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Treatment and Prognosis for Dwarfism in dogs

Source: PetWave, Updated on July 16, 2015

Treatment Options

Most dwarf dogs do not require treatment, because their conformational abnormalities are considered to be normal, desirable attributes of their breeds. In other dwarf dogs, where the condition is neither normal nor desirable, orthopedic surgery may be available to try and realign their short, crooked legs. Depending upon the cause of the dog’s short stature, the puppy’s age and whether or not the growth plates of affected bones are open or closed, advanced surgical techniques may be available to help the long bones of the legs to lengthen. However, these surgeries are complicated and costly. The surgical procedures would have to be done separately - and at different times - on each of the puppy’s legs. Recovery from each surgery would be long and potentially painful. As a practical matter, surgical correction of dwarfism is not considered to be a realistic option.

If the condition is painful, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and other medications designed to provide pain relieve (analgesics) can be prescribed by the treating veterinarian. Certain supplements can help to lubricate the joints and provide some protection for developing or aging cartilage. These include glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate and polysulfated glycosaminoglycans. Owners should discuss use of supplements with their veterinarian.

Dogs with pituitary dwarfism theoretically can be treated with growth hormone replacement therapy. Unfortunately, canine growth hormone is not currently commercially available for therapeutic use. Synthetic human growth hormone is not practically available for treating dogs, due to legal restrictions and issues relating to immune system incompatibility between dogs and people. Biosynthetic bovine (cow) growth hormone is available commercially for use in cattle, but its concentration and strength make it unacceptable for use in dogs. Porcine (pig) growth hormone is compatible with canine growth hormone and can be administered to dogs. However, it is not widely available and can be quite costly to acquire. Growth hormone injections can have adverse consequences, including allergic reactions and development of diabetes mellitus, among others.

A potentially promising therapy for pituitary dwarfs involves long-term administration of progestin (medroxyprogesterone acetate), initially at three-week intervals and eventually decreasing to six-week intervals. Progestin stimulates growth hormone production from cells of the mammary ducts. This treatment can be used for male and female dogs. However, progestin therapy carries the risk of adverse side effects, as well.

Owners of non-selectively bred dwarf dogs should discuss an appropriate treatment protocol with their veterinarian. In many cases, no treatment is necessary.


The outlook for dwarf dogs is variable, depending upon the cause, nature and extent of their skeletal abnormalities. In many cases, dwarfs live a perfectly normal life for a perfectly normal life span. In other cases, they develop respiratory and spinal abnormalities. Dogs with pituitary dwarfism typically remain small for life, and their long-term prognosis is poor. If their growth plates are open at the time growth hormone treatment begins, they may have a substantial increase in height and a more favorable prognosis. However, most pituitary dwarfs die by five years of age, with or without treatment. They typically die from neurological abnormalities, infections, kidney failure or other degenerative diseases.

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