Best Dog Food for Arthritis: 5 Vet-Recommended Picks

Best Dog Food for Arthritis: 5 Vet-Recommended Picks

For the estimated 1 in 4 adult dogs suffering with arthritis, the right diet is one of several options that can offer some relief. What exactly is the right diet for dog joints, though? To help cut through the confusion, we asked veterinarians to recommend the best dog food for arthritis and mobility issues, as well as provide some tips so you know what to look for when choosing a diet for dog joint pain.

Remember to always check with your veterinarian before trying a new food, and/or if you suspect your dog has arthritis.

Our Picks

All featured products are chosen at the discretion of the Great Pet Care editorial team and do not reflect a direct endorsement by the author.

  • Best Overall Dog Food for Arthritis: Hill’s Prescription Diet j/d Joint Care
  • Best Dry Dog Food for Arthritis: Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets JM Joint Mobility Dry Dog Food
  • Best Canned Dog Food For Arthritis: Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Adult Advanced Mobility Support Loaf in Sauce Wet Food
  • Best Large Breed Dog Food for Arthritis: Hill’s Science Diet Healthy Mobility Large Breed
  • Best Senior Dog Food for Arthritis: Blue Buffalo Natural Veterinary Diet W+M Weight Management + Mobility Support

Dog Arthritis and Diet: What’s the Connection?

Though dog arthritis generally can’t be prevented, good dietary and supplement choices may be able to help slow the progression of osteoarthritis, says Dr. Joseph Wakshlag, DVM, section chief of nutrition at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, New York. A lean body weight is central to this. “Obesity is an inflammatory disease that needs to be addressed through weight loss, which is the number one recommendation,” says Wakshlag, who is dual board-certified in veterinary internal medicine (nutrition) and veterinary sports medicine and rehabilitation.

Excess weight puts pressure on dog joints. The good news is that even modest weight loss can make a difference [1].

A complete and balanced diet — based on guidelines set by The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) — is adequate for most dogs, says Dr. Gabrielle Fadl, director of primary care at Bond Vet, based in New York City. However, she adds, “Some might benefit from a diet specifically designed to help with arthritis, which would have some added ingredients or supplements to target joint health.”

One of the most widely used of these ingredients are omega-3 fatty acids, which veterinarians say help manage inflammation, a major contributor to osteoarthritis [2]. “The nutrients that have some evidence to support their use, including in ‘joint diets,’ are predominantly omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), specifically from marine sources like fish oil,” says Dr. Valerie Parker, clinical professor at the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine in Columbus.

Other ingredients commonly found in dog food for arthritis are antioxidants like vitamin E, turmeric, berries to help minimize damage caused from free radicals and prevent inflammation, and glucosamine to help maintain cartilage, the material that cushions dog joints.

5 Best Dog Foods for Arthritis According to Vets

Our list of vet-recommended dog foods for arthritis is intended as a guide, not as the final say. Your dog may have specific dietary needs that your veterinarian can best address.

Best Overall Dog Food for Arthritis

Our pick: Hill’s Prescription Diet j/d Joint Care

Research shows that this prescription option is an excellent anti-inflammatory food for dogs. In a randomized, double-blind study, Hill’s Prescription Diet j/d Joint Care had the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids (2 percent) of any therapeutic dog food for arthritis [3]. It’s also enriched with glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate to support cartilage, as well as antioxidants like vitamins C and E to minimize free radical damage. Plus, it has added L-carnitine, which some studies show can help build healthy muscle.

Key Benefits

  • Nutrient profile is backed by a double-blind study
  • Formulated with a therapeutic amount of omega-3 fatty acids, as well as glucosamine, chondroitin, and antioxidants
  • Contains L-carnitine to help build muscles
  • Hills employs a team of nutritionists and veterinarians to formulate its pet diets

Best Dry Dog Food for Arthritis

Our pick: Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets JM Joint Mobility Dry Dog Food

In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of dogs who received ligament surgery, those who ate the JM Joint Mobility diet had a reduction in arthritis symptoms when compared to dogs who ate a commercial diet [4]. This diet profile consists of fatty acids (0.85 percent), glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, vitamins C and E, and added L-carnitine.

Key Benefits

  • Backed by a double-blind, placebo-controlled study
  • Contains omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, glucosamine, and chondroitin sulfate
  • Includes additional L-carnitine
  • Purina relies on veterinarians, nutritionists, and researchers to formulate their diets

Best Canned Dog Food For Arthritis

Our pick: Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Adult Advanced Mobility Support Loaf in Sauce Wet Food

This diet is backed by a double-blind, placebo-controlled study showing that dogs who received its combination of collagen, curcumin extract (in the form of turmeric extract) and green tea extract had a reduction in pain after three months [5]. This particular Royal Canin diet also contains 0.5 percent omega-3 fatty acids, as well as vitamins C and E. It’s formulated to promote a healthy body weight, which is important given the link between osteoarthritis and obesity.

Key Benefits

  • Nutrient profile is backed by a double-blind study
  • Contains ingredients known to help manage arthritis in dogs, including omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants
  • Features turmeric extract, known for its anti-inflammatory properties
  • Designed for weight control
  • Royal Canin employs board-certified veterinary nutritionists to develop their therapeutic diets   

Best Large Breed Dog Food for Arthritis

Our pick: Hill’s Science Diet Healthy Mobility Large Breed

Large-breed dogs are more prone to developing osteoarthritis and suffering from more severe symptoms [1]. The Mobility Large Breed diet from Hill’s contains the correct ratio of minerals (like calcium and vitamin D) to promote strong bones in larger dog joints. It also includes 1 percent omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and vitamins C and E. And unlike Hill’s j/d Joint Care, this diet doesn’t require a prescription.

Key Benefits

  • Contains a minimum of 1 percent omega-3 fatty acids, along with vitamin E, glucosamine, and chondroitin sulfate
  • Has the correct ratio of minerals for larger dog joints
  • Hills employs a team of nutritionists and veterinarians to formulate its pet diets
  • No prescription required

Best Senior Dog Food for Arthritis

Our pick: Blue Buffalo Natural Veterinary Diet W+M Weight Management + Mobility Support

This diet has features known to benefit senior dogs, including reduced calories, increased fiber (which helps dogs feel full longer), and joint health supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin. The first ingredient is protein-rich salmon, providing a therapeutic amount (2 percent) of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins C and E, and added L-carnitine.

Key Benefits

  • First ingredient is salmon
  • Contains a minimum of 2 percent omega-3 fatty acids, as well as glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and vitamin E
  • Added fiber helps dogs feel full longer
  • Also available in canned form
  • Blue Buffalo therapeutic diets are formulated by veterinarians and animal nutritionists.

Ingredients to Look for in Joint Care Dog Food

When it comes to joint care dog food, individual ingredients aren’t as important as the whole diet. “It’s more about how an individual dog’s body responds to a particular diet,” says Fadl. There are, however, certain ingredients that joint health dog food tends to include.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids (DHA and EPA)

Anti-inflammatory food for dogs should contain plenty of omega-3 fatty acids because of their ability to help fight the inflammation that contributes to dog joint pain. The evidence is stronger than for other ingredients, says Parker, who is board-certified in veterinary internal medicine (nutrition). “The best evidence for nutrition for joint disease in dogs is the inclusion of fish oil.”

The diet has to contain an adequate amount to be effective, though. You would likely be looking for “a 1 percent inclusion of EPA and DHA in the food, which, based on the typical 20 kg dog eating 200 grams of food, would be around 2 grams of EPA and DHA. This results in about 100 mg/kg body weight, which is a solid dose of these fatty acids,” says Wakshlag.

Glucosamine and Chondroitin

Diets with glucosamine can help dog joints, says Dr. Astrith Puentes, a partner doctor with Heart + Paw – Ballston Quarter, in Arlington, Virginia. Glucosamine (found primarily in shellfish) and chondroitin (derived from sources like shark cartilage and pork byproducts) serve as the foundation of joint cartilage [6]. In combination, they can help protect and maintain damaged joint cartilage. Though studies are mixed, this combio may be helpful in easing symptoms of arthritis in some dogs.

Something else to consider: “Glucosamine and chondroitin are often in joint diets, but the reality is that the amounts of glucosamine and chondroitin are often far lower in diets than what you would find in a concentrated glucosamine supplement,” says Parker.

Antioxidants

Antioxidants help reduce the effects of free radical damage. Free radicals are unstable atoms that can damage cells, causing inflammation. Antioxidants are especially important to consider when caring for a senior dog. Examples of antioxidants found in diets for dog joint pain include added vitamin E and C, turmeric, and green tea extract. Antioxidants are also found in foods like cranberries, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin.

L-Carnitine

Some dog food manufacturers formulate their diets with added L-carnitine, an amino acid with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. One study showed that it improved performance in working dogs [7].

Probiotics

Certain diets contain strains of probiotics, which “might be helpful for some dogs with arthritis,” says Fadl. One study found that poor gut health (which occurs when “bad” bacteria outnumber “good” bacteria) may contribute to inflammation that causes joint and bone deterioration [8].

Other Ingredients for Dog Joint Pain

There’s increasing evidence that ingredients like green tea, curcumin, avocado, collagen II, and the Boswellia plant may be useful in slowing progression of arthritis, says Wakshlag, “However, the success of these products for long-term use have limited evidence on prognosis long term.”

What About CBD Oil?

Though cannabidiol (CBD) has the potential to reduce pain and improve mobility in dogs with arthritis, it’s not widely available as an ingredient in pet foods. However, you can find CBD in certain supplements and treats for dogs. Be sure to talk to your veterinarian before giving your dog CBD in any form.

Dog Food for Arthritis: Ingredients to Avoid

Generally, veterinarians recommend focusing on a dog’s weight and overall nutritional content of a given diet. Additionally, dietary needs vary by individual dog, says Fadl.

For example, “Some have allergies or sensitivities to perfectly healthy ingredients, while others do exceptionally well on a diet that might cause issues in another dog” Fadl continues. “It’s very individual and might require some trial and error initially. In other words, there’s not necessarily a ‘bad’ ingredient, it’s more about how an individual dog’s body responds to a particular diet.”

Dog Food for Arthritis Buying Guide

We’ve gathered a few vet-recommended tips to help you choose the best dog food for arthritis.

Buy for Your Dog’s Individual Needs

“If a diet or a supplement worked for your neighbor’s pet, [that] doesn’t mean that it will work on yours,” says Puentes. “Keep in mind every animal is different and has individual needs. Have a direct conversation with your veterinarian and ask questions.”

Consider Therapeutic Diets

Therapeutic diets may be pricier than commercial diets, but Fadl says that veterinarians frequently recommend them because of the quality control and ingredient reliability. “They’re also a great place to start since they’re the most specialized type of diet for a specific health problem. However, the right diet can vary from dog to dog.”

Look for Correct Amounts of Ingredients

Choosing an anti-inflammatory food for dogs that contains ingredients like omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants is important, but so is knowing the correct amount that should be in the food. “A reputable company will provide the amount of the EPA and DHA in the diet, or the amount of glucosamine and chondroitin in a diet, that will allow someone to calculate how much of that nutrient the animal is getting. That is one of the best ways to compare all these diets,” says Parker.

The amount of omega-3 fatty acids should be 1 percent or higher to help reduce the chronic inflammatory process, says Wakshlag. If the label doesn’t list the amount, “It’s worth a phone call to the manufacturer to find out the levels of these fatty acids,” he adds.

For questions about dosing, check with your veterinarian.

Buy Dog Food from a Reputable Company

Look for companies that manufacture their foods in the United States and follow AAFCO guidelines. This means the diet is complete and balanced (containing essential ingredients in the correct amounts) for a dog’s specific life stage.

Also, buy from companies that have board-certified veterinarians and nutritionists on their staff and are current on research. “Animal food companies have different prices. Most of the time I recommend not going for the cheapest one or the most expensive one. I always recommend companies that invest in research,” says Puentes.

References

  1. Johnson, K., Lee, A., etal. (2020, June). “Nutrition and nutraceuticals in the changing management of osteoarthritis for dogs and cats.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Retrieved from https://avmajournals.avma.org/view/journals/javma/256/12/javma.256.12.1335.xml
  2. Anthony, E. (n.d.) “The Role of Nutrition in Managing Canine Osteoarthritis.” Veterinary Technician. In VetFolio. Retrieved from https://www.vetfolio.com/learn/article/the-role-of-nutrition-in-managing-canine-osteoarthritis
  3. Clinical Evidence Report – Canine j/d Clinical Studies. Veterinary Consultation Service. Retrieved from https://protrain.hs.llnwd.net/e1/sitefiles/642/Documents/Clinical%20Evidence%20report.pdf
  4. Dr Wendy Baltzer – “The Effects of an Omega-3 Fatty Acid-Rich Diet with Rehabilitation on Recovery, Activity, and Osteoarthritis in Dogs Following Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy Surgery for Cranial Cruciate Ligament Disease.” (n.d). American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.akcchf.org/educational-resources/2017-health-conference-videos/dr-wendy-baltzer-omega-3.html
  5. Comblain, F.,Barthelemy, N., etal. (2017, December). “A randomized, double-blind, prospective, placebo-controlled study of the efficacy of a diet supplemented with curcuminoids extract, hydrolyzed collagen and green tea extract in owner’s dogs with osteoarthritis.” BMC Veterinary Research. In National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29262825/
  6. “Improving Dogs Arthritis Pain With Diet” (2018, February). Tufts Your Dog. Retrieved from https://www.tuftsyourdog.com/dogfoodandnutrition/improving-dogs-arthritis-pain-with-diet/
  7. Varney, Jessica L. – “Utilisation of supplemented L-carnitine for fuel efficiency, as an antioxidant, and for muscle recovery in Labrador retrievers.” Cambridge University Press. Journal of Nutritional Science. Retrieved from https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-nutritional-science/article/utilisation-of-supplemented-lcarnitine-for-fuel-efficiency-as-an-antioxidant-and-for-muscle-recovery-in-labrador-retrievers/8E51E0F6E396F449DA8532797183EA90
  8. Cintio, M., Scarsella, E., etal. (2020, July). “Gut Microbiome of Healthy and Arthritic Dogs.” Veterinary Sciences. In National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from

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