The German shepherd is of course one of the best-known, most instantly recognisable and hugely popular dog breeds in the UK, and they are highly intelligent and very versatile dogs that can be found working in all manner of important roles alongside of professionals such as the police and military across all corners of the world.
Whilst we tend to think of today’s working German shepherds as guarding and watchdog types, their original working role was as livestock guarding and herding dogs, and the breed has gone through a number of evolutions of type and usage throughout their history as their intelligence and versatility make them such a good fit for a hugely diverse and varied range of roles.
German shepherds today are much more commonly kept as pets and companions than they are as working dogs, and they have made the transition to domestic life very effectively too. German shepherds are intelligent, watchful, confident and hugely loyal; it can take a while for some dogs of the breed to warm to strangers, but once they do, they will be your friend for life.
As you might expect from such a large, workmanlike breed, German shepherds are smart, lively, switched on and easy to train with the right approach, as well as being more than up to the task of remembering a wide range of different commands. They also tend to be robust and healthy dogs that aren’t overly frail or fragile, but there are a number of hereditary health issues that are known to pose a threat to the health of the breed overall, and individual dogs within it.
One of these hereditary German shepherd health conditions is called pituitary dwarfism or hypopituitarism, and this is a type of dwarfism that can cause affected dogs to be smaller than normal as well as suffering from a range of other potential symptoms too.
Because of the impact that pituitary dwarfism has on affected dogs and the risk of dogs who carry the gene mutation passing it on to their own young, a DNA testing scheme is in place for the German shepherd breed to enable owners to find out their own dog’s status.
This information is particularly important for German shepherd breeders and prospective puppy buyers, because it allows them to determine whether or not the dog in question or the results of any mating match will be affected with pituitary dwarfism.
In this article, we will look at pituitary dwarfism in the German shepherd in more detail, explaining how it is inherited and how to get dogs of the breed DNA tested for their status. Read on to learn more.
Pituitary dwarfism in the German shepherd is a type of inherited dwarfism that occurs when the dog’s pituitary gland doesn’t produce enough of the necessary growth hormone to enable normal development.
This pituitary growth hormone is necessary to control the rate of growth of the young dog, and also to ensure the normal development of the bones, teeth and coat.
German shepherds with pituitary dwarfism usually appear to look just like any other puppy when they are born, but by the time they reach two to three months old, will appear noticeably smaller than other, unaffected pups of the same age and subsequently fail to grow and develop normally.
As well as being smaller than the norm, affected puppies may also display a broad and diverse range of other symptoms too, including darkening of the skin’s pigmentation, a higher or shriller than normal bark, and late or absent development of the adult set of teeth.
In some presentations of pituitary dwarfism in the German shepherd, males may develop with smaller than normal testicles, and in females, absent heat cycles. Pituitary dwarfism may also cause infertility in affected dogs of either sex.
Pituitary dwarfism is an autosomal recessive hereditary health condition, which means that for a dog to be affected by it, they need to inherit a specific combination of two faulty genes, one from each side of their parentage. This means that if you know the status of the two parent dogs, you will be able to calculate the odds of any litter that they might have together inheriting the condition themselves.
Here’s how the status of a litter is determined based on the status of the two parent dogs:
Even dogs that are themselves normal can carry a gene mutation for pituitary dwarfism and pass this on to their own young – which can result in their pups being affected if the status of the other parent dog also allows for it. This means that just because a German shepherd looks healthy and normal themselves, this does not guarantee that their pups will be the same.
However, by having a dog tested prior to breeding from them, you can find out their status and that of the other prospective parent and make an informed decision on a good mating match.
To get your German shepherd DNA tested for their pituitary dwarfism status, tell your vet about your intentions and ask them to take a blood sample or buccal swab from your dog, to send off to an approved laboratory for testing.
You will then get a result of clear, carrier or affected, and can use this in combination with the same information on the other dog in the mating match to work out the status of any litters they might produce.