Does Dwarfism Occur in Labrador Retrievers?
Just as people come in different shapes and sizes, so do Labrador Retrievers. This affable breed is prone to dwarfism, which results in dogs who are smaller than average. Male labs have a shoulder height of 56-57 centimeters and females 54-56 centimeters. Males with a shoulder height of less than 55 centimeters and females with a height less than 50 centimeters are considered to be dwarfs. Dwarfism has several different causes and may or may not require medical intervention and treatment. Though just as lovable as their taller counterparts, small lab puppies should be monitored for dwarfism, so they get any help they need to live a long and happy life.
Causes of Dwarfism in Labrador Retrievers
Dwarfism in labs is often caused by issues in the pituitary gland. Some dogs experience hypopituitarism, which is a fancy way of saying their pituitary gland is unable to manufacture enough growth hormone. The result is a dog who appears healthy at birth but who will be noticeably smaller than his litter mates by two to three months of age. In other dogs, the pituitary gland itself is not fully developed due to damage or disease, which also causes the gland to function improperly when regulating growth. Both of these conditions tend to result in a dog whose entire body is smaller than normal.
Dwarfism in labs also occurs due to conditions are known as skeletal dysplasia and osteochondrodysplasia. Both of these conditions affect the dog’s legs, causing them to be short while the remainder of the dog’s body retains a normal size. The gene that causes skeletal dysplasia has been tentatively linked to the one that causes deafness, but more research is needed to confirm this relationship. Osteochondrodysplasia, on the other hand, often leads to joint and eye problems in addition to dwarfism.
Symptoms of Dwarfism
Sometimes dwarfism is mild enough to escape notice. In other cases, the dog shows signs of the condition and may require assistance. Labs with dwarfism will, of course, be smaller than is typical. To know if this size difference is the result of dwarfism or just an overabundance of cuteness, you should look for clues other than size.
One such clue is hair loss. Puppies with dwarfism will maintain their softer puppy coat longer than they should, which could lead to hair loss. The dog’s teeth may also develop too slowly or fail to erupt through the gums at all, indicating a lack of growth hormone. Dogs who retain their puppy bark after their siblings have developed deeper voices may also be experiencing dwarfism. Dark spots and areas of hyperpigmentation are common in labs with dwarfism. Look for signs that puppies are struggling to breathe, as well, as dwarf puppies sometimes have smaller respiratory organs.
While it may not be immediately noticeable or as visible as other signs of dwarfism, pay close attention to puppies who seem prone to infections. Infections of the eyes, nose, teeth and gums are common in dwarf labs. While an infection alone isn’t caused to sound the dwarfism alarm, chronic infections could be a sign that something is amiss. Dwarf Labs are commonly sterile, as well, which may be for the best as dwarfism can be inherited if dogs with the condition are bred successfully. It is important to note that if a female with dwarfism does become pregnant, she will likely need assistance to deliver.
If you notice any of these symptoms or anything else unusual about your lab, a trip to the vet is in order. Dwarfism can only be diagnosed through blood tests, urinalysis, x-rays and other diagnostic testing.
Treatment of Dwarfism
Some dogs require no treatment for their dwarfism. So long as the condition doesn’t cause the dog pain or other problems, the condition is not cause for concern. The dog should be spayed or neutered upon reaching maturity, however, to prevent spreading the condition, even if no other medical intervention is necessary.
If the condition causes discomfort or is likely to in the future, treatment options are available. When caught early, lab puppies with dwarfism can be treated with periodic hormone injections during youth that can make up for the dog’s lack of growth hormone production. Surgery can also be done to lengthen the leg bones of dogs whose are otherwise normal in growth and stature. Medications can be administered to counteract thyroid or adrenal gland problems that may contribute to dwarfism.
Dogs with mild cases of dwarfism that are not caught early enough to be treated with hormone replacement may need anti-inflammatory drugs periodically to help with joint pain. These drugs are inexpensive and easy to administer when needed.
Prognosis of Dwarfism
Most labs with dwarfism lead normal, happy, healthy lives full of ball fetching, long walks, and belly rubs. In severe cases, however, dogs may have a shortened lifespan and live for only around five years, even with treatment. In these instances, neurological problems and degenerative disorders that are secondary to the dwarfism are often responsible for the shortened lifespan rather than the dwarfism directly. These dogs may have shorter lives, but they give just as much love and companionship as other dogs while they are here. Though a dog with severe dwarfism should not be sold or bred, there is certainly no harm in loving and caring for them so long as any pain or problems they have are treated and managed.
Prevention of Dwarfism
Whenever possible, taking steps to prevent dwarfism is the best course of action. To do so, be sure to avoid breeding dogs known to be affected by dwarfism and always avoid inbreeding, no matter how much you may desire a certain trait shared by two closely related individuals. Genetic testing that identifies markers for dwarfism is available and should be performed before breeding whenever a lab’s lineage is unknown. It is worth noting, too, that dogs bred from working lines are more likely to carry the dwarfism gene than those bred from show lines. When purchasing a Labrador puppy from a breeder, check their references and reputation thoroughly before choosing a dog.