Other health problems

Rickets in Cats - Symptoms and Treatment

Jungla Luque
By Jungla Luque, Ethologist and dog trainer. May 6, 2021
Rickets in Cats - Symptoms and Treatment

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Feline rickets is a bone disorder characterized by the loss of consistency, strength and normal structures of the bone. It is caused by nutritional disorders or imbalances in the levels of phosphorus, calcium or vitamin D. There are many different possible causes, from feeding disorders or lactation problems, to congenital, digestive or parasitic diseases. The diagnosis is made by analytical examination and diagnostic imaging. The treatment will vary depending on the cause.

Keep reading this article by AnimalWised to learn more about rickets in cats. Specifically we look the symptoms and forms of treatment of feline rickets so you know how this disease can be managed.

You may also be interested in: Rickets in Dogs - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment


  1. What is feline rickets?
  2. Causes of rickets in cats
  3. Symptoms of Rickets in Cats
  4. Diagnosis of feline rickets
  5. Treatment of rickets in cats

What is feline rickets?

Rickets is a bone disorder caused by a deficiency of vitamin D, which is responsible for regulating the proper absorption of phosphorus and calcium in our cats. This deficiency occurs because the essential nutrient that strengthens the skeletal system of cats is lacking. As a result, bones end up losing their consistency, becoming weak, less tough and even deformed, while cartilage growth increases.

This disorder occurs in kittens and the alteration can be noticed in the paws, which in many occasions will be deformed and arched. With feline rickets, the ribs and the bones of the limbs are generally most affected.

Causes of rickets in cats

While rickets is often associated with a poor diet, there are other contributing factors to why a cat would develop this disease. Below, we take a look at some of the main reasons why a cat might get rickets:

  • Inadequate feeding: a vitamin D deficient diet may be due to cat food that lacks the correct nutrients. Cat feed should contain sufficient amounts of this this vitamin in order to prevent deficiencies. It can also occur when they have excess or deficient levels of phosphorus and calcium.
  • Hypophosphatemic rickets: renal defects cause insufficient levels of phosphorus to be reabsorbed.
  • Fanconi’s Syndrome: phosphorus levels fall because it is being excreted by the kidney.
  • Vitamin D-dependent rickets type 1: consisting of a problem with the conversion of cacidiol to calcitriol (the active form of vitamin D), leading it to be unable to perform its function.
  • Vitamin D-dependent rickets type 2: a hereditary disease in which there is a defect in the calcitriol receptor.
  • Parasitic diseases: parasites use vitamin D in their development. If the parasite load is high in the cat then this can cause deficiencies in vitamin D.
  • Intestinal malabsorption: diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, intestinal tumors or other alterations in the intestine can cause alterations in the normal absorption of nutrients and thus, lead to vitamin D deficiency.
  • Poor lactation: when a kitten is prematurely separated from its mother, the mother does not produce enough milk or produces milk with a low amount of calcium, so the kitten does not take in enough breast milk in its first weeks of life. The kitten may become sick for this reason.

Symptoms of Rickets in Cats

as rickets is a type of bone disease in cats, we might not see the damage to their skeletal structure at the beginning. For example, lesions on the bone will not be observed without some sort of imaging technique. Once rickets develops, its symptoms can be seen as:

  • Sunken spine
  • Lateral curvature of the radial diaphysis
  • Thickening of the epiphysis (causing it to become soft and painful)
  • Longer or shorter bones
  • Implantation
  • X-shaped limbs caused by the cat’s weight
  • Weakness of the rear portion
  • Loss of physical strength
  • Deformed bones
  • Bulging at the level of the costochondral joints (known as rachitic rosary)
  • Limping
  • Discomfort or pain
Rickets in Cats - Symptoms and Treatment - Symptoms of Rickets in Cats

Diagnosis of feline rickets

Feline rickets is diagnosed through physical examination of the cat, observing any bone alterations and deformities in the extremities. However, to confirm rickets and not some other mobility issue or bone disease, radiography and blood analysis testing will need to be carried out.

Hemogram and blood biochemistry

Blood analysis will show the following changes:

  • Increased levels of alkaline phosphatase (ALP)
  • Increased levels of phosphorus
  • Ca/P ratio < 1
  • Anemia
  • Low calcium (hypocalcemia)

Diagnostic imaging – radiography

Simple radiography (otherwise known as x-rays) will reveal bone alterations such as:

  • Reduced bone density
  • Bone cortices of normal appearance
  • Thickening of the distal epiphysis of the ulna and radius
  • Enlargement of the epiphyseal line, possibly reaching 5-10 mm. This is a pathognomonic symptom, meaning that it is a characteristic feature and indicates rickets.
Rickets in Cats - Symptoms and Treatment - Diagnosis of feline rickets

Treatment of rickets in cats

The treatment of feline rickets should not only focus on correcting the cat's bone disorders, but also include medical treatment of any pain or other problems that have occurred. If the problem is present at the intestinal level, the underlying causes of the disease should be treated.

If the disease is caused by nutritional deficiencies, it is important to correct the cat's vitamin and mineral deficiencies (vitamin D, calcium and/or phosphorus) to prevent the disease from returning or developing in the future. We should always ensure that the cat is eating a complete and balanced diet appropriate for the feline species. Only in this way can we ensure that our cat is properly nourished.

As parasites can also be involved with the disease, it is important to routinely deworm our cats, even if they do not leave the house.

When babies, we must make sure that the kittens get enough milk from their mother. If this is not the case, it is a recommended that we feed them with commercially available kitten milk until they reach the weaning stage. If the cat is in pain, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or analgesics such as opioids should be administered. Prescription of these painkillers should be determined by a veterinarian. Never give human drugs to a cat.

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to Rickets in Cats - Symptoms and Treatment, we recommend you visit our Other health problems category.

  • J. Rueda, AL Fernández. (1989). Osteodystrophies in dogs and cats. UAB. Available at: https://ddd.uab.cat/pub/clivetpeqani/11307064v9n1/11307064v9n1p1.pdf
  • D. Tapia. (2013). Rickets Central University of Ecuador. Available at: https://es.slideshare.net/DianaTapiaGiler/raquitismo-20824145
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Rickets in Cats - Symptoms and Treatment