Canine Dwarfism

A dachshund's short legs are a form of dwarfism encouraged in the breed.
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When a puppy is born, it's a miniature version of the breed. As puppies get older, legs lengthen and they develop into their breed standard. Unfortunately, puppies born with skeletal or pituitary abnormalities often don't grow as they should, resulting in dwarfism and often painful joint conditions. While some breeds, such as dachshunds and basset hounds, have encouraged skeletal abnormalities, or dwarfism, in the breed standard, it's abnormal and often painful in most other breeds.


Osteochondrodysplasia is a genetic condition in which bones and cartilage do not develop correctly. There are various forms, such as achondroplasia and pseudoachondrodysplasia, with each form having different growth problems. Growth issues can be mild, resulting in slightly shorter limbs, or severe growth problems, such as bowed limbs, deformed joints, lameness and severe debilitation. Limbs are not the only bones affected. Often puppies will have large heads, small or underdeveloped jaws and noses, or spinal deviation.

Genetic Predisposition

While breeds such as dachshunds, Skye terriers, Welsh corgis and basset hounds encourage some form of skeletal dwarfism in the breed, this genetic condition is often seen in other breeds without encouragement -- and often debilitating results. Breeds affected include German shepherds, Boston terriers, pugs, Pekingese, Japanese spaniels, shih-tzus, beagles, English pointers, cocker spaniels, Scottish terriers, Alaskan malamutes, Great Pyrenees, Labrador retrievers, Norwegian elkhounds, Samoyed and Scottish deerhounds. Because this is a genetic condition, dogs with osteochondrodysplasia, their parents and other siblings should not be bred.

Skeletal Dwarfism Treatment

Osteochondrodysplasia has no specific treatment or cure, and care depends on the severity of the condition. In mild cases, dogs are able to live relatively normal lives. In cases of severe bone deformity, your veterinarian may recommend corrective surgery. For joint pain and inflammation, pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications may ease discomfort. Dogs with dwarfism are at an increased risk of arthritis as they age.

Pituitary Dwarfism

Another form of canine dwarfism occurs when the pituitary gland does not secrete enough growth hormone. Unlike skeletal dwarfism, where the body grows disproportionally, dogs with pituitary dwarfism are simply smaller. Some dogs often retain their puppy coat while many develop hair loss or hyperpigmentation. Often permanent teeth never come in. Treatment involves growth hormone injections as well as treatment for possible thyroid or adrenal gland conditions. Breeds at higher risk of this condition include German shepherds and Carnelian bear dogs.