Osteochondrodysplasia (Skeletal Dwarfism) in Dogs

Osteochondrodysplasia (Skeletal Dwarfism) in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

What is Osteochondrodysplasia (Skeletal Dwarfism)?

Dogs with osteochondrodysplasia as well as achondroplasia (a type of osteochondrodysplasia) can have further problems down the road. Some of these complications include arthritis, arthrosis, retinal dysplasia, and back pain. In addition, some breeds can have trouble breathing due to their short muzzles that are even shorter with this disorder. There are variations to this disorder, some that are more severe than others while some are barely noticeable. The most obvious deformity in dogs that suffer from osteochondrodysplasia is that they have shorter legs than other dogs of their breed and age. Another important sign is a larger than normal head.

Osteochondrodysplasia (and achondroplasia) is a genetic disorder which causes a slowed development and growth of cartilage and bones that creates dwarfism and deformities. It is thought to be a hereditary abnormality of the growth receptor genes. This condition almost always affects all four of the long bones in your dog’s legs, but has been known to affect only two or three legs in some cases. The result is severe pain and discomfort for your dog that can eventually cause more serious problems as your dog gets older, such as arthritis and back problems.

While the cause is most often genetic, there are other things that can create this disorder such as hormone imbalance, malnutrition, diabetes, kidney disease, and more. Whether you think your dog is in pain or not, you should take your pet to see a veterinary professional right away to determine the cause because there may be an underlying disease that needs treatment.

Symptoms of Osteochondrodysplasia (Skeletal Dwarfism) in Dogs

The signs of osteochondrodysplasia vary a great deal due to the varying amounts of deformity of the disorder. Certain breeds are affected more than others, such as Labrador Retrievers and Samoyeds. However, there are others that may be affected so slightly that the only way you would notice is when a veterinary professional determines it with an x-ray while looking for something else. The most common signs of osteochondrodysplasia include:

  • Short legs
  • Large head
  • Long body
  • Smaller nose
  • Bulging eyes
  • Underbite and crooked teeth due to shorter jaw
  • Feet turned outward
  • Sticking out tongue
  • Deformed bones
  • Slow growth (smaller than other dogs of the same age and breed)
  • Shorter bones than normal
  • Inflammation of joints
  • Bowed legs (most often in the front)
  • Curved spine
  • Trouble seeing or bumping into things caused by retinal dysplasia
  • Snoring and breathing difficulty caused by shortened snout


  • Osteochondrodysplasia is a lack of normal bone deformity and stunted growth
  • Achondroplasia is a type of osteochondrodysplasia that is characterized by the lack of bone growth compared to other dogs in the same breed

Causes of Osteochondrodysplasia (Skeletal Dwarfism) in Dogs

Osteochondrodysplasia is a genetic disorder that can affect any breed, but is most often found in:

  • English Pointers
  • Beagles
  • Shih-Tzu
  • Japanese Spaniels
  • Pekingese
  • Pugs
  • Boston Terriers
  • German Shepherds
  • Bulldogs
  • Norwegian Elkhounds
  • Scottish Deerhounds
  • Basset Hounds
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Great Pyrenees
  • Alaskan Malamutes
  • Samoyeds
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Scottish Terriers

Some other causes of osteochondrodysplasia include:

  • Skeletal dysplasia
  • Glycogen storage disease
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Hyperadrenocorticism
  • Hypoadrenocorticism
  • Hypopituitarism
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Kidney disease
  • Hydrocephalus
  • Cardiovascular defects
  • Portosystemic shunts
  • Malnutrition

Diagnosis of Osteochondrodysplasia (Skeletal Dwarfism) in Dogs

Because of the disfiguring nature of the condition, osteochondrodysplasia is usually fairly easy to diagnose just by looking at your dog. However, finding out the cause may be a different story. There are several kinds of illnesses and other disorders that may cause osteochondrodysplasia, so the veterinarian will need to do a full physical workup and laboratory tests. Kidney conditions and hormonal issues can be diagnosed with certain blood tests and x-rays, CT scans, and an MRI can help find short or deformed bones.

Treatment of Osteochondrodysplasia (Skeletal Dwarfism) in Dogs

Your dog may not need treatment at all if the osteochondrodysplasia is not causing difficulty breathing, walking, or pain. However, if your dog is severely affected, there are treatments that can help with some of the symptoms. Surgical treatment such as orthopedic surgery can be used to realign your dog’s legs or fix the snout, if necessary. The veterinarian may also want to treat your dog for vision disturbances or dental problems.


There are several types of surgery that are available, but the only ones that are effective are those advanced surgical techniques that can help lengthen the long bones in your dog’s legs. Unfortunately, most of these procedures are expensive and complicated. Recovery is painful and lengthy, which may be harder on your dog than not having the surgery at all. Most veterinarians do not suggest such operations unless it is medically necessary and important to your dog’s quality of life. 

Medications for Pain

Due to the pain that usually accompanies osteochondrodysplasia, drugs are sometimes the only option. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the most common recommendation for pain, but with severe pain your dog may be prescribed pain medication such as tramadol, fentanyl, or meloxicam. To help with joint lubrication, supplements such as glucosamine or chondroitin sulfate are good choices.

Hormone Replacement

For some dogs with osteochondrodysplasia, growth hormones may be beneficial. The only type of hormone replacement that has shown to be effective is progestin, which would be given for several months or years every three to six weeks.

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Recovery of Osteochondrodysplasia (Skeletal Dwarfism) in Dogs

The prognosis for your dog depends on the severity of the disease. In most cases, with moderate adjustments and good care, your pet can live a good life and close to normal life span. If your dog has an underlying disorder or disease that is causing the osteochondrodysplasia, it may create a different outcome. However, if the condition can be treated, your pet can usually still live a good life.

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