Rickets is a strange bone condition that can impact the growing canine friends in our home.
With causing abnormal symptoms like curved bone structure and limb pain, this condition can deeply impact a puppy as they grow.
So what is rickets in dogs, and how do you treat this uncommon bone disorder?
What Is Rickets In Dogs?
Rickets is an uncommon disease that can impact the bones of a dog.
Due to it targeting the growth plates in animals, this condition is only seen in puppies or growing canine friends.
This skeletal disorder leads to improper development of the bone, loss of strength, weakened bones, and even fractures.
Not only does this skeletal condition impact the bones, but it causes changes in the cartilage as well.
The cartilage often expands in these puppies, adding to the strange appearance of their limbs.
If this condition is left untreated, it can have devastating impacts on the pup affected.
What Causes Rickets In Dogs?
Rickets in dogs develop as a result of inadequate levels of phosphorus, vitamin D, or calcium in the body.
These nutrients are essential for growing strong and healthy bones, so any deficiency in this area can lead to significant growing complications.
While there are many underlying causes of these nutrient deficits, each can result in the development of rickets.
As we mentioned above, there are a list of reasons why some puppies will experience a nutritional deficiency that can lead to rickets.
To help you better understand this condition, let’s list some of the most common factors behind the development below.
- Consuming a diet that has inadequate ratios of calcium and phosphorus, especially in large breed puppies
- Consuming a diet that is low in calcium, especially in large breed puppies
- Nursing on a mother that is not producing a sufficient amount of milk
- Puppies with heavy loads of intestinal parasites, as many parasites will deplete the puppy of vitamin D
- An underlying condition that makes it impossible for their GI tract to absorb nutrients properly such as inflammatory bowel disease, intestinal tumors, and lymphangiectasia
- Congenital disorders that lead to the improper conversion or absorption of certain nutrients, often involving the kidneys
Keep in mind that if you purchase a veterinary approved puppy diet from a pet store, it will contain the necessary nutrients to promote adequate growth.
Most puppies run into complications if they are not eating an age appropriate diet, or when dog owners are feeding a homemade diet that lacks these essential nutrients.
This is why it is so important to make sure your puppy is consuming an age appropriate diet until they reach adulthood.
What Are The Symptoms Of Rickets In Puppies?
Rickets in puppies can range in severity, so not every rickets patient will have the extreme bone deformities you may expect to see.
To help you better understand what to be on the lookout for, let’s list some of the most common symptoms of rickets in puppies below:
- Persistent limping or lameness
- Limb pain, especially when the legs are touched
- Weakness of the limbs, especially the hind limbs
- Stiff gait
- Difficulty getting up and down
- Bulging around the leg joints
- A sunken in spine
- Abnormal curvature of the legs, or bowed legs
- Abnormal formation of the paws
- Bone fractures
If you notice any of the above symptoms in your growing puppy, we suggest having them seen by a veterinarian for further examination.
Even if rickets is not the cause of their symptoms, these signs can point to other serious underlying conditions as well.
How Is Canine Rickets Diagnosed?
In most cases of rickets in dogs, your vet will need to explore a few diagnostic options to make an official diagnosis.
First, they will start by doing a physical exam and assessing each limb.
They will not only look at the structure of the limbs themselves, but search for any evidence of pain when they are touched.
They will also ask you an array of questions about your pup’s behavior at home, ranging from their current symptoms to the diet they consume each day.
Once your vet completes their physical exam, they will then move on to diagnostic radiographs.
X-rays are the best option in terms of diagnosing rickets, as this allows them to assess the bone structure and density of each limb.
On these x-rays they will search for reduced bone density, enlarged portions of the bone, thickening of the distal regions of the bones, and abnormalities of the growth plates.
If both their physical exam and x-rays support it, this is typically enough to make a rickets diagnosis in your dog.
Your vet will typically recommend a full panel of blood tests as well to rule out any underlying conditions.
Rickets in puppies can be a result of congenital kidney issues, so they will need to rule out anything that could be made obvious on blood work.
There are other levels that can support rickets in these blood panels as well, ranging from changes in their phosphorus levels to calcium levels.
If needed, your vet may also suggest specialized testing that must be sent to a lab.
Can Rickets Be Treated Or Cured In Puppies?
Thankfully for most puppies and growing dogs, rickets can be treated and cured.
Most puppies find success with diet modification, strict rest, deworming, and pain control.
Not all treatment plans are straight forward, so let’s break down each option so you can have a better idea of what’s ahead for your pup.
Addressing The Underlying Cause
The only way to address a case of rickets is by knowing the exact factor that led to its development.
For example, if a dog develops rickets due to a parasitic infection, yet only the diet is addressed, this pup will never improve.
Once your vet determines the cause of their condition, they can determine the best plan of action.
If your vet determines that your puppy is not consuming an appropriate diet, they will create a nutrition plan moving forward.
This will typically involve switching to a commercial puppy diet, or they can steer you in the direction of a veterinary nutritionist that is skilled in creating at home diets.
Once your vet determines which nutrient your pup is deficient in, they will prescribe the necessary supplement for them to take daily.
Most puppies will take these supplements for anywhere from 1-4 weeks.
If your puppy is diagnosed with rickets, they will need to follow strict exercise restrictions for at least 3 weeks, or until their x-rays improve.
This typically includes encouraged crate time, short walks, and avoidance of any strenuous activity.
Until their bone density improves, they are still at risk of fractures.
Deworming a dog with rickets is always a good measure, even if they test negative for intestinal parasites on screening.
Because parasites can deplete a puppy of vitamin D, there is no harm in covering your bases and deworming them.
Many puppies with rickets will experience mild to severe discomfort until their conditions resolve.
In this time, it’s important for your puppy to receive adequate pain control to relieve their chronic discomfort.
By the 2-3 week mark, most pain levels will have improved significantly.
Once your puppy has received their treatment, your vet will typically recommend x-rays at a two week interval to make sure they are responding appropriately.
These x-rays can also determine whether or not your puppy can engage in exercise as they recover.
(Keep in mind that if your puppy has sustained any bone fractures from their rickets disease, they will require specialized care to heal that fracture. This could include either casting or surgical revision, so this will certainly make their treatment plan a bit more complex.)
What Is The Prognosis For Rickets In Dogs
How long does it take to cure rickets in puppies, and what is the prognosis overall?
In most cases of rickets, puppies will see an improvement in symptoms within 1 week, can return to some normal activities within 3 weeks, and will be back to living a normal life within 8 weeks.
This of course varies based on how severe their case is, and this timeline does not refer to puppies that have sustained fractures due to their conditions.
If your puppy has a severe case of rickets or requires specialized care for any broken bones, we suggest speaking with your vet about an accurate recovery time.
Final Thoughts Or Rickets In Dogs
Rickets is a complex bone condition that deeply impacts the growing canine companions in our home.
While this condition can occur due to an array of underlying factors, most puppies can avoid this disease by consuming an age and size appropriate commercial puppy diet.
Thankfully Rickets can be cured and your dog can get better within weeks as long as you follow your veterinarians guidance.