Some dogs are specifically bred to have short legs. Breeders choose mates to encourage this trait in popular breeds like Dachshunds, Basset Hounds and Corgis. But did you know the short limbs in these pups are actually a result of a congenital malformation called osteochondrodysplasia (try saying that three times fast!)? In the case of a Corgi or Doxie, it's an expected trait, but imagine an owner or breeder’s surprise if it shows up in a Labrador Retriever!
Osteochondrodysplasia is a developmental disorder of the skeletal system that affects bone and cartilage growth, causing disproportionately short legs. In addition to being short, the affected bones can be thickened and abnormally curved, resulting in bowed or angled limbs. This condition can occur in any breed, but is seen more often in Great Pyrenees, Alaskan Malamutes, Samoyeds and Labrador Retrievers (not including breeds in which the condition is purposely bred).
One breed of cat is also prone. The same gene that causes folded ears in Scottish Fold cats can also cause osteochondrodysplasia, resulting in deformed limbs and sometimes a deformed tail.
Clinical signs of osteochondrodysplasia are pretty evident — the short stature that results from abnormally short legs is hard to miss! Other symptoms that may accompany the condition will range in severity depending on how the severity of the bone changes. Because pets with osteochondrodysplasia are more apt to develop osteoarthritis, you’ll want to be on the lookout for signs that your pet is in pain. Limping is an obvious sign of joint pain, but more subtle signs include being slow to rise, especially in the morning, and decreased ability or desire to exercise.
Diagnosis is made by a thorough physical exam. Your veterinarian may be able to detect bone abnormalities in young puppies and kittens, and X-rays can confirm abnormal bone growth and joint involvement in pets of any age.
There is no specific treatment for osteochondrodysplasia. If your pet is affected, you’ll just want to monitor him or her for pain. Your veterinarian can prescribe anti-inflammatories and analgesics if needed. Keeping your pet at a healthy, trim weight is always recommended, but it is especially important in pets who are prone to arthritis.
Because osteochondrodysplasia is genetic, affected dogs and cats (and their parents) should not be used for breeding.