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Note for Pet Owners

This information is provided by Provet for educational purposes only.

You should seek the advice of your veterinarian if your pet is ill as only he or she can correctly advise on the diagnosis and recommend the treatment that is most appropriate for your pet.

Rickets is a term that is often used to describe skeletal abnormalities - but what does it mean ?

Rickets is a condition that causes deformities -  swelling of the joints and bending of the long bones in young growing animals. It is caused by :

  • Insufficient phosphorus in the diet - phosphorus is an important mineral which is a major component of bone along with calcium
  • Insufficient vitamin D in the diet - vitamin D is needed for normal absorption of minerals from the intestine, and for the release of minerals from bone.
  • Insufficient sunlight - many animals can make their own vitamin D if they are exposed to natural sunlight

So the disease is caused by a nutritional deficiency, or an inability to absorb nutrients from the intestine due to insufficient vitamin D.

The result is that the cartilage that forms a young animals skeleton does not calcify properly, the bone does not become rigid and it does not develop normally in response to external forces. Eventually weight bearing and movement causes bending deformities of the bones.

Fortunately, pets fed on a complete, balanced ration get adequate amounts of minerals and vitamin D in their food and so they do not develop rickets, and TRUE rickets  is actually very rare in clinical practice in affluent societies today. When it is seen the animal will have been fed a homemade or a "fad" diet, and treatment can be successful  by feeding adequate amounts of minerals and vitamin D. 

If the condition is detected and treated before the bones have finished growing (say before 6 months of age in cats and dogs) the deformity may be corrected during the remaining growth phase. However, if the bones have already stopped growing (after 9 months of age) any deformity can only be corrected by surgery.

Breeders and owners can help to minimise the risk of developing rickets and other nutritionally related disorders by feeding a ration specifically formulated for young growing animals. Your veterinarian can recommend the most appropriate food for your pet.


Updated October 2013