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Green-lipped mussels (GLMs) might be something you have never heard of, or sound like something you could order at your favorite seafood restaurant. But these unique shellfish are a type of mollusk found off the coast of New Zealand that is packed with nutrients. So, how could they help our dogs who suffer from joint pain?

The answer begins with the Maori, indigenous people who live in mainland New Zealand and have eaten the local green-lipped mussels for centuries. Research has revealed that the Maoris who live on the coast and eat a regular diet of mussels have an extremely low incidence of arthritis. This is not true for Maoris who live inland and don’t eat the mussels.

Number One Cause of Pain in Dogs

Scientists have zeroed in on green-lipped mussels and tested their effectiveness and safety in relieving symptoms of osteoarthritis in humans and dogs. This is very important in the world of canine health because arthritis, also called degenerative joint disease, is the number one cause of chronic pain in dogs, according to the AKC Canine Health Foundation. More than one in five dogs will develop progressively worsening osteoarthritis, joint pain and dysfunction, with some beginning as young as one-year-old.

Merck Veterinary Manual lists the following signs of osteoarthritis: lameness, joint swelling, wasting away of muscle, and thickening and scarring of the joint membrane. Depending on the severity of the condition, dogs may have difficulty rising or climbing stairs, be reluctant to exercise or take walks, show signs of limping, and feel pain when stroked near the affected joints, resulting in a big impact on quality of life for the dog and its owners.

A variety of factors can contribute to arthritis in dogs: age, weight, breed, repetitive stress, bone fractures and dislocations, hip or elbow dysplasia, and joint surgery. Arthritis is commonly recognized and treated in our older canine pals, but often overlooked as it develops in young dogs, although it affects 20% of dogs over the age of one year, and 80% of dogs over the age of 8.

Safety of GLMs

The green-lipped mussel (Perna canaliculus) is a product of marine aquaculture cultivated especially for food in the clear water off the coast of New Zealand. It is named for the bright green stripe visible inside the lip of the shell.

Researchers at Clemson University have evaluated GLM’s components and found a high level of omega-3 and other fatty acids, as well as other naturally occurring compounds that can improve joint lubrication, reduce inflammation, stiffness and joint pain, and improve mobility and range of motion. GLM is also one of nature’s best sources of eicosatetraenoic Acid (ETA) a widely studied ingredient that has been shown to provide equivalent pain relief to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). The components of GLM additionally include building blocks needed to limit additional deterioration and possibly regenerate damaged joint cartilage and synovial fluid.

GLM is also a potent source of Omega-3, fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals that aid with skin, organs, and disease prevention.

Weimaraner dog running in a lake to retrieve a treat bag
©Christian Müller -

Safety characteristics of GLM include:

  • Preparations made from green-lipped mussels have proven to be as efficient as NSAIDs at reducing inflammation, but GLM is well tolerated without any of the side effects of NSAIDs, including vomiting, diarrhea, ulcers, and bleeding.
  • New Zealand waters where the mussels are grown are tested regularly for biotoxins, and if levels exceed national limits, the mussels aren’t harvested, making the risk of mussel products containing biotoxins very low.
  • GLM is safe for dogs of all ages; there is not a minimum age restriction. Because of its safety profile, giving GLM from a young age can be beneficial to maintaining healthy joints and delaying the onset of arthritis.
  • GLM is safe to take with other medications. There have been no reports of GLM interacting with other medications.

Although GLM use with dogs doesn’t require a prescription, it’s always important to discuss all medications and supplements with your dog’s veterinarian before administering anything to your dog. Safe use has not been established in breeding, pregnant, or lactating dogs.

Treatments for Your Dog

According to AKC Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. Jerry Klein, preventing the development of osteoarthritis through diet, exercise, and the use of protective joint supplements is the best way to keep your dog’s joints healthy.

When osteoarthritis develops, treatment is typically focused on controlling pain, decreasing inflammation, improving quality of life, and slowing the development of the disease. Treatment is often multimodal and may include combining weight management, physiotherapy, acupuncture, surgery, and joint supplements.

Green Lipped Mussel for Dogs: The Bottom Line

Clinical studies of GLM have shown that oral doses of green-lipped mussel administered for a proper time period to arthritic dogs were connected to reduced joint pain and inflammation along with improvements in mobility. When added to glucosamine and chondroitin, GLM contributes to a well-rounded, safe supplement that targets osteoarthritis disease in dogs and improves their quality of life.
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