Why a Doggie Joint Supplement Needs Side Effect Warning

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A certain joint supplement made for both people and dogs we’ve all heard of can cause side effects that aren’t mentioned on the packaging.

I had a major scare with my Collie, who turned 10 years old a couple of months ago. After spending a lot of money on tests at the veterinarian, I think we’ve found the cause: a common joint supplement you’ll find at any pet store.

Those of us who love having dogs in our lives tend to treat them like family. We worry about their health. We know that no matter how long they live, it won’t be long enough.

I often remember a quote I heard from comedian George Carlin who talked about loving and losing dogs:

It’s inevitable when you buy the pet. You’re supposed to know it in the pet shop. It’s going to end badly. You are purchasing a small tragedy.

George Carlin

My 10-year-old Collie slowed down just a little in his walk speed. But this time of year, it’s cooler and with that thick coat of his, he relishes every moment outside with a breeze blowing and lower humidity. And when he sees a neighbor who has ever petted him in the past, his speed increases to get one more greeting from them.

His appetite remains strong. He doesn’t pass up food. He loves his toys. But as always, he loves the couch or my bed even more. His mental facilities haven’t slowed down a bit. His mind operates like the proverbial steel trap: he never seems to forget anything.

I thought I was doing a good thing for him

The vet never mentioned any signs of arthritis or joint problems. But he just turned 10. So I thought a joint supplement would be a good idea. I thought it was a matter of being proactive. Every life coach says staying proactive is a good thing, right?

So I bought a joint supplement for him in the form of a soft chew treat. The treats contain the compounds Glucosamine and Chondroitin. The National Institutes of Health describes them this way: “Glucosamine and chondroitin are constituents of cartilage, a component of the joints.” They occur naturally in the body and scientists believe supplements with those compounds can protect joints.

Well, why wouldn’t I buy him some treats if they might prolong the quality of his life?

The first pack I bought came in the form of about two-inch soft chews. I bought a couple of different types of treats for his birthday. I thought I’d try to find some new treat he’d really enjoy, but the supplement would be more for health than enjoyment or reward.

The labeling mentioned no side effects at all. It suggested for a dog his weight that he should get three treats per day. When we got home from the pet store that afternoon, I gave him one. He got three of them the next day. He developed soft stools, but that sometimes happens anyway. I figured it may have been the excitement of his birthday.

I noticed he was drinking more water than normal. He always drinks a lot of water every day. But it just seemed like he was drinking even more than normal. I didn’t think about it a great deal until the next day or so, when he actually wet the bed.

I have to explain something: the Rough Collie is one of the easiest dogs to train. They want to please so much that once they learn what the rules are, that’s exactly what they want. Their herding instinct enters the picture here: they want to make sure they follow the rules and will herd their family members into following them, too.

My dog is excellent about letting me know when he needs to go outside for a potty break. So wetting the bed without even asking to go out is about a thousand miles outside of his normal.

A day or so later, as I was taking him outside, he started peeing in the hallway outside my door. I pulled him inside and scolded him. He’d never done that before. I took him back into the hallway and by the time we got to the elevator, he was peeing again all over the floor. It was a lot of pee. I thought back to the water he was drinking.

The loose stools continued, so I backed off on some of those new treats, especially the supplement, thinking that might be the cause of the stomach upset. That seemed to do the trick.

So I looked for an alternate supplement

Maybe a different brand of the Glucosamine and Chondroitin supplement wouldn’t upset his stomach. So I found a different variety. But I took that back when he wouldn’t touch it. (I smelled one of them; I wouldn’t have tasted it, either.) I settled on a third brand, from a brand name I’ve used before. He seemed to be very enthusiastic about this third one.

The third time is supposed to be the charm, right? Not this time.

The excessive water drinking continued. Reasoning that he might be having a harder time “holding it” when he needed to go outside, I started trying to be more mindful about how often I was taking him outside. I tried to take him before he’d ask. And I also made sure to take him out again right before bed, no matter how recently he had gone outside.

There was one more bed-wetting problem and then an even bigger flood out in the hallway.

I called my vet and explained the problem. They had me bring him in for tests. I’m a hypochondriac, so I project that on my dog. I started searching online for excessive urination and possible causes. Some sites suggested incontinence was a symptom of old age, of course. But other causes seemed more dire.

After more than $250 of tests found nothing wrong, I brought him home, somewhat relieved that there was nothing serious. But I still worried about what the new normal might look like if he was losing bladder control.

Then I found a different website

The veterinarian never asked me if he was on any new medication. I wouldn’t have expected them to, since they’re his vet: They know exactly what medication he takes — and at the moment, that’s only a heartworm pill and his regular vaccinations. They didn’t ask about supplements.

I suppose I should have thought of that right away. But in the surprise and shock of the sudden change in behavior, those little supplements fell to the back of my mind.

I don’t know what made me Google that kind of joint supplement, but I did. At first, I read that there was no sign of side effects. OK, I could rule that out. But I happened to see a reference to people rather than dogs. So then I searched specifically for side effects in dog joint supplements.

The website Pawlicy Advisor — clever name — lists the following side effects:

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Occasional vomiting or diarrhea

He never has trouble taking a nap. But the other three were right there in front of me. Other sites say that in some cases, the joint supplement can cause incontinence or even bladder infections.

So I examined the packages of the two supplements I’d tried. There is no mention whatsoever of any side effects. It doesn’t even mention that side effects are possible.

If the first package had mentioned those side effects, I’d have stopped them at the first sign of those first two issues. It would have saved me that $250 vet bill and a lot of worrying about my dog.

Of course, I’ve stopped the supplement and he has had no more wetting issues and his water drinking has returned to normal. (He always drinks a lot of water, but he no longer acts like he’s back from a month in the Sahara.)

Products for dogs should list side effects like people products

Can you imagine a product made for people that caused those symptoms not listing side effects? Drug commercials these days run up to two minutes in length as an announcer rattles off the worst-case side effects someone might experience. Those side effects, the commercials assure us, are rare.

But because they’re possible, advertisers take the time to make mention of them. (Probably to avoid being sued.)

Lawyer commercials constantly pop up asking if you experienced this serious problem or that serious problem after taking a certain drug. If so, the ads say, you should call right away to see how much money you “deserve.”

I don’t want money. The best part of this whole ordeal is that I spent $250 I didn’t need to spend to find out that his urinary system was in really good shape and that his other organs showed no issues. So I’m glad to have that reassurance of his health.

But I don’t think it’s unreasonable that dog treat packagers at least mention possible side effects to save worried owners from going into a panic when their product causes such problems.

If I were a product manufacturer, I’d want that kind of disclosure on my product. For me, I’d see that as being more open and honest with my customers.

I don’t think that’s too much to ask for any manufacturer.

Sure, most people skip over the side effects disclosure and the rest of the small print on the packaging. But when mysterious symptoms suddenly appear, isn’t that side effects listing an obvious place to look?

So much for being proactive. I’m hoping he’ll keep on aging gracefully without any need for this supplement going forward. If he eventually does need it, at least I’ll know what it might cause…but no thanks to the manufacturers.

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.