Rickets in Animals – Happy Bichon


Animals with Rickets

When we got our First Bichon Frise Puppy we noticed that as he was getting older, his front Legs were beginning to look crooked. We were giving him the same food the Breeder had recommended.

Rickets is a bone disorder caused by a deficiency of vitamin D, calcium, or phosphate. While this rarely occurs naturally, poorly balanced diets deficient in calcium have been said to cause the disease

The word “Rickets” will be familiar to you because it is a very common health problem in humans, especially in children.

Wiki Rickets in Children
Wiki Rickets in Children

Rickets is also well recognized in domestic animals such as sheep, dogs, pigs, and cats, etc on the basis of clinical signs and radiology but published reports are not always supported by microscopic findings.

If you are wondering what animals can get rickets? Or what are signs of rickets in animals?  Or what is the cause of rickets in animals? Or can rickets be cured in animals?

Then this article will clear your mind about these questions.

What is Rickets in Animals?

First of all, we will discuss what is rickets? Rickets is a typical metabolic bone disease of humans and animals. It was first described in the first and second centuries. 

It causes the softening and weakening of bones, usually because of an extreme and prolonged vitamin D deficiency. It can also be inherited from the parents.

This disease only affects young and growing animals. If these nutritional deficiencies occur in adult animals then it is medically termed as osteomalacia.

What are the causes of rickets in animals?

Rickets is a bone disorder caused by a deficiency of vitamin D, calcium, or phosphate. While this rarely occurs naturally, poorly balanced diets deficient in calcium have been said to cause the disease

Some time calcium and phosphorus ratio is not balanced in the diet of your animal this will cause rickets.

There are several subtypes of rickets, including

  • Hypophosphatemic rickets (vitamin-D-resistant rickets)
  • Renal or kidney rickets (renal osteodystrophy),
  • Nutritional rickets (caused by a dietary deficiency of vitamin D, calcium, or phosphate)

Nutritional rickets is most common in domestic animals. This condition caused by vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is essential for the normal formation of bones and teeth and necessary for the appropriate absorption of calcium and phosphorus from the intestine of animals.

 It occurs naturally in very small quantities in some foods such as saltwater fish (salmon and fish-liver oils).

Vitamin D is also naturally synthesized by skin cells in response to sunlight exposure. It is necessary for the appropriate absorption of calcium from the gut.

What is Vitamin D

What are the signs and symptoms of rickets in animals?

If you want to know that your animal is suffering from rickets or not then you should know the signs and symptoms. If you notice these sign you should immediately contact your veterinarian.

There may be a wide variety of signs and symptoms of rickets such as:

  • Stiff gait
  • Swelling in the bone area
  • Difficulty in rising
  • Bowed limbs
  • Pathologic fractures
  • Delayed growth
  • Pain in the spine, pelvis, and legs
  • Muscle weakness
  • Bowed legs or knock knees
  • Reluctance to move
  • Posterior lameness

Because rickets softens the areas of bones, it can cause bone deformities in animals.

What animal is affected by rickets?

Most cases in domestic animals are caused by a dietary deficiency of either vitamin D or phosphorus, but occasional inherited forms are reported in pigs, sheep, cats, and dogs.

Most herbivores (animals eat plants only) produce vitamin D3 in response to sunlight,

If your animals are fed by all-meat diets then there will be more chances they will be affected by rickets because dogs and cats have generally lost the ability as carnivore diets (animals eat other animals) are rich in vitamin D so they are more at risk.

Diets with excessive amounts of calcium (three times normal concentrations) have caused rickets-like signs in the growing dogs.

Rickets can be present in birds, swine, cattle, and sheep due to nutritional deficiencies and poor exposure to sunlight, but horses are less susceptible as they have evolved calcium homeostasis that is quite different than other animals.

Swine kept in confined housing is susceptible to rickets because of their rapid growth rate combined with a lack of exposure to sunlight.

Rickets in Dogs

Do you know? Rickets in dogs is becoming a lot more common than it used to be and it is considered that it may be caused by the lack of the proper nutrients that all growing dogs require.

However, there may be some other problems with your beloved dog that causes this disease.
Although it is not considered life-threatening to your puppies, it can cause some very serious conditions if not treated properly.

How rickets occur in dogs?

If your beloved fluffy pup is suffering from rickets, you may have thoughts, is it same like people have rickets due to deficiency of Vitamin D? But there may be a lot more to it than this vitamin deficiency in your dog.

If the glands of your beloved dog are not functioning properly then the release of the proper amount of calcium and phosphorus into your adorable dog’s bone will be disturbed.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient also known as the sunshine vitamin because it is stored in your beloved dog’s liver but it can also be produced in your dog by sunlight.

When your dog is exposed to sunlight the ultraviolet rays convert the vitamin D precursors into the active form of the vitamin, and the conversion process starts in your dog’s outer layers of their skin.
The conversion process from nutrients occurs when your dog system pulls the small amounts of Vitamin D it gets from their diet from their liver and then transfers it into the kidney.

If everything is functioning properly it then acts as a hormone in that it will regulate the levels of calcium and phosphate that goes to your dog’s bone and skeletal structure.

However, because it is a fat-soluble vitamin, if there is some type of conditions existing in your dog’s body that reduce the digestion or absorption process, it will decrease the ability of your pet to pull and absorb it from the intestines.

That is why sunlight is so critical to this process; your pet must get enough sunshine to prevent rickets in dogs.

Vitamin D has a major role in your dog is to regulate the levels of calcium and phosphorus in their body.

Mostly all dogs love to lay in the sunshine even on very hot days as it is a natural instinct for them. If they lack enough sunshine several things start to happen.

Sometimes many dog parents kept their adorable pup inside the house having no exposure of light it will increase the chances of rickets in dogs.

If the blood levels of calcium and phosphate become low in your dog, other hormones in their body react and release the minerals from the bones into the blood, and the result of this is rickets.

However, there may be one other cause. The parathyroid glands are four small glands and your dog has two on each side of their neck. Their main function is to regulate the balance of calcium and phosphorus in your pet’s body.

When parathyroid glands don’t work properly it will increase its functioning process to try to make up for the minerals that are leaving the bone and going to the bloodstream, and the result is that even more of the mineral content is lost as the bones try to reabsorb them.

Rickets in dogs may also be caused by a deficiency of calcium and phosphorus, but that is extremely rare.

Dog Bone Problems

Calcium and Phosphorus Ratios

If you want to prevent rickets and osteoporosis in dogs, then you should understand the ratio of calcium and phosphorus and why it is so important to your dog in all phases of life.

Calcium is the most abundant mineral found in your beloved dog and it is essential in the prevention of rickets as well as overall bone health.

Phosphorus is also extremely abundant but it has a slightly less presence and thus a lesser need by your cute pup in its overall health.

The deficiency of phosphorus is very rare, but an excess of phosphorus is the major cause of renal failure in dogs.

The calcium to phosphorus ratio can be very difficult to understand but most major dog foods will have it explained and most all good mineral supplements will already have it measured properly.

In the peak growth and lactation stages of your young dog, it should always be 1.2:1(1.2 parts of calcium for each 1 part of the mineral phosphorus).

It will change slightly as your beloved dog grows and matures, but just slightly. Ensuring the proper ratio of these minerals in your dog’s diet will help prevent rickets in dogs and the harm that it can do.

Symptoms of Rickets in Dogs

Here we will discuss the symptoms of rickets in your dog. The symptoms of rickets in dogs will obviously affect the bones, but it can also be very damaging to their teeth.

The first and most common symptoms you will see in your dog will be bone pain and tenderness in their legs as well as their spine and their lower back.

Tenderness causes muscle cramps that can be very painful. If it is a severe case of rickets it may also cause the shape of the skull to be uneven or abnormal.

It could also cause bowing of the legs, pelvic deformities, as well as spinal problems.


The symptoms you need to watch for with the teeth will be the defects in the structure of the teeth such as holes in the enamel, decaying, delayed formations and development at a very young age.

If severe, there will be loss of teeth in your young dog due to progressive weakness in the muscle tone of the jaws.

Treatment and Prevention in dogs

If you notice any symptom of rickets in your loveable dog then you should take your dog to the vet for a thorough examination.

If you change your dog’s diet or take any other action before receiving a confirmed diagnosis, you could endanger your dog’s health.

Your vet might test for abnormally low levels of phosphorus, vitamin D and calcium, some of the most common causes of rickets. Your vet might also use radiographs to examine the large bones and joints.

Once the diagnosis is understood and you know what to watch for, the treatment for rickets in dogs is really very simple.

Replacing the lost nutrients in your pup’s body at the proper requirements as quickly as possible can reverse the damage substantially.

Follow your vet’s suggestions regarding vitamin D supplementation. Mostly rickets occurs due to poorly balanced diets. To remedy this, your vet might direct you to add Vitamin D to your dog’s diet.

You should ask your vet before giving your dog a vitamin D supplements that what form of vitamin D supplementation he or she recommends. If you formulate the dose yourself, you risk giving too much, which can cause vitamin D toxicity.

Also, don’t count on sunlight to provide your dog with the necessary amount of vitamin D. It used to be believed that exposure to the sun boosted the production of the vitamin but dogs and cats cannot fulfill their need from it and must obtain it from their diets.

Consult your vet about the proper diet for your beloved dog. Instead of supplementing your dog’s diet, your veterinarian might suggest that you change it completely. This is especially true for dogs fed homemade diets.

A homemade diet plays a major role in rickets because the inclusion of proper and accurate ingredients in diet according to your dog need is a difficult task.

Homemade diets are great for several diseases, but making sure your pet gets enough Vitamin D, as well as Calcium and Phosphorus in the correct ratios, will help to protect rickets in dogs.

All-meat diets can also cause rickets, so your vet might suggest you switch your dog to something with more variety.

Rickets in Cats

Rickets is also present in cats. When your cat diet is deficient in calcium, phosphorus or vitamin D or imbalance calcium: phosphorus ratio then it will result in rickets.

The primary source of calcium and phosphorus in the diet, but a number of factors affect how the body absorbs these minerals. These include the type of food, pH within the intestines, as well as the levels of vitamin D in the body of the cat.

Abnormalities of the bones can result, as well as other nutritional and metabolic complications.

Symptoms of rickets in cats

In affected kittens, the most common signs are a reluctance to move, lameness in the hind legs, bowing of the legs, and the inability to control muscle movements.

The skeletal disease becomes progressively more severe after 5 to 14 weeks. The kittens become quiet and reluctant to play; they assume a sitting position or lie down with the hind legs stretched out away from the body.

Normal activities may result in the sudden onset of severe lameness due to incomplete or folding fractures of one or more bones.

In folding fractures, pressure on the bones causes them to slowly “fold” over and deform instead of fracturing. Joints may also appear swollen.

Rickets is diagnosed based on history, signs, physical examination, blood tests, and x-rays. The outlook for treating rickets is good if there are no broken bones or irreversible damage to the bone.

The primary treatment is to correct the diet. Exposure to sunlight (ultraviolet radiation) will also increase the production of vitamin D.

Recent studies show that many homemade diets for cats are deficient in minerals and fail to achieve a proper calcium-to-phosphorus ratio. Therefore a high-quality commercial food, or one designed by a credentialed veterinary nutritionist, is recommended.

Adult Rickets in cats

Osteomalacia in cats develops likewise to rickets but in mature bones. This disease occurs in those cats that remain indoors and are fed an all-meat diet. Its signs are less severe compared to those in kittens.

The cats affected by adult rickets fail to thrive, having poor quality fur, and may eat non-food objects.

Affected cats show signs like deformity in the spine, outward abnormal curving of the spine (kyphosis) or an inward curving of the spine in the lower area of the back (lordosis).

The bones of cats become weak and fracture easily. For a proper diagnosis, veterinarians will assess a cat’s diet and will make sure it provides enough calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D for healthy bones.

The cats affected should be restricted for the first few weeks while the diet is corrected. Proper nutrition shows a rapid response.  One week after the start of treatment the cats become more active and show a better attitude.

The skeleton is still susceptible to fractures so jumping or climbing must be prevented. After 3 weeks restrictions can usually be relaxed.

X-rays are used to check the response of treatment. Complete recovery can be achieved within months in cats with no or only minor limb and joint deformities.

What is Rubber Jaw Syndrome in Cats?

Rubber jaw syndrome in cats is a condition in which calcium is replaced by softer connective tissues in bones. This disease in cats is caused by high levels of a hormone secreted from the parathyroid gland.

Elevated levels of parathyroid hormones in the blood refer to Hyperparathyroidism. The metabolism of calcium and phosphorus in the body is controlled by the parathyroid hormone.

Hyperparathyroidism has two types;

  • Overproduction by an abnormal parathyroid gland (primary hyperparathyroidism)
  • Low levels of calcium in the blood (secondary hyperparathyroidism).

Fibrous osteodystrophy affects the entire skeleton but the bones of the skull, including the jaw, are more affected.

Primary Hyperparathyroidism

In primary hyperparathyroidism, the parathyroid gland of cats produces too much parathyroid hormone, usually because of the nonfunctional tumors. The increased levels of parathyroid hormones weaken the bones, that cause lameness and bones are more prone to breakage.

The condition of primary hyperparathyroidism causes a thickening of facial bones, nasal cavities are damaged and teeth are loosened. The ability to close the mouth properly is decreased and develops slow-healing sores in the gums.

The name “rubber jaw” syndrome indicates those cases in which the jaws can be twisted gently due to the degeneration of the bone.

Recent studies show that cats with primary hyperparathyroidism will show an abnormally high level of calcium in the blood. Phosphorus and parathyroid hormone levels are determined by other tests.

High levels of calcium in the blood may be associated with many other diseases, additional tests may be necessary to confirm a diagnosis of primary hyperparathyroidism.

The increased hormone production is treated by eliminating the source. If any tumor is causing the increased parathyroid hormone levels, it must be removed.

If the source of the increased hormone production is removed it results in a rapid decrease in circulating hormone levels. Calcium levels can drop below normal within 12 to 24 hours after surgery.

Even after surgery if high levels of calcium remain for a week or longer, a second tumor or the spread of cancer from a malignant tumor may be causing the problem.

Secondary Hyperparathyroidism

Secondary hyperparathyroidism is more common than primary hyperparathyroidism in cats. It can occur due to long term kidney disease or failure.

Secondary hyperparathyroidism is a condition in which a disease outside of the parathyroid glands causes all of the parathyroid glands to become enlarged and hyperactive.

If your cat is suffering from kidney disease it will exceed the phosphate level in the blood that in return lowers calcium levels. This decreased calcium level, in turn, triggers an increase in parathyroid hormone levels.

In cats, kidneys necessarily produce the active form of vitamin D (calcitriol). The decreased level of calcitriol leads to further increases in parathyroid hormone levels.

The common signs of kidney malfunction are

  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Excessive thirst
  • Urination
  • Depression

If you have noticed any of these signs you should contact your vet to prevent secondary hyperparathyroidism.

As a result of these condition teeth of cats become loose and they may fall out while chewing, and jawbones can become softened and pliable (rubber jaw syndrome) and fail to close properly.  Weakened leg bones cause lameness, a stiff gait, and fractures.

Kidney malfunction and increased levels of parathyroid hormone in the blood are diagnosed by laboratory tests.

Treatment includes:

  • Diet modification
  • Supplementation of active vitamin D
  • Medication that binds phosphate

Is There Rickets in Lambs?

Lambs can also suffer from rickets showing different signs such as bone fails to harden properly or lambs may appear stiff and lame. Bones are easily fractured. Some lambs will become recumbent and reluctant to the getup.

Rickets in lambs is caused by vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D along with adequate levels of calcium and phosphorus are required for normal bone development in growing lambs.

Have you noticed rickets in autumn drop but rises in winter? Lambs grazing cereal crops particular oats contain a high amount of carotene. It is thought that high levels of carotene (vitamin A) antagonize the action of Vitamin D in the body.

Therefore rapidly growing lambs on cereal crops during winter are at risk of developing rickets.

If a flock is diagnosed with rickets generally it is too late to interfere as daylight hours are increasing as are sunlight hours. This increases Vitamin D in the body. The handling of lambs may also aggravate the problem.

Our recommendations to sheep producer grazing cereal crops have always been to provide a loose lick of lime and salt to increase calcium and sodium intake.

However, this may not be enough to prevent rickets in which case an injection of Vitamin D given to the lamb at weaning is also recommended.

Rickets in pigs

Rickets is a disease of growing bones. Consequently, it usually is seen in young, weaned, growing pigs in which there is a deficiency, an imbalance, or a failure of the utilization of calcium, phosphorus or vitamin D.

Rickets usually is caused by a dietary deficiency of vitamin D or phosphorus in pigs. This is most obvious as a thickening and irregularity of growth plates in long bones.

Swine kept in confined housing is susceptible to rickets because of their rapid growth rate combined with a lack of exposure to sunlight.

In confined animals not exposed to sunlight or supplemented, vitamin D may be inadequate. In pastured swine fed little or no grain or protein supplement, phosphorus may be inadequate.

Signs of rickets include poor growth, short stature, and enlargement of the ends of long bones, lameness, and deformation of the weight-bearing long bones.

When sows (adult females) produce milk in large quantities, osteoporosis occurs due to the mobilization of minerals.

Gilts (female pig under the age of 1year) in their first lactation also are susceptible since their skeletal development may have been incomplete and there was no mineral reserve prior to pregnancy.

Osteoporosis often results in fractures in the latter part of a nursing period, immediately after weaning, or during mating.

If your pig is lacking the exercise and furthermore, diets for market swine are formulated to maximize the growth of lean muscle mass with little consideration of requirements for bone formation.

Properly balanced rations, including adequate calcium, phosphorus (in the proper ratio) and vitamin D are essential for the prevention of rickets and osteoporosis.

Preventing Rickets

Adequate exercise also is important for normal skeletal development and maintenance. Treatment tends to be unrewarding for both rickets and osteoporosis.

Swine kept in confined housing is susceptible to rickets because of their rapid growth rate combined with a lack of exposure to sunlight. Furthermore, diets for market swine are formulated

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