Can German Shepherds Have Dwarfism?

By John Martin - May 7, 2021

Ranger the German Shepherd with Dwarfism
Image Credit: ranger_thegshepherd

Forever puppies are most people’s dreams. While this seems like a dream, how long before it actually turns into a nightmare?

The question of the hour, and the answer to which is, yes! One of the cases that brought global attention to disorder was that of a German Shepherd named Ranger.

Ranger’s owners had initially thought he was growing slowly because of a parasite. Later, when he started to develop more severe symptoms, their vet diagnosed Ranger with pituitary dwarfism.

What is Dwarfism in Dogs?

Pituitary dwarfism is an inherited disorder that affects the pituitary gland directly. To elaborate, it is a recessive gene mutation that is passed down through the parents.

It’s said to occur most commonly in German Shepherds but can be seen in a variety of different breeds.

The disorder targets the pituitary gland, which is responsible for the growth hormone, metabolism, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and more.

Due to this, a German Shepherd will not grow. The health issues, however, don’t stop growing.

Related: What Age Do German Shepherd Puppies Ears Stand Up?

What are the Causes of Pituitary Dwarfism?

The main reason for pituitary dwarfism is the recessive gene. The gene for pituitary dwarfism is passed down if both parents carry the recessive gene.

When two dogs carrying the gene are mated, 25% of the litter will be dwarfs. Apart from a genetic disorder, the pituitary gland can be affected by:

  • Tumors
  • Cysts
  • Infections

When affected by the above, there is a lack of growth hormone produced by the gland causing dwarfism.

How Can You Tell if Your German Shepherd Carries the Gene?

After years of study, there is now a diagnostic test that can identify the gene. If your dog is carrying the mutated LHX3 gene, then you need to be careful about mating your German Shepherd.

What Are the Signs of Dwarfism?

One of the most prominent signs of dwarfism is the stature of the dog. Experienced or not, any dog owner will start to see rapid growth in their pup after a few months.

A German Shepherd with dwarfism isn’t likely to show any sign of growing even after 8-16 weeks. Dwarf German Shepherds retain their small, puppy-like stature.

Apart from the stature, a German Shepherd with dwarfism is not likely to lose its puppy coat within the first year.

They keep their coat for longer than most of their litter, after which they start to rapidly lose fur everywhere but their head and lower legs.

  • Alopecia or balding will cause bacterial skin infections.
  • Due to the lack of growth hormone, they have underdeveloped liver and kidneys. This leads to renal failure.
  • They tend to develop cardiovascular issues, which are heart issues.
  • The underactive thyroid gland also means that they don’t have the same intelligence as a full-grown dog. Dwarf German Shepherds tend to be slower and duller in terms of intelligence.
  • There will be certain delays related to teeth growing.
  • In male dogs with dwarfism, the testes will be undescended, and their anatomy will be smaller.
  • In females, the heat cycles will be irregular or absent.
  • The puppies will often have a shrill bark.
  • They could look like foxes.

Related: When Do German Shepherds Stop Growing?

How Long Does a German Shepherd with Dwarfism Live?

Dwarfism in dogs causes a shorter lifespan. They will have several issues, not including alopecia and breathing difficulties.

If their health problems are left untreated, they have a lifespan of 4 to 5 years. Often, with the right treatment, they will live longer, but not as long as a dog without the disorder.

Diagnosing Dwarfism in German Shepherds

If you see one or many of the signs, you need to go to a vet. Dwarfism is usually confirmed through endocrine tests; these are blood and urine tests. Often, vets also check for cysts in the body.

Treating Dwarfism:

Thankfully, new treatments have become available recently. Despite the new treatments coming around, there is still a dire lack of resources available.

Apart from the lack of canine growth hormone, the existing treatments have varying results.

Each treatment has varying levels of effectiveness, so you can’t pin your hopes on a single treatment.

There are also side-effects that can be more than bothersome to deal with for your dog and you. However, these are the available treatments:

  • Porcine Growth Hormone: This is a pig hormone that is commonly used to treat the disorder. While it is one of the better treatments, it is quite expensive.
  • Progestins: There are steroids that are given to stimulate the production of growth hormones.
  • Thyroid Hormones: These are synthetic hormones that have been seen to work quite well. It should be noted that there isn’t a canine growth hormone available as yet.

How Long has Dwarfism in German Shepherds Been Around?

Dwarfism in German Shepherds has been around forever. You can see it spanning back decades and more but has more recently started to become an issue.

The escalation of dwarf German Shepherds has occurred mainly in Europe but has mainly to do with unsuspected carriers and breeders.

Not all German Shepherds are dwarves, but almost 20% of them are said to be carriers. While it is a recessive gene, two German Shepherds carrying the gene are bound to have a dwarf puppy.

You couldn’t test for the gene until a few years ago. However, recently there have been breakthrough studies that have devised a test for the same.

Breeders who have no scruples are a large part of the problem. While this isn’t to say all breeders are likely to do this, many tend to ignore any signs of dwarfism in a German Shepherd puppy and sell them before the owner can notice.

Breeders tend to sell them as miniature German Shepherds, which aren’t the same, for a lot more money.

Related: Are German Shepherds Good With Cats?

Miniature German Shepherd Crossbreed vs. Dwarf German Shepherd

Let’s clear up one thing, a dwarf German Shepherd is not a miniature version of the breed. Dwarf German Shepherds have a disorder and are not just a crossbreed.

The confusion has occurred due to many breeders passing off a dwarf puppy as a miniature breed.

Miniature German Shepherds are simply a cross between a German Shepherd and a smaller dog. They have no genetic disorders or health issues.

Dwarf German Shepherds, on the other hand, never grow up, they remain puppies forever due to a genetic disorder that results in a lot of health problems.

Can Dwarfism Be Eradicated?

In theory, the disorder can be eradicated. With the new test of dwarfism being available, it’s a simple matter of getting a German Shepherd tested before allowing it to mate.

Preferable, every German Shepherd in the world needs to take the test to prevent any mating between two dogs with the recessive gene. However, this is only practical in theory.

The chances are that people will be lazy or driven by greed and not get their dogs tested at all. This is the sad reality.


To end, dwarfism in German Shepherds is becoming increasingly common.

Dwarfism shortens the lifespans of these gorgeous dogs, all the while lowering their quality of life.

Despite this dire outlook on the situation, the pups themselves are absolutely adorable and remain eternally cute.