Dwarfism in Dogs: Causes & Treatment

Dr. Jason Gagné, DVM, DACVIM
By Dr. Jason Gagné, DVM, DACVIM
Updated: 5/20/20242-4 minutes
A short dog with small legs walks next to a person’s feet. Small dogs who lack growth hormones can have dwarfism.

Despite what you may think, dwarfism doesn’t just affect humans. Dogs can be impacted, too. Dogs with dwarfism often lack growth hormones, resulting in smaller bodies, bulging eyes and short legs. How it affects your pet differs, however, depending on their specific condition. 

Whether you want to know if your puppy has dwarfism or are concerned about your dwarf breed’s health, read on to learn more about dwarfism in dogs.

What is Dwarfism in Dogs? 

Dwarfism in dogs encompasses several growth and developmental conditions, usually inherited, which affect a canine’s size, health and life span.

What Are the Causes of Dwarfism in Dogs? 

Here are some common causes of dwarfism in dogs: 

  • Achondroplasia. This condition is characterized by bones that fail to grow to their expected size. It’s the most common type of canine dwarfism.  
  • Pituitary Dwarfism. This occurs due to an underdeveloped pituitary gland. Also known as Juvenile-Onset Panhypopituitarism, dogs with this condition have growth hormone deficiencies. It’s a genetic condition most often found in German Shepherds.

Symptoms of Dwarfism in Dogs

The signs of dwarfism will vary depending on the underlying cause, but here are some common symptoms to watch for: 

  • Bones that 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

German Shepherds with dwarfism can have additional symptoms as they age. They may develop a soft, woolly coat, alopecia and a shrill bark, among other things.

Puppies with dwarfism may start to show signs as early as two months of age. If you think your pet might have dog dwarfism or you have any other concerns about their health, contact your veterinarian. 

Which Dog Breeds Are Prone to Dwarfism?

Some cases of dwarfism in dogs are caused by selective breeding, while other breeds are predisposed to it.

The short and smaller limbs that result from achondroplasia are seen as desirable in some breeds, such as Dachshunds, Skye Terriers and Welsh Corgis. As a result, these traits are selectively bred for. 

Dog Breeds Predisposed to Dwarfism

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

Diagnosing Dwarfism in Dogs

For a diagnosis of dwarfism, your veterinarian will usually examine your dog and may carry out X-rays to check bone development. To rule out other conditions, they may want to take blood for further testing. 

Can Dwarfism in Dogs Be Treated?

Though there is no cure for dwarfism, your veterinarian 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 and thyroid hormone. You’ll also want to treat any secondary diseases as well.

In mature dogs, spaying or neutering could also help. Check with your veterinarian to determine if these options are appropriate for your pet.

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, unfortunately, experience significantly shorter life spans. This depends on the breed and type of dwarfism.

Health Problems Associated With Dwarfism

Dwarfism can lead to other health issues as well. Spinal problems may develop, such as spina bifida, which can impact your pet’s mobility and quality of life. 

Additionally, dogs with pituitary dwarfism sometimes experience hormonal conditions such as Addison's disease and hypothyroidism. These need to be treated, too. 

Caring for Dogs With Dwarfism

Promoting quality of life for your dog with dwarfism is highly important. This means caring for their secondary conditions as well. 

Dogs with achondroplasia tend to be prone to arthritis, so supporting their joint health through weight management, gentle exercise and joint supplements can help alleviate related pain. 

Pain medication can help, too, but make sure to consult your veterinarian for the best course of action. 

If you want to adopt a breed that’s selectively bred for their dwarf features, remember they face a higher risk for certain health issues (although their quality of life and life spans may not significantly differ from other breeds).

On the other hand, canines affected by pituitary dwarfism may experience serious health challenges and shortened life expectancy, depending on the severity of their condition.

Don’t forget, if you suspect your puppy has dwarfism, talk to your veterinarian as soon as possible.

For more expert tips, explore our other dog symptoms and health issues articles.

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