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Dwarfism in Dogs

4 min read

If you’ve got or seen a little pup who looks a bit small for their age and doesn’t seem to grow, they could have dwarfism. Like humans, dogs can also have this condition, and it’s down to genetics.

Read on to find out all about dwarfism in dogs.

What is dwarfism in dogs?

Dwarfism in dogs encompasses several growth and developmental conditions, usually inherited, which result in a dog being smaller than it should be. Dwarfism often results in health issues and a reduction in life span. 

What are the causes of dwarfism in dogs?

There are several causes of dwarfism in dogs, with pituitary dwarfism and achondroplasia the commonest. Dogs with pituitary dwarfism have an underdeveloped pituitary gland and a deficiency of growth hormone. It is a genetic condition and is seen most often in German Shepherds. Affected dogs are small but their body remains in the correct proportions.

Achondroplasia is a developmental abnormality affecting bone and cartilage. Again it is a genetic condition but affected dogs tend to have short limbs that are out of proportion to the rest of their body. They may also have other abnormalities and because it is a hereditary condition, it is recommended that affected dogs should not be used for breeding.

How can you tell if a dog has dwarfism?

The signs of dwarfism will vary depending on the underlying cause, but here are some signs to look out for:

Symptoms of dwarfism in dogs

  • Bones look shorter than normal 
  • Enlarged joints
  • Abnormal bone shape
  • Larger head than normal
  • Shorter nose with an undershot jaw
  • Crooked teeth
  • Lack of growth
  • Spinal deviation (either side)
  • Bowing of forelimbs (leaning out sideways)
  • Heart issues
  • Fear and dog aggression

If a puppy has dwarfism, you may start to see signs from as early as 2 months old. If you think that your puppy may have dog dwarfism or have any other concerns about their health, you should always consult a vet.

Diagnosing dwarfism in dogs

For a diagnosis of dwarfism, the vet will usually examine your dog and may carry out X-rays to look at bone development. Make note of any more abnormalities you’ve spotted. To rule out other conditions and further confirm if a dog has dwarfism, the vet may want to take blood and send it to the lab for further testing.

Can dwarfism in dogs be treated?

Though there is no cure for dwarfism, whatever the cause, your vet may suggest medication to help manage the condition together with pain relief if required. For example, it is possible to treat and manage pituitary dwarfism in dogs with prescribed dosages of growth hormone. In mature dogs, spaying or neutering could also help. It’s important to talk to a vet first if you suspect that your dog has dwarfism.

How long do dogs live with dwarfism? 

Depending on the severity of the case, some dogs with dwarfism can live relatively normal lives. Other dogs, however, unfortunately, won’t live past 5 years of age. This does depend on the breed and type of dwarfism – your vet will be able to provide more specifics for your dog.

Caring for dogs with dwarfism

Giving your dog a good quality of life is highly important. Dwarfism in dogs can cause certain health issues that will need to be managed to ensure your pooch is as happy as possible.

One thing to bear in mind with achondroplasia is that affected dogs tend to be prone to arthritis. Another thing to note is obesity as carrying extra weight puts additional strain on arthritic joints– making sure your dog has a healthy diet and a good amount of exercise is important here.

Some pain medication can help too but make sure a vet is consulted for the best course of action.

Which dog breeds are more likely to have dwarfism?

Some cases of dwarfism in dogs are caused by selective breeding, others just happen to be predisposed to it. Here is our list:

Dwarfism selective breeding

The short and smaller limbs seen with achondroplasia are seen as desirable in some breeds and this has resulted in these traits being selectively bred for. Here are some examples:

Dog breeds predisposed to dwarfism

Some dog breeds may have a natural genetic predisposition to dwarfism, including:

As always, remember to consult your vet if you have any worries about your dog!

Now that you know how to look for dwarfism in dogs, take a look at the symptoms of sensitive skin in dogs.