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Canine Skeletal Scurvy

The above is a disease of young, rapidly growing dogs usually between 3 and 8 months and the truth is it is still of unknown cause.  It is called skeletal scurvy because it is believed that in dogs it was caused by lack of Vitamin C.  Other names that the disease is known by are BARLOW’S DISEASE, hypertrophic osteodystrophy or metaphyseal osteopathy.  Many people believe that the disease is caused by lack of Vitamin C but as dogs can make their own Vitamin C unlike man, then it is really untrue.  It is maybe thought that it is some abnormality in the processing of Vitamin C in dogs that is the cause.  This is the theory that I believe and the reason for the upset in the synthesis of Vitamin C is likely to be the over feeding of other vitamins and minerals.  The most likely vitamins and minerals to overfeed in the dog are Calcium and Vitamin D which I am sure upsets the production of Vitamin C.  The affected puppy is very ill, extremely dull and lethargic and will have a very high temperature of about 104 – 105 F (normal is 101 F).  If the affected puppy is given antibiotic alone then his or her temperature will not reduce to normal at all.  The affected puppy will usually have swollen joints, especially around the carpal or pastern joints of the front legs.  Occasionally other joints are swollen and painful and I have had one puppy with a very painful neck.  The pain and swelling is due to rupture of small blood vessels and bleeding around the affected joints which I am sure you will appreciate, will be exceedingly painful.  If your veterinary surgeon is unsure of the cause of the swollen joints then x – raying gives a very good diagnostic test that it is skeletal scurvy which is causing the problem.  The swellings are usually bilateral and symmetrical and as already stated, are found at the bottom or distal end of the long bones.  Although not advised by many experts I still feel the best line of treatment is to inject Vitamin C intravenously for three days plus daily dosage of 1000mg of Vitamin C by mouth.  Painkillers are essential and although most vets shy clear of cortisone, I find 5mg of prednisolone daily per 10lkg bodyweight given orally in the morning to be the best line of treatment.  I continue this for 4 or 5 days after the dogs seems totally normal which may be up to 14 – 21 days although if caught early enough will be only 5 – 7 days.  After this my dosage is reduced by half for 7 days and then every second day for 7 days.  Total caged rest is essential and when the puppy starts to feel better and wants to move around again then it must be caged for another 14 days and after that one month very restricted exercise.  I have found that if this programme of treatment is adhered to then reoccurrence is not common. If the condition does occur again the chance of recovery the second time is reduced and euthanasia has had to be resorted to occasionally.  If your vet does not want to use Prednisolone or another corticosteroid as a first line of attack then some of the newer non steroidal anti – inflammatory drugs such as Metacalm, Loxicalm and Previcox have been used with success but in my experience, Prednisolone is the best one for first treatment.  When the puppy is back to normal I resort back to 500mg of Vitamin C daily by mouth until the pup is 9 months old.  Prevention is always better than cure especially in this disease so I make sure all my pups sold have a diet sheet given to their new owner which includes 250mg of Vitamin C by mouth until 12 weeks old and then 500mg of Vitamin C until 9 months old.

Please make sure the diet prescribed is balanced for all vitamins and minerals and excesses of Vitamin D and calcium are not prescribed.  Please do not give bone meal and calcium supplement to the same puppy and remember most modern diets are now balanced for all vitamins and minerals and therefore only Vitamin C needs to be added.  Some breeders I know give no Vitamin C additive but give SA37 tablets or powder from 8 weeks until 9 months at the prescribed dose and never seem to have had any problems.  If you have a winning combination then stick to it but remember extra Vitamin C does no harm at all and can save a lot of pain to your new puppy in later life.


Please talk to your own veterinary surgeon about which treatment they recommend as everybody has their own treatment.


Article first printed in 1994 in a Boxer Quarterly

Walker Miller,

Walkon Boxers.