of herbal supplements available for joint support, which can be safely used in conjunction with glucosamine and other nutraceuticals. Keep in mind, however, that response to these or any remedies will vary by individual.

It is sometimes necessary to try one at a time until the best option is found (giving the supplement a minimum of two weeks, and preferably longer, to determine effectiveness).


Weight control is of utmost importance. An overweight animal may be more likely to experience joint discomfort. Gentle exercise is very helpful whether the animal is overweight or not.

For dogs, the ideal exercise is swimming or using underwater treadmills. Dog “spas” and pools are becoming more common all over the country. See the website for the Association of Canine Water Therapy for a practitioner and pool listing in your state.

Acupuncture & Chiropractic Adjustments

Acupuncture can also be extremely helpful for animals. I have seen dramatic support of joint health in both dogs and cats following acupuncture and with regular treatments. For a list of practitioners in your area see the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association Directory.

Chiropractic adjustments and massage can also be quite supportive. For a list of practitioners see the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association website, or the International Association of Animal Massage & Bodywork website.

Additional Resources