Chondrodystrophic Dog Breeds: All About Short-Legged Dogs

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Dog breeds are classified by their prominent physical characteristics. There are broad classifications, like small breeds and large breeds, which can help pet parents and veterinarians differentiate the sizes between Chihuahuas and Great Danes. However, in addition to these broad size-based classifications, dog breeds with specific common physical characteristics may be further separated into smaller groupings, such as brachycephalic (short-nosed), deep-chested or chondrodystrophic breeds.

Chondrodystrophic dog breeds are characterized by their short legs in comparison to their body size and length. This trait is a primary requirement for the breed standard of numerous dog breeds and is a product of their genetics. The genetics resulting in this body type primarily affect the long bones of dogs. It's due to the growth plates of these bones calcifying earlier in development than other breeds, thus producing shortened bones with a curved appearance. Read on to learn more about which breeds are considered chondrodystrophic and how to care for dogs who fall under this classification.

Types of Chondrodystrophic Breeds

Chondrodystrophic dog breeds are separated into their own group not just because of their short legs, but because they share common notable physical characteristics as well as health concerns. The Dachshund is the classic representative of chondrodystrophic dog breeds. Other popular dog breeds in this group include:

Basset hound with angular limb deformity standing by tree.

Health Concerns for Chondrodystrophic Dog Breeds

As adorable as the chondrodystrophic dog breed is with their short legs, they're no stranger to health concerns. Some concerns include:

  • Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD): Type I IVDD is common in chondrodystrophic breeds and usually affects young to middle-aged dogs. IVDD in dogs is often characterized by the loss of water and calcification of the disc material that sits between the bones of the back. This can lead to back pain. Signs of this disease tend to occur suddenly. Treatment may involve medications and rest, or in more severe cases, surgery to remove the disc material which is placing pressure on the spinal cord.
  • Angular Limb Deformities: Some degree of angular limb deformity is part of what gives these chondrodystrophic dog breeds their distinctive short-legged appearance. This is considered normal for these breeds. But, in some rare cases, surgery may be necessary if the angular limb deformity results in pain.
  • Ocular Disorders: Many of the chondrodystrophic breeds are genetically predisposed to ocular disorders, such as cataracts, glaucoma and retinal degeneration. But these conditions can occur in other breeds as well. Genetic tests for some of these conditions are available. Talk to your veterinarian about testing of a prospective new puppy or their parents.

Keeping Chondrodystrophic Dog Breeds Healthy

When it comes to caring for the chondrodystrophic dog breed and keeping them healthy, you'll want to keep their diet, exercise, spinal stress and routine exams in mind.

Nutrition

Eating the appropriate amount of high-quality pet food will help your pup maintain a healthy weight, which is very beneficial for a healthy back. Pet parents should measure food with a measuring cup and the amount fed should be based on the dog's weight as well as their body condition. If you're not sure what or how much to feed your pet, reach out to your vet.

Corgi puppy sprinting after red ball in a yard.

Exercise

Regular exercise is also very important in maintaining a healthy weight and appropriate muscle mass for your dog. Exercise results in less stress overall on the body and joints while providing great mental stimulation for your dog. Here are some tips for getting your dog their appropriate amount of exercise.

Limit Stress on the Spine

Since chondrodystrophic dog breeds are prone to IVDD, limiting stress on the spine is important. Some pet parents may even decide to use a harness instead of a neck collar for walks to distribute their body weight over the chest versus just the neck. Others may try to limit jumping on and off of furniture and beds. Using doggie stairs for getting on and off of furniture can be helpful in encouraging cuddly bonding time with your pet while reducing unwanted stress on their spine.

Visit the Vet Regularly

Routine physical examinations with a vet help both the vet and pet parent address any health concerns as soon as they arise. Regular visits can also help you and your pet to form a bond with your vet as they partner with you to keep your dog healthy.

Chondrodystrophic breeds are some of the most popular dogs among pet parents as those cute short legs are hard to resist! However, it's important that pet parents are aware of the common health concerns among these dogs so they can provide the best care possible. Through a combination of a great nutrition, routine exercise and regular checkups with your vet, you can give a chondrodystrophic dog a long, enjoyable life with you and your family!

Contributor Bio

Jessica Seid

Jessica Seid

Dr. Jessica Seid is an emergency veterinarian currently practicing in the New England area. She graduated from North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 2008 and following graduation completed an internship outside of Chicago. Since then, she has been practicing at an emergency and specialty hospital for over a decade. She is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society.

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