Dwarfism is a medical condition commonly seen in humans, but can a dog have dwarfism too? Unfortunately, yes. This does not only occur in humans but also in our 4-legged friends. We will discuss how dwarfism affects dogs, what its causes and symptoms are, and ways to manage it.
What are the different types of dwarfism in dogs?
2 types of dwarfism are observed in dogs: skeletal and pituitary. Let’s look and see how differently they affect a canine’s body.
1. Skeletal Dwarfism
Skeletal dwarfism is clinically known as osteochondrodysplasia (OCD). As its name implies, it is a growth and developmental defect in the bones.
What is a chondrodysplastic dog?
Chondrodysplastic or achondroplastic dog has a type of skeletal dwarfism called chondrodysplasia or achondroplasia.
It is caused by the fibroblast growth factor receptor gene’s mutation. This condition hinders the bone from conforming to the expected size of the breed.
Trivia: Some dog breeds like the Skye Terriers, Welsh Corgis, and Basset Hounds were a result of selectively breeding dogs with chondrodysplasia or achondroplasia. It was done for these breeds to have short limbs.
What dog breeds are highly susceptible to skeletal dwarfism?
- Alaskan Malamutes
- Basset Hounds
- Boston Terriers
- Cocker Spaniels
- English Pointers
- German Shepherds
- Great Pyrenees
- Japanese Spaniel
- Labrador Retrievers
- Norwegian Elkhounds
- Scottish Deerhounds
- Scottish Terriers
2. Pituitary Dwarfism
When the pituitary gland of dogs does not produce enough growth hormones, it causes pituitary dwarfism. Dogs with dwarfism caused by growth hormone deficiency simply have smaller bodies.
However, their bodies do not develop disproportionately, unlike dogs with skeletal dwarfism. This means their appearance will remain puppy-like as they continue to grow older.
The lack of growth hormone does not only impede the normal growth of dogs with dwarfism. It also has a negative side effect on their kidneys, causing them to become underdeveloped.
As a result, renal issues may become additional problems to worry about.
What dog breeds are highly susceptible to pituitary dwarfism?
- Basset Hounds
- Carnelian Bear Dogs
- Czechoslovakian Wolfdogs
- German Shepherds
- Sarloos Wolfdogs
What causes dwarfism?
Skeletal Dwarfism is mainly caused by a genetic mutation of the SLC13A1 gene. This is a gene code for a protein responsible for transporting minerals to the developing bone.
Considered an autosomal recessive disease, skeletal dwarfism develops in dogs that have 2 copies of the mutated gene from each parent.
Puppies with parents that are carriers of the mutated genes are 25% at risk of inheriting skeletal dwarfism. They also have a 50% chance of becoming carriers of the mutated SLC13A1 gene.
Aside from gene mutation, skeletal dwarfism can be a result of underlying health problems. Dogs with dwarfism of this type may have developed their condition due to malnutrition, hypothyroidism, diabetes, or hydrocephalus.
Much like skeletal dwarfism, the primary cause of pituitary is a genetic mutation. According to studies, the mutation of the LHX3 gene, which plays a big role in the early development of the pituitary gland, is linked to pituitary dwarfism.
Common carriers of this genetic mutation include German Shepherds. In fact, some studies state that 11% of the breed possesses the LHX3 gene mutation. Sarloos and Czechoslovakian Wolfdogs were found to be carriers of the mutated gene too.
Other health problems can also lead to the development of pituitary dwarfism. Cysts, infections, and tumours can affect the production of pituitary hormones, which cause the condition.
Breeders are advised to health-screen their breeding stock through DNA testing. Doing so will determine which dogs are carriers of the mutated genes.
Breeding these dogs is highly discouraged and unethical as they can pass on the gene mutation to their offspring. Neutering and spaying gene carriers are also advised to avoid accidental mating with other dogs.
How can you tell if a dog has dwarfism?
Skeletal dwarfism and pituitary dwarfism usually have a lot of common symptoms. Below are signs of dwarfism in dogs that you should be aware of:
- Abnormally short legs
- Retains puppy coat
- Breathing difficulties
- Large head
- Slow body growth
- Cardiovascular problems
- Skin abnormalities (e.g., darkening, hair loss, hyperpigmentation)
- Underdeveloped reproductive organ
- Bowed front legs
- Inflamed joints
- Lately falling out of puppy teeth
What is the life expectancy of dogs with dwarfism?
Dogs with dwarfism’s life expectancy is still widely debated. According to vet records, dwarfism shortens the lifespan of dogs to 4 years. However, due to the lack of data, more information is needed to prove that this claim is true.
On the other hand, a study made by the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands stated that dogs with dwarfism could live for 5–7 years.
This is also not considered a definitive answer since it does not represent the global population of dogs with dwarfism.
Although many believe that dwarfism severely affects a canine’s lifespan, some dogs with dwarfism were able to live long lives of up to 13 years.
Generally, the life expectancy of dwarf dogs will depend on the severity of their condition and how their owners help them manage their dwarfism.
What is the treatment for dogs with dwarfism?
The treatment for dogs with dwarfism is a life-long process. The types of treatments will depend on the type of dwarfism affecting them and their severity.
Skeletal Dwarfism Treatment in Dogs
Dogs with skeletal dwarfism are commonly prescribed anti-inflammatory and pain reliever medications.
That’s because their body structure puts so much pressure on their joints, causing inflammation and, in some cases, arthritis.
The vet may advise weight management, especially on dogs with dwarfism that are overweight or obese. Excessive weight gain is a big factor that can worsen the condition of their already-fragile bones and joints.
Providing them with a healthy diet along with adequate physical exercise will prevent obesity.
Surgical correction is available for dogs with severe cases of skeletal dwarfism. However, in most cases, this is not a fruitful process and may not be regarded by the vet as an appropriate treatment option.
Pituitary Dwarfism Treatment in Dogs
The treatment for dogs with pituitary dwarfism mainly focuses on hormone supplementation to replenish their lack of pituitary hormones.
One of the commonly used hormones is the porcine growth hormone, but it is expensive to procure.
Thyroid hormones such as synthetic levothyroxine are another option. The results may vary from dog to dog; thus usage of this hormone should be closely monitored by the vet.
Another alternative is progestins, like proligestone or medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA). These are steroidal hormones that encourage the production of growth hormones.
Although this type of treatment can be successful, side effects may occur, such as allergies and diabetes.
Dogs with dwarfism that is caused by tumours or cysts may need surgery. However, this is only possible if the tumour’s or cyst’s location is far from the thyroid gland and other vital organs.