You may have seen pictures of these cute and cuddly pint size German Shepherds on the internet. While most GSD’s grow to be big strong athletic specimens, German Shepherd Dwarfism causes them to stop growing early on when they are young puppies. Although they look adorable, they aren’t simply miniature versions of this popular breed. They have a disorder that requires treatment and lifespan is much shorter averaging three to four years.
German Shepherd dwarfism is a genetic disorder that causes a GSD to retain their puppy look even into adulthood. This condition is inherited and caused by a lack of hormones that are necessary for proper growth. The most common symptoms are stunted growth, hypothyroidism and alopecia which causes dry skin and hair loss. Hormone supplements can be used to treat (Panhypopituitarism) but their may be troublesome side effects.
Eclipse is a two year old (as of March 2021) German Shepherd with Dwarfism. His owner Andre rescued him from a shelter after he was given up by his owner.
He is a happy pup but due to his condition takes thyroid medication for his Pituitary Dwarfism. Eclipse was also neutered, at the recommendation of the veterinarian, to help with his hormonal imbalance.
This precious pup loves car rides, walks on the beach, fetch, tug-o-war and of course bugging his big sister Luna!
You can see some more amazing pictures of this adorable little pooch on his Instagram page @eclipse_minigs!
History of German Shepherd Dwarfism
According to an article published by ResearchGate.net, the history of this disorder can be traced back to around 1940 or possibly a little before that. The origin of the mutation was discovered during genealogical investigations.
During the research, multiple champion dogs were associated with carrying the genes present in dogs with the condition. The defect was also believed to be linked to Pituitary Dwarfism in other dog breeds such as Carelian bear dogs and Saarloos wolfhounds. They know this because the disorder was found after the latter breeds were bred with German Shepherds.
Moch & Haase Paper:
The first documented case of dwarfism took place in Germany in 1952. This is according to the “Moch & Haase” paper written in 1953. The paper was the result of a complete investigation of a GSD dwarf administered at the University of Hanover. The eleven month old German Shepherd was 34 cm tall at the shoulders and weighed only 6.1 kg which is the equivalent of 13.44 pounds. A photo of this dog can be seen here.
The pathology conducted in the study indicated the same pituitary damage found in modern day cases. More studies were performed during the 60’s and 70’s with most of the research taking place at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and the University of Sydney in Australia. This was due to an outburst of dwarfism cases in previously unaffected bloodlines.
The Spread of Dwarfism
By the 90’s dwarfism in dogs had spread to pretty much every country in the world through breeding programs. Significantly there were no reports of any dwarfism outbreaks in closed populations of German Shepherds.
Attempts to treat the condition have been restricted over the years because of hormones being specific to each species. This means that diagnostic kits used for humans will not work accurately and subsequently bovine, human, porcine and synthetic hormones have very little effect.
However, thanks to modern canine testing developed in recent years, diagnosis has become easier and more definitive. Now DNA tests exist to determine whether a dog has the genetic mutation. Breeders can use this testing to avoid breeding dogs that carry the gene.
The test is done by a Veterinarian who performs a simple cheek swab which is then sent to the laboratory for testing. Results are available within a few days and breeders can obtain a certificate for proof.
What is German Shepherd Dwarfism?
German Shepherd Pituitary Dwarfism (Panhypopituitarism) is an autosomal and genetic disorder that is inherited via both parents. It affects the dog’s pituitary glands, leading to a hormone deficiency. This causes the dog to stop growing at a normal pace. It normally isn’t distinguishable until the puppy is two to three months old.
What is the Pituitary Gland in Dogs?
The pituitary gland is an important organ in a dog’s body that produces several hormones necessary to control various parts of the body. It is located at the bottom center of the brain and is referred to as the “master gland” because of it’s critical role.
Unfortunately due to the vast amount of hormones it produces, many different conditions and disorders can result from disease or tumors on the gland. The type of illness will depend on the cause and location of the affected organ.
Two Main Causes:
- The first most common cause is a failure of the “pars distalis,” part of the pituitary gland, to completely develop during the gestation period. This results in a lack of trophic hormones that are necessary for overall growth and development.
- The second and less likely cause is “benign craniopharyngiomas” which is a tumor on the oropharyngeal ectoderm of the “Rathke’s pouch.” This also leads to insufficient hormone levels required for growth.
What are the Symptoms of German Shepherd Dwarfism?
There are several signs and indications that a dog may have the genetic disorder. However, the signs usually aren’t noticeable until the puppy is close to two months old. Up until that time, they will look just like their littermates.
- Slow growth rate compared to the other puppies in the litter.
- They retain their original puppy coat and have an absence of primary guard hairs.
- Small with fox-like appearance and soft woolly coat of fur.
- Alopecia (dry flaky skin and hair loss) on most of body excluding head and legs.
- Teeth are slower to develop or never come in at all.
- Growth plates never fully fuse and can take up to four years.
- Penis and testicles are smaller and calcification of the penis bone is delayed or never completes.
- Ovaries are hypoplastic and the sex cycle is irregular or doesn’t exist.
- Lifespan is shortened to three or four years.
- Puppies will sometimes have a bark that is harsh and high pitched.
How German Shepherd Dwarfism is Diagnosed?
Several different diagnostic aids are used to determine if a German Shepherd has Pituitary Dwarfism. Aside from the the obvious size difference when compared to the other puppies in the litter, here are some more methods for diagnosing.
- Testing for decreased levels of cortisol, thyroxine and triiodothyronine hormones.
- A delay in the epiphyseal closure or dysgenesis visible on skeletal radiographs.
- Skin biopsy.
- Cutaneous lesions that include adnexal atrophy, follicular keratosis, hyperkeratosis, hyperpigmentation, loose network of collagen fibers in the dermis and a loss of elastin fibers.
- Missing hair shafts along with hair follicles mainly in the telogen growth stage.
- Lower activity of “somatomedin C.”
- Minimum levels of circulating canine GH and a failure to increase after secretion test via clonidine injection.
How German Shepherd Dwarfism is Treated?
Treatment for this condition is pretty straight forward although prognosis is bleak. Dogs with this disorder normally don’t make it to five years old but their are dogs that have lived to be twelve or thirteen.
Hormone supplementation for their secondary hyperthyroidism is the primary form of treatment. This is usually administered one to two times a day along with other supplementation such as GH or megestrol acetate. Unfortunately there are several unwanted side effects related to the hormone supplements.
- Large hands, feet or facial features in proportion to the rest of the body.
- Secondary infection in female’s reproductive tract.
- Resistance to insulin.
- Lumps in the female’s mammary glands during heat cycle.
How Common is German Shepherd Dwarfism?
German Shepherds are most likely to inherit the disorder with approximately 20% of GSD’s carrying the gene that causes the condition.
However other dog breeds can have the genetic defect.
Other Dog Breeds With Pituitary Dwarfism
- Czechoslovakian Wolfdog
- Golden Retriever
- Karelian Bear Dog
- Labrador Retriever
- Miniature Pinscher
- Saarloos Wolfdog
Miniature vs Dwarfism in German Shepherds
Miniature German Shepherds are not GSD’s afflicted with Pituitary Dwarfism. This is a common misconception. Instead they are simply a mix between a German Shepherd and a smaller dog breed resulting in their mini size. A purebred miniature GSD does not exist.
Miniature dog breeds are growing in popularity and several different dog breeds are used to produce the mini versions of the popular breed. Some of the more popular mixes include Golden Shepherds, Shepadoodles, Shollies and Siberian Shepherds.
German Shepherd Dwarfism may be cute but overall it is condition that adversely affects the dog. Dogs affected by the disorder can have a harder time getting adopted at rescue shelters. This is because the majority of prospective owners would rather have the traditional full grown GSD.
If anything, dogs with this unique condition are just as special as full grown adults. They make great pets but will need more care than your average dog.
Please leave a comment below and let us know what you think!
Do you have any experience with this disorder. Have you ever owned a dog with hormone deficiencies? Let us know, we would love to hear about your story!