Rickets in Dogs

white dog

Even though it has become less and less common these days, as pet owners are making more rational and informed decisions about their dogs’ diets and supplements, especially in the first six to twelve months of their life, some pets still end up suffering from rickets.

But just what is rickets? Is a dog in pain if they have rickets? Can this health condition be treated, and if so, how? We’re answering all of these questions and more below, so keep on reading!

Rickets in dogs – What is it?

In a nutshell, rickets is a health issue that appears as a result of a deficiency. However, the deficiency that is at the root of rickets can differ from one animal to the next and even in terms of what’s lacking from the dog’s body.

Sometimes, it is a lack of phosphorus, other times, it’s a lack of calcium, and in many other cases, it is also a lack of calcium and vitamin D at the same time. This is exactly the reason why so many vets suggest to new dog parents that they give their pups mineral supplements for a period of at least several months while they’re growing up.

The absence of enough exposure to natural light can contribute to rickets. As you might know, most animals and humans can naturally produce vitamin D just by spending enough time outdoors. That doesn’t mean that a dog needs to ‘sunbathe’ in order to get their necessary dose of vitamin D – just that they need to be taken out for long enough walks so that they’re exposed to natural light.

It is important to note that rickets does not affect any other dogs besides puppies.

What causes rickets in dogs?

Many commercial puppy diets these days are actually enriched with minerals and vitamins so that they can contribute to healthy development. However, the amount can vary from one brand to the next, and your dog may also have to eat less or more depending on their size or personal necessities.

Besides mineral and vitamin D deficiencies, rickets can also be caused by the following factors:

  • Inappropriate diet
  • Low phosphorus levels in Fanconi’s syndrome (due to renal pathologies, the mineral ends up being excreted through urine)
  • Intestinal parasites that consume vitamin D instead of the nutrient being absorbed properly
  • Malabsorption, which can happen in diseases such as inflammatory bowel diseases
  • Lack of access to enough (or any) milk coming from the mother in the first few days and weeks of development

Fortunately, in most cases, rickets is a completely treatable health condition. However, some dog breeds have a much higher likelihood of developing it compared to their counterparts. A few examples are listed below:

Symptoms of rickets in dogs

The clinical signs can differ depending on the severity of the rickets case per se. Some dogs might show ‘milder’ symptoms, such as bowed limbs or a stiff gait.

Unfortunately, others have a much harder time coping with the condition since their bones effectively become brittle, so they end up in pain, have a hard time getting up or moving around, and might also develop local inflammation in a variety of places in their limbs.

Also, it is much easier for a dog that has rickets to sustain a fracture. In fact, this is the opportunity where the disease might be diagnosed since the vet will almost certainly recommend an X-ray which will reveal that the bone has an unusually decreased radiopacity (so it’s not as thick or dense as a normal bone).

Diagnosis

Imaging methods are practically essential when it comes to diagnosing canine rickets. Although the vet will also perform a physical examination along with typical blood tests such as a hemogram as well as blood chemistry, the imaging test will be the one that can clearly reveal low bone density.

Some blood tests might at least suggest to your veterinarian that they need to perform an X-ray, especially if the pet is found to have anemia or generally considerably lower calcium levels compared to potassium.

Treatment of canine rickets

Given that rickets affects young dogs, puppies have an amazing capacity to recover in a few months’ time.

With the appropriate diet and supplements, along with the right treatment in case they have additional health issues such as parasites, malabsorption, or kidney complications that lead to mineral imbalances, they can recover their normal gait, be no longer in pain, and walk normally.

If the puppy has lost their mother, traditional dairy milk is not the best option for them. There is a special formula available for sale these days, mainly specifically made for canines.

Because of the inflammation and pain, some puppies might have to be given anti-inflammatory medication at least for a week (sometimes even two, depending on the severity of the symptoms).

Can rickets be prevented?

To some extent, yes. The generic supplements that we mentioned earlier on in this article can be given to dogs just to make sure that they benefit from healthy bone development. If your dog already eats a high-quality diet that’s enriched with minerals, your vet may advise you to give them one supplement every two days instead of one daily.

But besides preventing your dog from becoming vitamin D or calcium deficient, you should also keep an eye on their behavior. Do their feces seem to have larvae or adult intestinal parasites?

Because if that’s so, it’s time for a deworming – which you should ensure once every three to four months anyway because your dog can pick up parasites from the park or from other dogs.

If your dog seems to be losing weight despite them eating enough food, take them to the animal hospital. They might have some type of malabsorption, and in order for them to receive the right treatment, the exact cause of the health issue must be discovered.

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