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Causes and Prevention of Dwarfism in Dogs

Source: PetWave, Updated on July 16, 2015

Causes of Dwarfism

Dwarfism – or short stature in dogs - can be caused by a wide variety of things. These include:

  • Malnutrition
  • Portosystemic shunts (PSS)
  • Cardiovascular defects (abnormalities in the heart and/or blood vessels)
  • Hydrocephalus (“water on the brain”)
  • Kidney (renal) disease
  • Hypothyroidism (deficiency of thyroid hormones)
  • Hypopituitarism (inherited deficiency of growth hormone)
  • Hypoadrenocorticism (Addison’s disease; deficiency of adrenal gland hormones)
  • Hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s disease; excessive production of adrenal hormones)
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Glycogen storage disease
  • Skeletal dysplasia (developmental abnormalities formed before birth [in utero]; usually caused by a genetic defect in endochondral ossification, which is the process that normally occurs in young growing animals as their cartilage transitions to bone)
  • Hyposomatotropism (hormone deficiency)
  • Other hormonal imbalances

Prevention of Dwarfism

The sire and dam of dwarf dogs in breeds that have not been intentionally bred to be short probably should not be bred again, because of the likely hereditary cause of their puppies’ condition. They certainly should not be bred to each other at any later date. Affected dogs – those that are dwarfs - also should be not be used as part of a responsible breeding program. Other than by managing the gene pool in this fashion, there is no realistic way to prevent dwarfism in domestic dogs.

Special Note

Canine dwarfism almost always has a strong genetic component. Dwarf dogs are not short in stature as a result of the same processes that led to the short stature of the many tiny and toy dog breeds we see today. Those breeds developed not from genetic defects in bone and cartilage growth and development, but instead from the selective breeding of proportionately smaller and smaller representatives from the normal gene pool. Toy and miniature breeds, like the Miniature Pinscher and Miniature Schnauzer, are essentially smaller examples of normal dogs of those breeds. In other words, they have been “bred down” in a way that makes them miniature versions of dogs with normal conformational proportions.

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