Causes of Joint Pain in Pets

And Nutrients That Can Help!Dog with workout ball


By Lindsay Eadie, CNP

What is arthritis?

Arthritis is a common term that refers to pain or stiffness of the joints. There are a variety of types and causes of arthritis; the main types are degenerative arthritis, of which the most common is osteoarthritis, and inflammatory arthritis like rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis. Common symptoms of arthritis include swelling, pain, stiffness, and a decreased range of motion in the joint. These symptoms may come and go, and are often worse when the weather changes. It is often diagnosed through x-rays showing the narrowing of the area between the bones taken up by cartilage. 

The most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis is also known as “wear-and-tear arthritis” because it is characterized by the long-term degeneration of cartilage due to years of repeated stress on joints. Cartilage is the gel-like tissue that protects the ends of bones by acting as a shock absorber and facilitates smooth, pain-free movement of joints and the spine. Without this protective layer in the joint, bone literally rubs against bone, causing pain, inflammation, limiting movement, and deforming the bone ends. Weight-bearing joints, such as the joints of the knees, hips, and spine as well as the wrists are most often affected by osteoarthritis because of the stress caused by weight and use.Dog walking up ramp

Rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic inflammatory disease, is one that affects the entire body but especially the joints. This form of arthritis more commonly affects the joints of the hands, feet, wrists, ankles, and knees. There is plenty of evidence showing that rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune reaction, meaning that antibodies produced from the immune system target and attack components of joint tissues. Little is known about the cause of autoimmune reactions as so many of the body’s systems are involved, but there is much speculation linking it to genetics, leaky-gut syndrome, food allergies, lifestyle, and nutritional factors. 

Dysplasia, or the malformation of joints, is a developmental disease resulting from the deformation of the joint as it grows. This leads to degeneration of cartilage, causing inflammation and pain. Without the cushioning effect of cartilage, the joint becomes stiff, swollen, and very sensitive. Motion is limited, and discomfort and pain force the pet to favour the affected limb. Ligaments and surrounding joint tissues aren’t strong enough to stabilize the joint properly, leading to irritation, scarring, and the further degeneration of the joint. Dysplasia can affect the knees, elbows (more common in toy breeds), and hips, the most common form of dysplasia found in dogs. It is often corrected with surgery but there are natural options for dealing with the degeneration of the joint and helping to manage pain.

Glucosamine and Chondroitin

Glucosamine and chondroitin are both substances classified as “glycosaminoglycans” and are essential components of cartilage. Glucosamine provides proteins for the growth, repair, and maintenance of cartilage. It helps cartilage retain water and prevent its breakdown. In addition, glucosamine is essential to the production of synovial fluid, the fluid that surrounds joints and provides lubrication. It has been shown to have similar effects as NSAIDs for easing osteoarthritis symptoms, though does take more time to work. Studies using glucosamine to treat osteoarthritis have found an improvement in stiffness and joint pain, and that it might slow the deterioration of cartilage. Chondroitin is a component of cartilage giving it a spongy texture and helping to protect cartilage against compression. Studies have found that it can help prevent cartilage breakdown by reducing the activity of enzymes that break down collagen in joints and can stimulate cartilage repair. It is widely used for its anti-inflammatory properties and its ability to reduce pain and the use of painkillers.

MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane)

MSM is an organic sulfur-containing compound which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects on joints through its ability to detoxify cellular waste and lactic acids. This biologically active sulfur is used by the body to improve immune function, lessen allergic reaction, lower systemic inflammation, and repair damaged tissues. Due to its ability to repair tissues, it is often recommended for arthritis and joint repair. Sulfur is essential for the maintenance and repair of strong and flexible connective tissue. Collagen is also important in the repair of joint cartilage, which can sustain serious damage in conditions like arthritis and other degenerative joint conditions. Sulfur’s ability to repair cartilage and boost collagen production makes it a great supplement for halting damage done by arthritic conditions and for strengthening, lubricating, and repair of damaged joints.  MSM is an analgesic, meaning that it helps block the transfer of pain signals. It has also been shown to have the ability to reduce or eliminate soreness, stiffness, and muscle cramps.

Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid)

Vitamin C in the form of ascorbic acid is required for the synthesis and maintenance of the protein collagen, the basis of connective tissues found in skin, ligaments, cartilage, vertebral discs, and joint linings to name a few; therefore, it is often included in joint formulas. Ascorbic acid has also been helpful for relieving pain due to inflammation, and is regularly recommended for osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis. There is evidence that vitamin C can also be useful in preventing hip dysplasia as it has been implicated that hip dysplasia is in part caused by a chronic subclinical scurvy. Chronic vitamin C deficiency weakens ligaments and muscles around the joints resulting in the hip joints forming incorrectly. In a study by Wendell Belfield, DVM reported in Veterinary Medicine/ Small Animal Clinician Journal high amounts of vitamin C provided 100% prevention of hip dysplasia in 8 litters of German Shepherd pups with parents that either had hip dysplasia or had who had previously produce puppies with dysplasia. 

Though there are many different and distinct causes of arthritis in pets, nutrients like glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, and vitamin C can be used both preventatively to protect joints and surrounding tissues as well as to treat symptoms of arthritis like stiffness, pain, and reduced range of motion. Lowering inflammation, decreasing pain, and supporting cartilage repair can go a long way towards improving the lives of pets who suffer from arthritis and can even help to extend their life.