A Growing Problem: Pituitary Dwarfism In German Shepherds

You may have heard of the growth disorder pituitary dwarfism (PD) before, but did you know PD most frequently affects German shepherds? Although there are conflicting statistics online, all studies show German shepherds have a far higher rate of suffering PD compared with other breeds. Some researchers put the number of German shepherds that currently carry this genetic mutation at more than 33 percent.

Anyone thinking about buying or breeding German shepherds must know the basics of this debilitating condition. Veterinarians hope with smarter breeding habits, accurate DNA tests, and stronger research, PD will no longer affect this mighty pastoral breed.

The Basics Of PD: What It Is & Warning Signs:

PD is a recessive genetic disorder that makes it nearly impossible for the brain’s pituitary gland to produce essential growth hormones. As you might remember from basic genetics, both parents must carry a recessive mutation to pass a disorder like PD to the next generation. When both of these carrier dogs mate, there’s a 50 percent chance their pup will be a PD carrier and a 25 percent chance the disorder will be expressed.

Usually pet owners could tell if their dog has PD after three months of growth…or rather, no growth. Even after a few years, dogs with PD look just like puppies.

Fur is also a major warning sign of PD. These dogs tend to have darker shades of puppy fur compared with healthy canine counterparts. Without aggressive care early on, this fur usually falls off to reveal scaly skin.

There are many complications associated with PD, but a few of the most common include infertility, skin infections, and teeth issues. Dogs with PD also tend to have compromised immune systems and kidney issues. Even if well tended to, German shepherds with PD usually don’t live longer than 3 – 4 years.

A Quick Note On Achondroplasia

Unless you’re a medical professional, you’ve probably never heard of the term achondroplasia (ACH) before. While you don’t need to memorize this fancy term, you should understand how it differs from PD.

ACH is a bone disorder that causes a dog’s limbs to be abnormally short for his/her age and body size. The reason we bring this genetic disorder to your attention is that many people mistake it for PD.

Although ACH has been reported in German shepherds, it’s not as closely linked with the breed as PD. Pretty much any breed of dog (or cat, for that matter) could contract ACH at any stage of development.

Typically, ACH is not as severe as PD and doesn’t result in a reduced lifespan. This condition can, however, lead to a significant reduction in quality of life, especially as a dog ages.

Doctors often prescribe various anti-inflammatory pills to help dogs with ACH manage their symptoms. Vets will only attempt ACH reconstructive surgery in extreme cases.

Is There A Cure For PD?

Unfortunately, there’s currently no cure for pituitary dwarfism in German Shepherds. There are, however, techniques vets could use to extend an affected dog’s lifespan and increase his/her quality of life.

Some vets advise using high-quality fish oil supplements to help boost the production of hormones. Recent research out of Wuhan Polytechnic University suggests fish oil could help animals affected by neuroendocrine disorders by naturally stimulating the pituitary gland.
Besides increasing fish oil consumption, some vets directly administer artificial hormones into dogs with PD. One such hormone is known as thyroxine. Produced in the thyroid, this hormone plays an important role in both the liver and kidneys, both of which are adversely affected in German shepherds with PD.

Yet another method used to increase a PD dog’s lifespan is to hold off on spaying or neutering. The goal behind this strategy is to maximize the dog’s natural production of sex hormones.

New Research Into Neurology Of PD

Genetic studies into PD have advanced a great deal, but new research out of the Netherlands suggests there might be a neurological component to PD. Scientists are hopeful this new data will help develop novel PD treatment strategies in the future.

For this study, researchers at the University of Utrecht analyzed the neurology of various dogs afflicted with PD. Interestingly, scientists found that dogs with PD had neck compressions known as atlanto-axial malformations.

Of course, this research is only in its initial phases, so it will most likely be years before potential therapies are tested and widely adopted. Still, study authors suggest doctors look more closely into how spinal compressions and neurological abnormalities affect PD in both humans and canines.

Prevention Is The Best Medicine: Order DNA Tests

Although PD can’t be cured, it can be prevented. With a simple genetic test, breeders can easily figure out whether or not their dogs are carriers of this devastating disorder. Dutch researchers recently showed preventative DNA scans have significantly helped breeders bring down the number of PD cases in Czech and Saarloos wolfhounds. Scientists hope spreading this information will encourage more German shepherd breeders to order DNA tests to check for PD and other genetic disorders.


Further reading and sources: