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Rickets in Chickens

An imbalanced diet can lead to rickets in chickens. Recognize the symptoms and take preventative measures with these tips.

By Jose A. Linares, DVM, and John El-Attrache, PhD

Rickets is a nutritional problem in young chickens caused by an imbalance or a lack of calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D3. The availability of commercial, balanced poultry rations has made nutritional deficiencies a rare event, but occasional problems occur in flocks where the owners formulate and mix their own feed.

Rickets Symptoms and Causes
Calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D3 are required for bone quality. Deficient chicks develop rubbery bones that cannot support their body weight. In severe cases, the chicks are unable to walk and die of suffocation as their bones cannot support the muscle movements required for breathing. If rickets is suspected, an early diagnosis can be made by feeling their beaks, which turn soft and pliable. In marginal cases, the chicks have a stiff gait, decreased growth and eventual bone deformities, especially in the legs.

Can it spread?
Rickets is a nutritional deficiency that can affect an entire flock, but it cannot be passed from one chicken to another.

Rickets Prevention
Rickets is prevented by feeding a nutritionally balanced feed with adequate calcium, phosphorous and vitamin D3.

Rickets Treatment
Treatment requires changing the feed, supplementing the diet with free-choice limestone or oyster shell, and providing three times the recommended vitamin D3 requirement for two weeks. Water-soluble vitamin D3 is available for ease and efficiency of administration. If the chickens are kept in an enclosure, turning them out and exposing them to sunlight is beneficial.

About the Authors: Dr. Jose A. Linares, DVM, ACPV, is the Resident Director of the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory, Poultry Diagnostic Laboratory in Gonzales, TX. Dr. John El-Attrache, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University.

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Rickets in Chickens

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Reader Comments
This past fall we had our first try at a fall hatch; always have done a spring run. Some of our pullets started showing signs of lower extremity weakness after we introduced them to the "big house" and switched to our home made feed of grains and alfalfa. Our free range was covered in snow so they didn't want to go outside. We switched back to a commercial feed and added vitamin D3 to their water. Our girls made a complete recovery. We have not had this problem before because spring run chicks have access to fresh greens (grass, alfalfa, etc.) and an abundance of sunlight. The one pullet I banded has caught up in growth to the other unaffected birds.

We suspect that this vitamin D3 deficiency shows up in adult birds and is evidenced by reduction in egg laying as our adult hens began laying soon after supplementing with the vitamin D3.
Linda, Davenport, WA
Posted: 3/14/2014 10:33:08 AM
I have a white silkie that had symptons of rickets,got where she could not hardly stand I gave her a small amount of red cell(for horses)in her drinking water and put her on chick sarter feed,she is walking good and eating and drinking good but still very thin.
Jim, Philadelphia, TN
Posted: 1/18/2014 11:55:02 AM
my confusion concern this rickets is that after appling this treatment to the chicks,it seems as if there is decrease in there growth rate
johnvie, owerri, AL
Posted: 11/28/2013 9:51:16 AM
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