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Dwarf German Shepherd: 5 Interesting Facts, Pictures, Causes & More

Nicole Cosgrove Profile Picture

By Nicole Cosgrove

dwarf german shepherd

Height: Varies
Weight: Varies
Lifespan: Usually not longer than 5 years
Colors: Black and tan
Suitable for: Not recommended
Temperament: Protective and devoted

Many things can cause dwarfism in German Shepherds. Sometimes, these dogs are created through cross-breeding with a dwarf breed, like the Corgi.

Other times, these puppies may be born with pituitary dwarfism, which is much more life-limiting than the dwarfism seen in some other dog breeds. This form of dwarfism results from a problem in the pituitary gland. Typically, without a functional pituitary gland, the puppy will not live a long or whole life.

Therefore, adopting a dwarf German Shepherd isn’t something that you should do “for fun.” These canines often have many health problems due to their compromised pituitary gland. Without the pituitary gland working correctly, many of the dog’s essential life functions will be compromised, including their growth.

Typically, dwarf German Shepherds have many health problems and come with high vet bills.

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German Shepherd Dwarf Puppies — Before You Bring One Home…


We do not recommend seeking out these puppies for adoption. Any breeder selling dwarf German Shepherd puppies is likely using cruel breeding practices and producing sick dogs.

Pituitary dwarfism is the most common cause of dwarf German Shepherds. This inherited condition causes the dog to not develop properly. They need regular hormone therapies and typically have a slew of health problems.

Genetic testing of the parents can prevent puppies from being born with this condition. If a breeder knowingly produces dwarf puppies, they are sentencing dogs to lives with health problems.

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Causes and Other Facts About German Shepherds With Dwarfism

1. German Shepherds Commonly Have a Different Form of Dwarfism Than Corgis

Dwarf German Shepherds are not like other dogs with dwarfism genes, like the Corgi or Dachshund. These canines have a specific gene that causes achondroplastic dwarfism.

However, German Shepherd dogs do not carry this gene.

Instead, some of these dogs carry the gene for pituitary dwarfism, which is entirely different. This gene causes the dog’s pituitary gland to develop improperly. Since this gland controls the dog’s growth hormones, the canine won’t grow properly. They will considered be a “dwarf.” But the lack of a functioning pituitary gland will also lead to other health problems.

2. Pituitary Dwarfism Is Most Common in German Shepherd

Pituitary dwarfism is genetic. A dog has to inherit two pituitary dwarfism genes for the condition to express itself. With only one gene, the dog will be a carrier but unaffected.

German Shepherds seem to carry this gene the most. Therefore, they are among the breeds most pre-dispositioned to this specific condition, not the “harmless” forms of dwarfism that other breeds can have.

Other affected breeds include the Spitz, Miniature Pinscher, and Weimaraner.

3. Dwarfism Can Be Spotted Early

Pituitary dwarfism in German Shepherds typically appears between the ages of 2 and 4 months. By this point, the dog will not be growing correctly. They will fall behind their littermates and may retain a few puppy characteristics longer.

For instance, they tend to get their teeth later. Their whole development seems to be slowed down, not just their growth.

Most puppies are adopted out at around 12 weeks of age. Most cases of pituitary dwarfism should be spotted by this point. Theoretically, no one should unknowingly purchase a puppy that ends up with this condition. You should be able to tell before adoption, though there are a few outliers to this rule.

4. Life-Long Treatment Is Necessary

To live a somewhat normal life, dwarf German Shepherds must receive life-long treatment from a veterinarian. They do not produce the hormones that their body needs to function, and the vet will likely attempt to replace some of these to improve their life.

However, treatment for this condition is not well-developed. There are few hormone-replacement therapies for dogs, and the ones that do exist are costly.

Usually, treatment does not make the dog grow to an average size. Once they get behind in growth, they stay that way.

The treatment also comes with many possible side effects, including diabetes, skeletal malformations, and tumors.

5. Dwarf German Shepherds Have Shorter Lifespans

Dwarf German Shepherds are pre-dispositioned to various conditions due to their nonfunctioning pituitary gland. Most of them die before their 5th birthday.

Common causes of death include diabetes and kidney failure. Some of these are caused by the treatment, not necessarily the condition. Infections and neurological problems are also common.

Without treatment, the canines usually die young. Treated dogs can survive longer, but they don’t make it to old age in most circumstances. The side effects of the medication and quality of treatment matter.

6. Pituitary Dwarfism Can Be Prevented

Pituitary dwarfism can be prevented through genetic testing. As a genetic disorder, this condition can be tested for before two dogs are bred together. Most qualified breeders will test any potential breeding dogs for this condition.

Pituitary dwarfism is recessive. Therefore, a puppy must inherit two of the genes to become affected.

If the breeding dogs are tested, it is possible to prevent carriers from being bred together, preventing any puppies from ending up with this condition.

Preventing this condition is one reason that we recommend choosing qualified breeders. Be sure to ask for health testing before buying the puppy. The breeder should test all their dogs for this condition and other common genetic problems.

7. There Are Many Unaffected Carriers

Since this condition is recessive, dogs with only one gene will not be affected at all. A carrier dog will look completely normal. Their growth will be unaffected and they will not have any symptoms.

You can’t tell a dog is a carrier just by looking at them. They can live entirely normal lives.

However, they can pass the trait onto their puppies. If they breed with another carrier, there is a chance that a puppy will end up with two genes, resulting in pituitary dwarfism.

There are many German Shepherd carriers for pituitary dwarfism out there. While you don’t need to be worried about adopting a carrier (because it doesn’t affect their health), you should be worried about that dog breeding with another carrier.

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Final Thoughts: German Shepherd With Dwarfism

Dwarf German Shepherds may seem cute. After all, the most common form of dwarfism in German Shepherds makes them look like puppies for most of their life.

However, these dogs have many different health problems and usually die young. They require lifelong treatment, which can get extremely expensive.

Therefore, we do not recommend adopting one of these dogs on purpose unless you’re prepared for the vet bills. These dogs have a severe genetic condition.

Luckily, this condition can be prevented with genetic testing. The gene is recessive, so a dog must inherit two for their health to be affected. Otherwise, they’re just a healthy carrier.

By genetically testing breeding dogs, you can prevent two carriers from being bred together, eliminating the chance that one of their puppies will end up with two of the affected genes. Be sure to purchase a puppy from a breeder who does this genetic testing.

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Featured Image Credit: NanaSod, Pixabay

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