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Key Nutrients that Support the Skeletal System

Featuring Russ Kelley, M.S., Eukanuba and Royal Canin Pet Health and Nutrition Center

We want our dogs firing on all cylinders in the field and one of their most crucial “cylinders” is their skeletal system. Healthy bones play many roles in a dog’s body; bones literally support everything else. Here are some key nutrients that help your dog build strong, healthy bones.

Black Lab running through decoys in a corn field

Healthy bones protect a dog’s brain, heart, lungs, and other important organs. They also anchor muscles and store minerals. You dog’s bone health depends on a balanced diet and quality nutrition.


Calcium is the building block for bone growth and regeneration. Being the most abundant mineral in a dog’s body, it serves many important functions to support a dog’s overall health.

“In terms of nutrition, calcium is the most recognized nutrient linked to skeletal health,” says Russ Kelley of Eukanuba’s Pet Health & Nutrition Center. “Calcium is a mineral that dogs need to maintain their skeletal system, but calcium is also important for their teeth, muscle control, and blood circulation, among other things.”

Calcium is not made in the body and must be absorbed from food. If a dog’s diet is deficient in calcium, their body will use calcium from their bones for other purposes which leads to weakened, fragile bones. Calcium deficiency can also lead to nervous system problems. Prolonged cases of calcium deficiency can lead to brittle and delicate bones.

However, Kelley notes that overloading a dog with calcium can also cause problems. “From a puppy standpoint, extremely high levels of calcium have shown to be detrimental because it promotes very rapid bone growth therefore leading to decreased skeletal health as an adult.”

There needs to be a proper balance between calcium and phosphorus for ideal bone health. Blindly using calcium supplements without considering the overall balance of other minerals isn’t a good idea. A quality dog food like Eukanuba’s Premium Performance line has optimal levels of calcium and other minerals without the need for additional supplements.

Vitamin D

A dog’s body cannot absorb calcium from his food without vitamin D.

“Vitamin D is an essential vitamin for dogs,” explains Kelley. “A dog cannot produce enough vitamin D on his own and must have it included in his diet to maintain optimal health.”

Vitamin D plays an indirect role in skeletal health by managing levels of calcium in the body. It also controls the absorption and movement of calcium throughout the body. However, vitamin D, like other nutrients must be appropriately balanced. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin and excess amounts are stored in the liver instead of being excreted. Excessive vitamin D in the liver can be toxic for dogs so it’s best to feed a high-quality dog food that has a balanced blend of vitamins and minerals.


Magnesium promotes muscle and nerve function, as well as supporting the central nervous system and cardiovascular health.

“Magnesium is very important for bone health,” explains Kelley. “Like calcium, a lack of magnesium in a dog’s diet can lead to weakened bones, nervous system issues, a lowered level of stamina, and an overall lower resistance to stress.”

Beyond bone health, magnesium plays a role in hundreds of biochemical reactions in the body. It helps sustain normal nerve and muscle function, supports the immune function, and keeps the heartbeat steady.


The majority of phosphorus in the body is found in bone mineral (over 80%1) and that’s because phosphorus works with calcium to help build bones.

“Phosphorus directly aids in calcium metabolism,” says Kelley. “It also aids in the cellular repair of bones. The outer lining of bones contains a lot of protein so it’s important from a diet standpoint that we can repair that, and phosphorus plays a role in that process.”

Phosphorus deficiency can lead to weakened bones and joint pain.

Putting It All Together

While the primary materials key to bone health include calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, and phosphorus, an important takeaway is having the correct balance of these elements in a dog’s diet. Each of these minerals needs to be available to a dog’s body for bone regeneration.

“It's really about bringing together a combination of nutrients to have optimal health benefits,” notes Kelley. “Whether it's calcium, phosphorus, Vitamin D, or trace elements like copper and manganese; these are all really important for skeletal health.”

Kelley also stresses the importance of exercise for bone health. “Exercise is an important component to skeletal health,” he says. “We don’t give enough attention to the fact that when we exercise our dogs, we are in fact helping them have healthier skeletal systems.”

Help your dog do what he loves most—spend time in the field and feed him a nutrient-rich diet to support his skeletal health.

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