Osteopenia refers to the loss of bone density, due to either the loss of minerals or the inability to mineralize. This loss of bone density leads to weakened bones and increased risk of fractures. Osteopenia is typically a secondary condition or symptom related to an underlying disease, such as osteomalacia or hyperparathyroidism. While treatment depends on the underlying cause and typically works to prevent further damage, it is possible to improve bone density.
When the Bones Become Weak
Osteoporosis causes osteopenia due to the loss of minerals in the bone. Primary osteoporosis, which occurs in humans, does not typically occur in dogs. Osteoporosis is secondary to conditions such as hyperparathyroidism, long-term limb immobilization or the use of certain anticonvulsant drugs. Osteomalacia, or adult rickets, occurs when the bones fail to mineralize. This condition occurs often as the result of insufficient phosphorus, vitamin D or calcium in the diet.
Too Much Parathyroid Hormone
Hyperparathyroidism is a condition whereby the parathyroid gland produces excessive amounts of parathyroid hormone. Under normal conditions, this hormone helps regulate calcium and phosphorus levels in the blood. When too much parathyroid hormone circulates, the body pulls minerals, such as calcium, from the bones. This leads to reduced bone density, or osteopenia.
Additional Underlying Causes of Osteopenia
In addition to osteoporosis, osteomalacia and hyperparathyroidism, other conditions commonly contribute to osteopenia. Dietary and nutritional deficiencies, as well as malabsorption conditions, can contribute to reduced mineral intake. Other possible underlying conditions include long-term kidney disease or kidney failure, diabetes mellitus, neoplasia and hyperadrenocorticism.
Building Back the Bones
Treatment for osteopenia focuses on the underlying cause of the bone loss. When your dog is diagnosed with osteopenia, your veterinarian determines the underlying cause and creates a treatment plan focused on that condition. For example, in cases of malnutrition or dietary deficiencies, a diet change or mineral supplementation, such as calcium, is often necessary. Until bone density levels improve, it is essential to reduce your dog’s risk of fractures. Weak bones can break during a simple jump off the couch. Talk to your veterinarian about the recommended diet and activities that are best for your dog.
- Glendale Animal Hospital: Osteopenia (Osteoporosis/Osteomalacia)
- The Merck Manual for Pet Health: Disorders Associated With Calcium, Phosphorus, and Vitamin D in Dogs
- University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine: Osteoporosis and Osteopetrosis Chapter 55
- PetMD: Hyperparathyroidism in Dogs
Deborah Lundin is a professional writer with more than 20 years of experience in the medical field and as a small business owner. She studied medical science and sociology at Northern Illinois University. Her passions and interests include fitness, health, healthy eating, children and pets.