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Rickets in Dogs - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Laura García Ortiz
By Laura García Ortiz, Veterinarian specialized in feline medicine. May 12, 2021
Rickets in Dogs - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

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Rickets in dogs is a bone condition triggered by a deficit or alteration in the levels of vitamin D, calcium or phosphorus in our dogs. This skeletal disorder is characterized by a loss of strength or a change in the aspect and consistency of the bones. If left untreated, the result is often deformities of the bone.

There are many possible causes of this disease, from issues with lactation or inadequate feeding, to intestinal, congenital or parasitic diseases. Diagnosis is achieved by physical examination of the dog, as well as analytical and radiographic tests. Treatment seeks to correct vitamin and mineral levels and prevent future occurrences of the disorder. Continue reading this AnimalWised article to learn more about rickets in dogs, specifically its symptoms, diagnosis and treatment.

Source: Vagcel

You may also be interested in: Rickets in Cats - Symptoms and Treatment


  1. What is rickets in dogs?
  2. Causes of canine rickets
  3. Symptoms of rickets in dogs
  4. Diagnosis of canine rickets
  5. Treatment of rickets in dogs

What is rickets in dogs?

Rickets is a disease that is produced when the levels of phosphorus or calcium are inadequate (a Ca:P ratio less than 1) and there is a deficiency of vitamin D. Nutrients are not absorbed and the bones do not mineralize properly, causing bone alterations. This results in weakness, deformation and increased softness of the bones. On the other hand, there is an expansion of the growth of cartilage.

This disease occurs in puppies and may only appear as a deformation in their paws, making them appear arched due to alteration of their normal shape and structure. Bone alterations more typically appear in the limbs and ribs of the dog.

Causes of canine rickets

The origin of vitamin D deficiency which causes rickets in dogs can be:

  • 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: due to a defect in the conversion of calcidiol to calcitriol (active form of vitamin D)
  • Vitamin D-dependent rickets type 2: hereditary defect in the calcitriol receptor
  • Inadequate feeding: a diet deficient in vitamin D, calcium or phosphorus is caused by not consuming a nutritionally complete dog food. Dog food should include this vitamin and minerals in its composition.
  • Deficient lactation: when puppies do not drink milk for the sufficient duration of time or they only drink a small quantity. This disease can also appear if the bitch does not produce enough milk or it contains only small amounts of calcium.
  • Parasitic diseases: parasites use vitamin D for their development and can cause deficiencies.
  • Intestinal malabsorption: inflammatory bowel disease, lymphangiectasia, tumors or other intestinal disorders can alter the normal absorption of nutrients and cause a deficit of this vitamin, as well as other nutrients.

Intestinal malabsorption leads to various problems in the dog's organism, not just rickets. Take a look at our article on diarrhea caused by malabsorption in dogs to learn more.

Symptoms of rickets in dogs

Rickets is more frequent in large dog breeds. This is mainly due to their rapid growth, high energy levels and nutritional needs when growing. The clinical signs and symptoms that occur in a dog with rickets are as follows:

  • Thickening of the epiphysis (end of a long bone), causing it to become soft and painful
  • Shortened or elongated bones
  • Lateral curvature of the diaphysis of the bones
  • Sunken spine
  • The limbs appear X-shaped due to the weight of the animals on the deformed bones.
  • Lameness
  • Weakness of the posterior
  • Loss of physical strength
  • Bulging at the costochondral joint level (known as rachitic rosary)
  • Pain or discomfort

Source: Sohu

Rickets in Dogs - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment - Symptoms of rickets in dogs

Diagnosis of canine rickets

The diagnosis of rickets in dogs should begin with a physical examination and assessment of the general appearance of the dog. One of the most obvious signs will be any alterations seen in the limbs or ribs. It should subsequently be confirmed by imaging and blood tests.

Diagnostic imaging - radiography

The ideal imaging test for the diagnosis of canine rickets is radiography (x-ray), in which the following bone alterations may appear:

  • Thickening of the distal epiphysis of the ulna and radius
  • Bone cortices of normal appearance
  • Reduced bone density
  • Enlarged epiphyseal line, which can reach 5-10 mm.

The enlarged epiphyseal line is a pathognomonic sign. If observed, it indicates the presence of rickets in the dog.

Hemogram and blood biochemistry

If positive for rickets, the blood analysis will show the following alterations:

  • Low calcium (hypocalcemia)
  • Anemia
  • Increased levels of phosphorus
  • Ca:P ratio <1
  • Increased alkaline phosphatase
Rickets in Dogs - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment - Diagnosis of canine rickets

Treatment of rickets in dogs

Treatment of canine rickets will depend on the underlying cause. However, restoring the correct levels of vitamins and minerals is always part of the treatment. Any associated problems such as pain or discomfort should also be managed. Depending on the cause, the treatment for canine rickets may be:

  • Supplementation: rickets of dietary origin or due to deficiencies should be treated with vitamin D, calcium or phosphorus supplements, according to the dog’s needs.
  • Treating a disease: diseases that provoke intestinal malabsorption should be treated specifically. This will improve absorption and ensure all nutrients are utilized effectively
  • Good nutrition: the best way to prevent this disease is to provide a commercially available dog food that is nutritionally complete and balanced. This will ensure that we feed them all the nutrients they need, and in the correct proportions.
  • Deworming: they should also be routinely dewormed in order to avoid parasites that alter vitamin D levels.
  • Formula milk: if problems are detected in lactation, the dog should be fed with substitute milk for the canine species.
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs: when the disease causes pain or discomfort, opioids or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs should be used to improve the condition. However, long-term use can have negative impacts, one of the reasons is it vital they are prescribed by a veterinarian.

Rickets is not the only bone disorder which can affect our dog. Osteomyelitis is a bone infection which can affect dogs and is bacterial or fungal in origin. Bone cancer in dogs is relatively reare, but it can occur, so it is vital we take our dog to a veterinarian for proper diagnosis.

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 Dogs - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment, we recommend you visit our Other health problems category.

  • Tapia, D. (2013). Rickets. Available at: https://es.slideshare.net/DianaTapiaGiler/raquitismo-20824145
  • Rueda, J., & Fernández, A. L.. Osteodystrophies in dogs and cats. Available at: https://ddd.uab.cat/pub/clivetpeqani/11307064v9n1/11307064v9n1p1.pdf
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Rickets in Dogs - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment