Chickens and Rickets – Nutritional Deficiencies Explained


Rickets is loosely translated to “poverty of the bones.” It is caused by a deficiency of Vitamin D3, or by an imbalance of Calcium and Phosphorus in the diet. The result is weak or soft bones that are prone to bowing and inhibit mobility. Mycotoxins – toxins from mold or fungus – as well as some medication may also affect the absorption of Calcium and Phosphorus, and can lead to an onset of Rickets.

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For healthy bone calcification, Calcium and Phosphorus need to be in adequate supply, and also in a 2:1 ratio of each other. Vitamin D3 is critical to regulating the absorption and metabolism of calcium. A sufficient amount of Vitamin D3 can be produced with just 11-45 minutes of sunshine (not filtered by glass) each day.

Symptoms and Signs

Chickens appear to be crippled. The symptoms will start small – sitting down during the day rather than wandering around and scratching. They will stay in one place for a while, sometimes refusing to roost. If not treated quickly, they will begin to lie on their side and lose the ability to stand on their feet and maintain balance. Things to look for:

  • Droopy wings
  • Inhibited mobility
  • Inability to walk, or even stand
  • Problems with balance
  • Appetite loss
  • Weight loss
  • Slow growth


If caught early enough, Rickets is treatable by correcting, or overcorrecting, for dietary deficiencies or imbalances.

Because the cause can be attributed to an imbalance in the diet, it is important to switch to a different feed. A small bag of non-medicated chick starter is best as it is easy to digest (grit is not needed), and full of protein for weight gain. If more than one of your chickens is affected, or if other backyard chicken owners using the same feed are sharing the problem, contact the feed company with the lot number and production date to find out if the food was improperly mixed.

Secondly, supplement with Vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 supplements can be found in water soluble Vitamin packs by Durvet at local feed stores or online. Follow the instructions on the package for dosing, and mix a fresh solution daily. It is also advisable to make sure they have access to unfiltered sunlight to help them produce some of their own Vitamin D3.

Tips: We also recommend feeding a small amount of plain yogurt which has probiotics to help aid digestion. It may be necessary to help the affected chicken with eating. A small medicine dropper is helpful, or a straw. To get all of the food and water down at the same time, mix the vitamin water, chick starter, and yogurt to a solution that’s easy to drop down the chicken’s throat. The chicken will be most comfortable in a place that’s warm since she is most likely skinny, and not roosting with other chickens to help stay warm at night.


Dunkley, Claudia. “Important Nutritional Diseases that Affect Laying Hens.” ThePoultrySite. 5M Enterprises, Dec 2009. Web. 28 Nov 2011.

Van Wettere, DVM, MS, PhD, DACVP, Arnaud J. “Noninfectious Skeletal Disorders in Broilers.” Merck Manuals, Web. 14 Nov 2017.

Ritchie, Branson W, Greg J Harrison, and Linda R Harrison. Avian Medicine:

Principle and Applications. Lakeworth: Wingers Publishing, Inc., 1994. eBook.

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