Everything You Need To Know About Dwarfism in Dogs

Dwarfism in Dogs


Dwarfism is the term given to any organism that is considered extremely small for its species size. How small varies even when talking about only one species. For example, in humans, dwarfism is sometimes defined as any adult — regardless of sex — whose height is less than 4ft 10in or 147cm, while others extend it up to 5ft. Though, the average height of an adult with dwarfism is 4ft. 

From this alone, we can see that dwarfism is a complicated subject, as a 4ft 11in a woman isn’t far from the norm where it is for a man. This clues us in that there are multiple forms of dwarfism. 

In most cases, the cause of dwarfism is the result of a genetic disorder that happens very early on before birth. Other causes of dwarfism include hormone deficiencies, poor nutrition, and cancer. 

Dwarfism can bring along an increased risk of certain health factors such as obesity, joint pain, and risk of injury. But this isn’t always the case, and many with dwarfism live perfectly healthy lives. It’s important to remember that there are many things that can contribute to smaller stature, and as such, the symptoms of dwarfism are quite diverse. 


Dwarfism in Dogs


Dogs With Dwarfism

While many think of humans when they hear the term dwarfism, it occurs just as much, if not more so, frequently in our lovable doggos. In fact, there are at least 19 modern dog breeds where dwarfism plays a part in defining some of their breed characteristics. 

Energetic corgis, cute terriers like the Scottish and Norwich, and many other common breeds all have a form of dwarfism. And it is not always small dogs where it’s common to see dwarfism pop up — though it’s often another type of dwarfism that affects larger breeds. 


Types of Dwarfism

Skeletal Dwarfism

Skeletal dwarfism, otherwise known as Osteochondrodysplasia, is the name given to the genetic condition where the bones and cartilage don’t properly develop. Skeletal dwarfism can be both severe and mild.

As well, there are various known growth patterns that can cause their own unique problems. Achondroplasia, chondrodysplasia, and pseudoachondroplasia are all names that describe the pattern variation in growth. 

 Large heads on small bodies with underdeveloped snouts are associated with the condition. Shorter limbs, spinal deviations, deformed joints, and bowed legs are all examples of skeletal dwarfism, as well.

Osteochondrodysplasia exists inherently in breeds such as the Welsh Corgi, Basset Hound, and Skye Terrier.

However, it can affect any breed with reports confirming its appearance in Alaskan Malamutes, Beagles, Boston terriers, Cocker Spaniels, English Pointers, German Shepherds, Great Pyrenees, Pugs, Pekingese, Japanese spaniels, Shih-Tzus, Scottish Terriers, Labrador Retrievers, Norwegian Elkhounds, Samoyed, and Scottish Deerhounds.

Unfortunately, there are no real treatments for this form of dwarfism. In many cases, the deformities are mild, letting most dogs enjoy their life without much hindrance. In severe cases, surgery can sometimes help relieve problems with joint issues such as pain and lameness.

As well, a veterinarian may prescribe anti-inflammatory and pain relievers to help with inflammation and pain. 

Dog Breeds Where Skeletal DwarfismIs The Norm:

There are several dog breeds where skeletal dwarfism plays a defining role in the breed’s appearance. Breeders have different reasons for promoting skeletal dwarfism in a breed. In the case of the Corgi and Dachshund, shorter legs caused by dwarfism are desirable.

As it helps improve the breed’s abilities when out on the job. Short legs help the Corgi stay under kicking range when herding livestock that are much taller than them. Dachshund’s short legs help them more easily crawl into badger dens to flush them out when on the hunt. 

But skeletal dwarfism isn’t always promoted in a breed to improve their talent on the job. Sometimes, it’s simply done for appearance, and it’s this practice that leads to some breeds struggling endlessly with health issues as a result.

Pugs and English Bulldogs are classic examples of two amazing breeds whose appearance has been pushed too far by dwarfism. Today, many English Bulldogs are a result of artificial insemination and most are born through c-section due to the extreme effects of dwarfism. Both the Pug and English Bulldog struggle tremendously with breathing difficulties due to the dwarfism gene.


Pituitary dwarfism

The other common reason for dwarfism in dogs is due to a lack of growth hormones. This form is known as Juvenile-Onset Panhypopituitarism — often simply referred to as pituitary dwarfism. 

This form of dwarfism is most often due to the pars distalis failing to develop during the gestation period. Genetics, tumors, infections, and cysts can all cause the condition. 

German Shepherds are most commonly affected by this form, with reports that it affects the Spitz, Miniature Pinscher, and Karelian Bear Dog at higher rates, as well. Pituitary dwarfism can result in the body growing disproportionally, such as with skeletal dwarfism.

However, this isn’t always the case, and a dog with pituitary dwarfism can simply look like a smaller version of their breed or stay looking like a puppy. While that may sound appealing, this is far from a pleasant condition. 

Dogs that suffer from this form see internal issues beyond their affected appearance. They may experience hair loss, see kidney issues, and on. As a result, life expectancy is reduced by about 4 to 5 years.

Fortunately, there are treatments that include growth hormone injections along with treatments to correct the adrenal gland or thyroid condition. Unfortunately, these treatments can cause significant side effects, including weight gain, excessive thirst, and sensitivity to heat and temperature changes. 

Treatments For Pituitary Dwarfism (Juvenile-Onset Panhypopituitarism) include: 

• Porcine (Pig) Growth Hormones — Pig hormones are sometimes a successful treatment for replacing canine hormones. However, at the moment, the treatment is very expensive. 

• Progestins — Steroidal drugs such as medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA) or proligestone can stimulate growth hormones. Normally, they are taken for several months. And while there are some side effects such as an allergic reaction, they are a fairly successful treatment.

• Surgery — Sometimes, pituitary dwarfism is caused by an operable cyst or tumor that surgery can remove. 

• Thyroid Hormones — Synthetic hormones such as levothyroxine have tremendous success when prescribed under careful monitoring from a veterinarian. 

In most cases, treatment of pituitary dwarfism is essential to the dog living past the age of about 5.  


Dwarfism in Dogs



Diagnosing Pituitary Dwarfism (Juvenile-Onset Panhypopituitarism):

To confirm the diagnosis of pituitary dwarfism, a veterinarian will run a series of tests. This includes a physical evaluation that checks over their weight, height, temperature, respiration, pulse, palpation, and auscultation.

As well, endocrine tests are sometimes performed along with growth hormone stimulation tests.  Other tests can be additionally done to confirm pituitary dwarfism, including blood tests that can rule out another issue such as cancer.

It may seem redundant to run so many tests to confirm dwarfism, or any test at all, as often signs of dwarfism are obvious. But it’s important to understand what’s causing it, as treatment can put years back into their life. 

Dwarfism is most commonly first noticed in puppies that are between the age of week 8 to week 16. However, signs of dwarfism can appear in puppies that are only two weeks old.

While dogs with dwarfism grow more slowly than their regular-size counterparts, they often continue growing well past age two when most dogs are done.

It’s important to monitor their teeth to ensure their baby teeth fall out. If they haven’t by week 30, surgery is sometimes recommended to remove the baby-teeth. It’s common for their baby coat to remain with their guard coat failing, leaving the dog with a thin and balding coat. 

As your dwarf puppy becomes an adult, it’s essential to keep its weight within a healthy range. Daily exercise is recommended, but aggressive and excessive play should be kept at bay.

This will help ensure their joints stay healthy as they age into their senior years. Which many dogs with dwarfism can see when their health is given the special care it needs. 


Does Dwarfism Cause Health Problems With Dogs?

On average, a dog with dwarfism will experience more health issues in their lives compared to a regular-sized dog. Both skeletal dwarfism and pituitary dwarfism are associated with health problems. Sometimes they overlap with each other — notably, breathing difficulties and joint pain are commonly associated with both.

Others don’t, however. Such as is seen in pituitary dwarfism’s effects on a dog’s mental capabilities. Dogs with pituitary dwarfism sometimes show increased aggression and mental slowness. 


Rescuing A Dog With Dwarfism

Rescuing a dog with dwarfism is a noble cause due to the likelihood that they will face greater challenges in their life. While the extra care they need will look different depending on their dwarfism, in pretty much every case, ensuring they stay active and at a healthy weight is crucial.

While exercise is vital, it’s generally recommended you keep it active but not excessive or intense as jumping or falling can be hard on their joints.

Dogs with dwarfism often have feet that point outwards, so even running and quicks sprints are often recommended to be kept at bay. 


Training And Exercising A Dog With Dwarfism

Training and exercising a dog with dwarfism is pretty much the same as training a dog without it. The only real difference is to expect to take things slower and don’t expect as much from them.

For example, depending on their form of dwarfism, tricks like rolling over may be out of the question because it puts too much pressure on their spin. Teaching your dwarf doggo early on how to use a step-ladder is a great idea for getting up and off furniture.


Dwarfism in Dogs



How can you tell if a dog has dwarfism?

You can tell if a dog has Osteochondrodysplasia or skeletal dwarfism by checking out if they have a disproportionate body structure. Typically, their legs are short or stumpy, their torso may seem long, their head big compared to the rest of the body, their snout short compared to their head, etc. 

Dogs that suffer from Juvenile-Onset Panhypopituitarism or pituitary dwarfism can have symptoms such as a higher bark.

As well, their feet may turn outward, their eyes may bulge, and they can experience hair loss, breathing difficulties, bowed front legs, slow growth, disproportionate growth, adult teeth failing to come in, and intellectual difficulties.   


Can dogs have dwarfism syndrome?

While some canine breeds are more prone to dwarfism than others, any dog breed can be affected by both pituitary dwarfism and skeletal dwarfism.


Is dwarfism bad for dogs?

In many cases, dwarfism is bad for dogs. How bad greatly depends on the form of dwarfism and its severity. While there is no amazing cure for skeletal dwarfism, many dogs with it see little to no problems.

However, dogs with pituitary dwarfism almost always see issues from the disorder, and many die a very early death from it when left untreated. Fortunately, there are a number of viable treatments for this form of dwarfism.


How long do dogs with dwarfism live?

A dog with dwarfism can have a shorter life expectancy, but not always. Many dogs with skeletal dwarfism live relatively healthy and long lives.

A dog with pituitary dwarfism, however, can see this condition cut 5 years off theirs’. It’s important to note that pituitary dwarfism can be managed and treated giving many dogs’ their full life expectancy, or close to it, back. Skeletal dwarfism is not very treatable, leading to severe forms of it being highly dangerous. 


Can animals get dwarfism?

It’s likely that dwarfism appears in all animal species. However, it’s extremely rare to see dwarfism of any form in the wild. Symptoms of dwarfism, such as shorter limbs, breathing difficulties, and on, all put a wild animal unable to compete for survival — whether they are predator or prey.

Most forms of dwarfism are a result of a corrupted gene they inherited from their mother, father, or both. This makes it even rare to see baby wild animals with dwarfism. 

Dwarfism is much more common in domestic animals, especially dogs, as many breeds have been purposely bred to be shorter. While many small breeds see higher rates of dwarfism, there are several small breeds where dwarfism was purposely used to create them.

This includes the Pug, Dachshund, Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Cardigan Welsh Corgi, English Bulldog, French Bulldog, Basset Hound, Dandie Dinmont Terrier, Skye Terrier, and the Scottish Terrier. 

Horses are another domestic animal where it’s common to see dwarfism. 


German shepherd with dwarfism



While dwarfism occurs in all dog breeds, German Shepherds are reported to be the breed most affected by pituitary dwarfism. There are estimates that 20% of purebred German Shepherds carry the gene for pituitary dwarfism. Fortunately, there is genetic testing available that tests whether a potential parent dog has the gene for dwarfism. 

While German Shepherds with pituitary dwarfism look like adorable puppies, their cute appearance comes at a cost of numerous health issues. If left untreated, a German Shepherd with pituitary dwarfism is only expected to live about half along. 


Dwarf german shepherd

A result of a simple autosomal recessive trait, German Shepherds aren’t the only breed that commonly see dwarfism. Others include the Miniature Pinscher, the Spitz, and the Karelian Bear Dog. 


Collie dogs with dwarfism

There are over a dozen different collie breeds, and like with any dog breed, dwarfism is always possible. In fact, Border Collies and other “Pastoral” working breeds frequently see pituitary dwarfism appear in their line. 


Do dachshunds have dwarfism? 

All dachshunds have dwarfism, in particular the chondrodysplasia variation. This means that early in their growth, the growing tips of their limbs harden. This happens in around 20 different modern dog breeds. There are even some super miniature dachshunds that may have multiple forms of dwarfism. 


Dwarfism in Dogs vs. Humans 

Both humans and dogs see the same forms of dwarfism, and they occur at higher rates than what we see with mammals in the wild. In humans, Achondroplasia comprises about 70% of cases, with growth hormone deficiency being responsible for most of the other cases. The rates in dogs are unknown, however.


Discovering your dog has dwarfism is understandable, a very scary thing. There are many health problems that can come from all forms of dwarfism.

But it’s important to remember that dwarfism is manageable in the large majority of cases — be it pituitary or skeletal dwarfism. We won’t lie, there are going to be times when it can be harder, and in some cases, more expensive to raise a doggo with dwarfism. 

But don’t let that discourage you. It’s incredibly rewarding to give a dog that needs a little extra help the TLC they deserve. There are many support groups both on the web and likely near you that can help out. If you have a dog with dwarfism or looking to rescue one, we wish you the best of luck and love. 

Looking for more articles on Tindog, full of awesome facts, need-to-know training tips, and the best foods to give? Then stay up-to-date with the Tindog Blog. 

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