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Puppies affected with rickets walk abnormally, feel pain in their bones, and can even fracture their legs.
Rickets is generally treatable by quickly providing a properly balanced diet with vitamins and minerals. However, if rickets in dogs is untreated, it can lead to irreversible damage to a puppy’s bones.
Thankfully, rickets is now an extremely rare disease in economically developed countries. Even so, recognizing the symptoms of rickets and understanding how proper nutrition plays a role in your puppy’s musculoskeletal development is helpful for all pet parents.
What causes rickets in dogs?
Rickets in dogs occurs when the levels of phosphorus, vitamin D, or calcium are too low or improperly balanced in the growing body.
Puppies usually obtain these nutrients from their food, so rickets occurs when their diet doesn’t provide enough of these specific vitamins or minerals. Rickets can also occur when growing dogs do not have enough sunlight exposure.
The correct amount and balance of nutrients in the body play an important role in how bones develop in dogs (and all mammals).
Without proper amounts of vital vitamins like vitamin D, phosphorus, or calcium, the areas of the bones where new bone grows, called growth plates, do not receive adequate nutrition and cannot make new bone normally.
Because of their rapid growth rate, malnourished large and giant breed dogs are more predisposed to developing rickets and other developmental bone and joint diseases compared to smaller dogs.
Symptoms of rickets in dogs
Rickets affects puppies in a variety of ways including the following clinical signs:
- Lameness/limping – Puppies may limp on one or multiple limbs when walking or running. This is usually the symptom of rickets owners notice first.
- Abnormal gait – Puppies may appear stiff when walking, with reluctance to bend elbows or knees when combating rickets in dogs.
- Difficulty getting up after laying or sitting down – Puppies may struggle or take longer to stand after sitting or lying down for a while.
- Bone swelling and joint pain – Puppies may resist or even cry out when their limbs are touched. This is due to the bone pain and joint pain. There may also be noticeable swelling near their joints.
- Bowed limbs – The front legs of puppies with rickets may appear abnormally curved outward.
- Fractured bones – In the advanced stages of rickets, puppies’ bones become increasingly weak, which can lead to soft and deformed bones along with fractures. These types of fractures happen without any significant trauma to the limb.
- Decreased playfulness and depressed attitude – Because of chronic pain, canine rickets can seem depressed or lethargic. They’re more reluctant to play and move around less than healthy puppies.
It’s important to remember that puppies with rickets do not necessarily “look sick” and malnourished (too skinny and bony).
They can be a healthy weight with a shiny and healthy-looking coat.
How is rickets diagnosed in dogs?
Veterinarians diagnose rickets in dogs by using the following:
- History and symptoms – A thorough history regarding your puppy’s diet and symptoms consistent with rickets is the most critical part of canine rickets diagnosis.
- Laboratory tests- If your veterinarian suspects rickets in your puppy, they may recommend blood tests to measure vitamin D, phosphorus, and calcium levels. The vitamin and mineral levels may be too low or show significant imbalances.
- Imaging – X-rays of your puppy’s legs, especially a leg they are limping on, can show characteristic changes consistent with abnormalities in the growth plate.
Treatment for rickets in dogs
Fixing the deficiency or imbalance of phosphorus, vitamin D, and calcium in the diet is the typical treatment for rickets in puppies.
The puppy must be switched to a complete and well-balanced diet moving forward to correct that poorly balanced diet.
If the cause of rickets is a severe vitamin D deficiency and the puppy is housed only indoors, increasing sunlight exposure can also be a part of the treatment.
The prognosis for puppies affected by rickets is good if it is diagnosed early on and their diet is corrected.
If caught late in the disease process or the puppy has fractured bones or bowing of the legs due to rickets, it’s possible that the dogs suffer from lifelong mobility problems.
Preventing rickets in dog
Thankfully, rickets is a preventable disease as long as your dog gets his nutritional needs. If puppies eat well-balanced diets with proper vitamin, calcium, and phosphorus intake, they will not develop rickets.
Nearly all commercially available dog foods contain a healthy amount of vitamins and minerals, like calcium, to prevent rickets.
However, all-meat diets and homemade diets with high amounts of protein and fat can lack proper concentration and balance of phosphorus, calcium levels, and vitamin D.
If you are feeding a homemade or all-meat diet, consult with your regular veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist about whether it is appropriately balanced for your dog’s diet. Balanceit.com is a reputable resource that can help create balanced and nutritious recipes for homemade dog foods.
Yes, most dogs will recover after properly treating rickets and after receiving a balanced diet.
However, dogs afflicted with rickets for a longer time or if it is left untreated can obtain irreversible bone damage that may last even after their diet is corrected.
Healing time depends on how long the dog has had rickets.
Mild cases typically recover within a few weeks, but a severe case or a more prolonged case can take several months to heal.
Any dog with an imbalanced diet can develop rickets However, large and giant breeds with faster growth rates are more susceptible.