If all you’re looking for is a quick answer, it’s “yes.” Dwarf puppies are most certainly abnormal, and that’s the end of it. Now you can go and take a look at some of my other posts!
If you’d like to know more about dwarf puppies and dogs, though, keep reading.
Let’s get something else out of the way right at the start. If someone is representing himself or herself as a breeder of “dwarf” puppies, and you’re considering buying one, please, don’t. You’re about to be taken in a horrible way.
First off, the mere use of the term indicates that this is not a good breeder. Most likely, what they’re trying to sell you is a “designer” puppy that should never have been bred (for more on this disturbing trend, see Why You Should Walk Away from Teacup Dogs). These so-called breeders aren’t doing you any favors, and they’re not doing the breed (or the cross-breed) any favors, either.
It’s even worse if a “breeder” is trying to sell you a genuine dwarf puppy, because what you’ll probably end up with is a dog that will bankrupt you with huge veterinary bills.
True dwarves are underdeveloped for the breed. They are not toys, and can have all manner of abnormalities in their bones and/or cartilage. In short, they’re freaks.
Now, let me qualify that a bit. Some breeds have, over the years, actually been bred for characteristics of dwarfism. Dachshunds, for instance, have been bred for decades to develop excessively short legs. I really don’t like this kind of breed manipulation, because it’s led to the Dachshund (and other breeds as well) being very prone to conditions that can cause pain. They have, however, become pretty much the standard for the breed.
Deliberate breeding for a particular standard, even if it is an undesirable standard, is different from what we now think of, in terms of dogs, as “true” dwarfism. This would be a situation where a dog that is not of a breed that has been specifically bred for dwarfism is born with abnormally short limbs or other skeletal defects that make them smaller than they should be, and malformed as well.
What Causes Dwarfism?
Dwarf puppies and dogs can develop these defects for a variety of reasons, including:
- Poor nutrition in the early months
- The dam being improperly nourished when the puppies are in utero
- Heart abnormalities
- Kidney disease
- A deficiency of thyroid hormones
- A deficiency of growth hormones
- Overproduction or deficiency of adrenal hormones
- Skeletal dysplasia (a disorder that occurs in utero, when cartilage does not properly form bone in areas where it should)
- Other, miscellaneous hormone imbalances
Obviously, if the dam is properly nourished, and the puppies are also properly nourished post-birth, that’s one way of preventing dwarfism. And I have to wonder, if people aren’t providing proper nutrition to the dam and the puppies, what the hell business they have breeding, or even owning a dog.
Sometimes, of course, s*** just happens, and it’s nobody’s fault.
That said, of course, if you end up with dwarf puppies, out of a litter belonging to a breed that was never intended to have characteristics of dwarfism, it would be best to spay the dam and neuter the sire in order to prevent another defective litter.
Most of the time, a look is all it takes. I’ve never had any problems with puppies out of any of my dogs (but guys, keep your fingers crossed for Janice – she could give birth just about any time now!), but I know what Boxer puppies are supposed to look like. And I suspect that I should ever find dwarves in a litter, my first tip-off would be my own inclination to say, “This isn’t right!”
Your veterinarian will usually diagnose dwarfism in much the same way. On the other hand, if the visual clues are a bit “iffy”, then other measures will be needed. Bloodwork and urinalysis won’t be much help, since dwarf puppies usually present with pretty much the same workup as “normal” dogs. X-rays, though, will reveal abnormal growth. The next step will be for your vet to do a bone biopsy and have the samples checked out by a veterinary pathologist.
Symptoms of Dwarfism
Dogs that have serious skeletal problems associated with dwarfism will usually exhibit signs of pain. This is particularly so in dogs that have not been selectively bred for dwarfism, but it can also be the case with breeds that have been developed, over the years, to have dwarf-like characteristics.
Some dwarf puppies will display difficulty breathing, due to abnormally small nasal passages and badly formed skulls. They may also develop problems in the spinal disks, which can lead to severe lameness.
Now, if you have a breed of dog in which dwarf-like characteristics are considered to be the breed standard, you’re not exactly going to be surprised when you end up with a litter of puppies that have unusually short legs, unusually small bodies, unusually smushed-up faces, and so on. If this is not the standard for your breed, though, they are all indications of dwarfism. Other signs include:
- Enlarged joints
- Bowed legs
- Feet that appear to turn outward
- An overly wide, large head
- A protruding lower jaw
- An abnormally short upper jaw
- Excessive panting or snoring
- A protruding tongue
- A distended abdomen
- Bulging eyes in breeds not typically known for the condition
Any of these conditions can indicate dwarfism.
Up until now, we’ve talked about the most common type of dwarfism, which can have a number of causes. There is another type of dwarfism, though, juvenile panhypopituitarism.
I know, that’s a mouthful. Many breeders, and veterinarians as well, simply call it “pituitary dwarfism.” This is next to impossible to diagnose immediately post-birth, sincethe dwarf puppies look normal to start with.
By the time they reach the age of 12-16 weeks, though, things change. In these puppies, you will notice that in addition to appearing stunted, their teeth don’t come in as soon as they should, they might have patchy hair loss, and in males, the genitalia may appear abnormally small. These dwarf puppies are also prone to behavioral issues (fear biting or other forms of aggression, usually).
The really heartbreaking thing about puppies with pituitary dwarfism is that by the time you know they have the condition, you also have to accept that they probably won’t live long. It’s horribly difficult to have to make the decision to euthanize a puppy that you’ve gotten to know, but it’s the kindest course of action with this type of disorder. The life expectancy for these dwarf puppies is typically not much more than three years, and hardly ever more than five.
As I’ve already mentioned, a number of breeds are specifically engineered to be disfigured.
I know that sounds harsh, so sue me, AKC. I don’t like these breeding practices and I’m not going to pretend that I find them even remotely acceptable.
These breeds that have so-called “desirable” deformities include the Dachshund, Scottish Terrier, Basset Hound, Skye Terrier, Japanese Spaniel, almost every breed of Bulldog, Shih-Tzu, Pug, Boston Terrier, Pekingese and Welsh Corgi.
Breeds that are not specifically intended to produce dwarf puppies (but sometimes do) include the Cocker Spaniel, Alaskan Malamute, LabradorRetriever, Scottish Deerhound, German Shepherd, English Pointer, Samoyed, Miniature Poodle, Great Dane and Beagle.
All of these breeds, whether intentionally bred for dwarf-like characteristics or not, can be prone to numerous health problems.
Treatment for Dwarfism in Dogs
Dogs that are specifically bred to conform to dwarf-like characteristics will not always need treatment, although in some instances, as they age, the shortness of the legs and/or the length of the spine can cause conditions that are painful. Usually, they’re easily managed with medication, although sometimes, surgery might be needed.
With true dwarves, though, little can be done. Medication is not likely to ease the pain that the deformities in the bones and cartilage can cause. Surgery is also not often an option.
Sometimes, dogs that have pituitary dwarfism can benefit from hormone therapy. The problem here is, though, that right now, canine growth hormone isn’t available, and human growth hormone carries with it a number of legal restrictions, as well as the fact that it’s not all that compatible with a dog’s immune system. Bovine hormone is readily available, but again, not compatible. Pig growth hormone can be beneficial, but it’s very expensive and also not widely available. And finally, hormone treatment in general can carry with it a lot of undesirable side effects, including the development of diabetes and allergic reactions.
With pituitary dwarfism, progestin therapy has proven to be promising. Progestin works to stimulate hormone production, and the treatment has had some success in dogs of both genders. This too, though, is not without side effects.
If you have a dwarf puppy or dog, I’m not going to tell you that the prognosis is good. It isn’t. In a few cases, a dwarf puppy might live out a lifespan that is normal for his breed. Most of the time, though, the lifespan will be considerably shorter. As the dog ages, the pain from defects in the bones and cartilage will become more severe and more difficult to manage. Respiratory difficulties could also develop. The dog will also not likely ever attain anything approaching a normal weight. And with pituitary dwarfism, it’s even worse – usually, the dog will die young from kidney failure, neurological abnormalities, or other degenerative disorders, no matter how much money you funnel into veterinary care.
The Final Word
Dwarf puppies are one thing if they’re of a breed that has been selectively developed to have characteristics that the breed was never really intended to display. I stand by what I’ve been saying – this type of selective breeding doesn’t exactly do the dog any favors, but it’s become “sort of” acceptable, at least by AKC standards.
Dwarfism that isn’t “planned,” though, can be devastating. You end up with a dwarf puppy or dog that is going to be a total “money pit” throughout his life, which probably won’t be all that long.
As I’ve suggested in previous posts, although I really don’t admit to being obsessive over Janice as she progresses through her pregnancy, the reality is that I am. I am beyond obsessive. I don’t really have any reason to suspect that she will deliver dwarf puppies, but what if she does?
Well, I’ll have them euthanized, simply because it’s wrong to subject a puppy to what could potentially be years of misery, and equally wrong to place a dwarf puppy in the home of an owner who would, I assume, love him to distraction and then maybe have to make a heart-wrenching decision.
So, back to the original question – are dwarf puppies and dogs abnormal? The answer is still yes.Don’t buy one. And if you find out, after having made your purchase, that you do in fact have a dwarf puppy, think carefully about what you want to do over the long term. Some cases of dwarfism are manageable, but others are not. Your vet can help you to understand your options, and make the best decision for you and your dog.