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Symptoms of Dwarfism in Dogs

Source: PetWave, Updated on July 16, 2015

How Dwarfism Affects Dogs

Dogs with severe skeletal defects may suffer discomfort and pain during puppyhood and into adulthood, depending upon the nature and severity of their deformities. This can happen in dogs that have been selectively bred to be dwarfs, as well as in those whose small stature is not normal for their breed. Some dwarf dogs suffer from breathing difficulties as a result of their malformed skulls and abnormal nasal passageways. They also tend to have reproductive problems. Many male and female canine dwarfs cannot mate naturally, and dwarf bitches frequently are unable to whelp their puppies through normal vaginal deliveries. This is usually due to their disproportionately large heads, long bodies and short stature. Dwarf dogs with abnormally long bodies in comparison to their relatively short legs, such as Dachshunds, Corgis and Basset Hounds, have an increased risk of developing painful spinal abnormalities (back problems), especially intervertebral disk disease.

Symptoms of Dwarfism

Owners of dogs whose dwarfism is considered to be perfectly normal for their breed obviously will not be surprised as their dogs develop with short legs and relatively long bodies. However, owners of dogs that have not been selectively bred to be dwarfs certainly will be concerned as their dogs do not grow normally. Depending upon the particular type of dwarfism, the dog’s owner will see one or more obvious skeletal deformities and stunted growth usually by approximately two or three months of age. These may include:

  • Short legs (usually in the correct proportion to one another; seen in virtually all dwarf dogs)
  • Long body (in comparison to short legs)
  • Bowed legs (especially noticeable in the front legs)
  • Enlarged joints (elbow, stifle/knee, carpus/wrist, tarsus/ankle)
  • Outward-turned feet (valgus deformity; especially prominent in front feet)
  • Large, wide head
  • Pronounced, protruding lower jaw (mandible)
  • Short upper jaw (maxilla)
  • Underbite (front upper teeth are behind the front lower teeth when the mouth is shut)
  • Depressed or caved-in appearance to the maxilla and muzzle which adversely affects respiration (depressed nasal bridge)
  • Difficulty breathing (dyspnea)
  • Loud, snoring-like breathing (stertorous respiration)
  • Excessive panting
  • Protruding tongue (partially sticking out of the mouth; frequently curls upward over the flat nose while the dog is panting)
  • Bulging eyes
  • Distended abdomen
  • Occasional spinal deviations
  • Occasional spinal pain

The primary skeletal abnormalities in dwarf dogs are their shortened legs, which make their bodies appear to be unusually long in comparison. Dwarfs may or may not also have skull and breathing abnormalities and/or problems with their spines.

German Shepherd Dogs and Carnelian Bear Dogs, and to a lesser extent Weimaraners, Labrador Retrievers, Spitz and Miniature Pinschers, are predisposed to a different form of genetic dwarfism caused by a defect in their pituitary gland. This condition is known as “juvenile panhypopituitarism,” or simply “pituitary dwarfism”. Affected puppies look normal when they are born. However, their growth slows down markedly after about 3 to 4 months of age. Pituitary dwarfs have a number of particular symptoms, including:

  • Stunted growth (short stature; short legs; abnormal growth of the long bones in the legs due to delayed closure of developing growth plates; obviously are “runts” by 5 or 6 months of age)
  • Delayed dental eruption (puppy teeth do not fall out when they should; retained deciduous teeth)
  • Patchy areas of symmetrical hair loss (alopecia; develops gradually)
  • Skin abnormalities (hyperpigmentation/darkening of the skin; thinning of the skin; wrinkling; scaling)
  • Small external genitalia (immature genitals do not develop normally; hypogonadism; testicular atrophy in males; cryptorchidism in males [one or both testicles do not descend into the scrotum normally]; absence of heat cycles in bitches; may or may not be able to reproduce)
  • Abnormal behavior (aggression; fear biting; others)
  • Heart (cardiac) abnormalities
  • Megaesophagus
  • Shortened life span

Dogs at Increased Risk

A number of breeds are dwarfs as a result of selective breeding of dogs that display extreme examples of the desired disfiguring traits: short, abnormal legs and large, deformed heads. These include Bulldogs, Japanese Spaniels, Pugs, Shih-Tzus, Pekingese and Boston Terriers. Other intentional dwarf breeds have short legs and long bodies but relatively normal skulls, such as the Dachshund, Beagle, Welsh Corgi, Scottish Terrier, Skye Terrier, Basset Hound and Dandie Dinmont Terrier.

Breeds that reportedly are at risk of producing dwarfs but that have not been selectively bred for short stature include the Labrador Retriever, Norwegian Elkhound, Cocker Spaniel, Scottish Terrier, Scottish Deerhound, Alaskan Malamute, Great Pyrenees, Bull Terrier, Irish Setter, Miniature Poodle, Beagle, Samoyed, English Pointer and Great Dane. German Shepherd Dogs and Carelian Bear Dogs, and to a lesser extent Weimaraners, Spitz and Miniature Pinschers, are predisposed to developing so-called pituitary dwarfism. When a puppy from one of these breeds slows in growth and develops obvious dwarfism, it is considered a genetic developmental abnormality.

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