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German Shepherd With Dwarfism How Can He Have Dwarfism?

german shepherd with dwarfism

If you are looking to buy a small German shepherd, you will be surprised to find that a small purebred German shepherd does not exist unless the dog suffers from pituitary dwarfism.

German Shepherds can have pituitary dwarfism in the same way as humans. It is a genetic disorder in which the pituitary gland does not produce enough growth hormone. This results in slow growth of the dog and causes various health problems and a limited life expectancy.

German shepherd with dwarfism

When I first heard the term ‘ Miniature German Shepherd ‘ I instinctively envisioned a smaller version of a purebred German Shepherd. I thought to myself, if you could buy a German Shepherd and it would stay as cute as a puppy – forever. I was wrong!

The only small purebred German Shepherd dog is one that suffers from dwarfism in the pituitary, while a Miniature German Shepherd is the result of crossing a healthy German Shepherd and a smaller breed of dog, usually a Poodle or Border Collie. In some cases, the German Shepherd is crossed with the Yorkshire Terrier. I know this is hard to imagine, but it is quite true.

I can see why you and I may be confused with the two, however this article is only about the German Shepherd with Pituitary Dwarfism and I have to warn you, what you will learn may break your heart.

However, take a look at this inspiring German Shepherd named ‘Ranger’ who refuses to let dwarfism get in the way of living life to the fullest. He was born in Phoenix, Arizona, and is known as the dog that “will be a puppy forever.”

Despite his battles and health challenges in the early years of life, as you can see in this short 3 minute video, Ranger lives happily alongside his family and doesn’t let anything put him off.

What is dwarfism in dogs?

Pituitary dwarfism in dogs is an inherited autosomal recessive disorder that affects the function of the pituitary gland. It occurs mainly in the German Shepherd breed and its relatives, for example, the Saarloos Wolfdog, and the Czechoslovakian Wolfdog.

So what exactly is the pituitary gland ? It is a pea-sized endocrine gland found at the base of the brain and plays an important role in regulating vital body functions and general well-being.

It is known as the ‘master gland’ as the hormones it produces are responsible for many different processes in the body, for example growth, reproduction, metabolism, blood pressure, and control of blood sugar levels. , to name just a few.

Both parents of the affected dog have to be carriers of the defective gene and it is estimated that 20% of German Shepherds and their related breeds now carry the defective gene:

What is known is that 20% of German Shepherds and their derivatives such as the Saarloos Wolf and the Czechoslovakian Wolfdog are now carriers of pituitary dwarfism .

With a recessive gene when two carriers mate, on average 50% of your offspring will be carriers and 25% of your offspring will be dwarfs.

The pituitary dwarfism associated with growth hormone deficiency in German shepherds has been for decades and dwarfs are born worldwide, however, reported that the condition has recently spread quite rapidly in Europe and this is for two reasons:

  1. Through the breeding of unsuspected carriers. The problem is that German Shepherds who are carriers of the recessive gene do not have any visible symptoms and therefore the reputable breeder would not be the wisest.
  2. Unscrupulous breeders realized that they could sell a more expensive little German Shepherd if they tried to pass it off as a smaller version of a thoroughbred. This is also the main reason for the confusion between a German shepherd with dwarfism and the cross of a small German shepherd.

Other causes of pituitary dwarfism

We have learned that pituitary dwarfism in dogs is due to a lack of growth hormone produced by the pituitary gland due to a genetic disorder. But what else can cause dwarfism in dogs?

  • Tumor
  • Cysts
  • Infection

These other causes are also due to a lack of growth hormone produced by the pituitary gland.

Could dwarfism be avoided?

The German Shepherd with Pituitary Dwarfism should be taken very seriously when breeding, as it is an incurable disabling disease that could be easily prevented. As long as mating between two carriers of the mutation that leads to pituitary dwarfism is avoided, no dwarfs will be born.

The only way to prevent this disorder is through a DNA diagnostic test, since the mutated gene has already been identified by scientists as LHX3.

This DNA diagnostic test is available after 15 years of intensive research by the Center for Specialization in Companion Animal Genetics at Utrecht University . It is one of the few tests available for genetic conditions.

However, I also found another company based in France that performs DNA testing for dwarfism in dogs around the world.

Signs that you may suffer from dwarfism

The most obvious sign that a German Shepherd suffers from dwarfism is their small stature and this is evident in puppies between 8 and 16 weeks of age. The dog’s features are in proportion and they do not show shortened deformed legs as in achondroplasia dwarfism, which is a separate condition.

Dwarf puppies will retain their puppy coat for much longer than their healthier littermates, however in their first year the coat will be shed as the dog suffers from alopecia and will go bald except on the head and on the lower part of the legs.

Pituitary dwarfism in German Shepherds is a serious disease and the clinical signs are not limited to physical appearance. There are also many other hidden problems that a dwarf German shepherd can suffer from. These are some of the symptoms that break the heart:

  • Bacterial skin infections due to alopecia
  • Kidney failure due to underdevelopment of the liver and kidneys
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Breathing difficulties
  • The slow and boring intelligence of an underactive thyroid gland
  • Undescended testicles in male dogs
  • Small testicles and penis in male dogs
  • Irregular or absent heat cycles in females
  • Neurological symptoms due to abnormal cervical vertebrae
  • Secondary hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland)
  • Delayed tooth eruption
  • Puppies often have a squeaky bark
  • May have the appearance of a fox

How long do dogs with dwarfism live?

Without proper treatment, the long-term survival rate of the dwarfed German Shepherd is poor, and many will not live beyond 3 or 4 years of age. This statistic has been obtained from the University of Utrecht and is the result of more than 20 years of study in Europe.

However, some dogs live longer, probably because in some cases the pituitary gland still produces a very small amount of hormones.

Although your German Shepherd may be showing obvious visible signs of dwarfism, the diagnosis of pituitary dwarfism in dogs is made through endocrine tests (blood and urine). Imaging tests can also be done to check for cysts.


In recent years, new methods have also been developed to treat dwarfs, which mainly consist of replenishing the missing hormones. There is no canine growth hormone, but there are other options available:

  • Porcine (pig) growth hormone. This is expensive and the results are different.
  • Progestins They are steroid drugs that stimulate the production of growth hormones.
  • Thyroid hormones, for example synthetic levothyroxine have had some success, however results vary.

Although treatment can improve a dog’s quality of life significantly, bothersome side effects can also occur. Unfortunately there is no treatment to cure them.

What dog breeds can have dwarfism?

There is a common misconception that pituitary dwarfism is very rare, but it is not, as it affects many dogs around the world. It is believed that there are other dog breeds that can be affected:

  • Border Collies
  • Samoyedo
  • Labradors
  • Spitz
  • Setters irlandeses
  • Weimaraners
  • Pinscher in miniature
  • Karelian Bear Dog

It is not known what percentage of each breed has pituitary dwarfism, as no studies have been done on genetic defects in those breeds.

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I love the animals. Reading and writing about them, their customs, their peculiarities or the attention they require is exciting, and I also believe that it makes us better people. I share articles that solve the questions that dog caregivers face on a daily basis.

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