ISSN 2398-2993      

Dwarfism: congenital


Mo Kemp

Jo Oultram

University of Liverpool logo

Synonym(s): Achondroplastic, fetal deformity


  • Cause: there is a suggested nutritional link between chondrodystrophy in calves and poor maternal nutrition during fetal development mid-way through gestation.
  • Signs: congenital condition seen worldwide that causes long bone deformity resulting in dwarf calves.
  • Diagnosis: clinical signs and case history.
  • Treatment: the dams are unaffected and no treatment is possible. 
  • Prognosis: severely affected cases requiring euthanasia.



  • The condition appears to be linked to drought conditions in Australia, New Zealand, USA and South Africa. Access to poor quality nutrition during mid-gestation, in hot climates/ drought conditions and in temperate climates often corresponds to winter housing. 
  • In the United Kingdom and Ireland a diet of pit silage or poor quality haylage or hay have been implicated in housed cattle.
  • Spring born calves appear to be the most susceptible, but this corresponds to mid-gestation grazing of drought pastures (with the possibility of supplementary feeding) in free range herds and mid-gestation supplementary feeding of winter-housed herds.


  • Damage to cartilage development in utero with variability on the severity of signs depending on where and how severe the cartilage damage during development was.
  • There appears to be a window of maximum susceptibility in mid-gestation between days 197 to 230 relating to cartilage development.


  • Suggested causes include:
    • Genetic defects, although work by Staley and others (1994) appears to rule out a primary genetic defect.
    • Hidiroglou and others (1992) have ruled out Vitamin D3 and insulin-like growth factor 1.
    • Manganese deficiency Manganese: overview has been associated with reduced reproductive performance and skeletal deformities in cattle and laboratory animals. However, feeding trials have demonstrated that a primary dietary manganese deficiency is not responsible for chondrodystrophy. Many researchers have investigated the low manganese hypothesis. Affected cases have been reported to have low blood manganese and low liver manganese levels but controls were often at the low end of normal and the dams have normal levels.
    • Mycotoxin contamination of feed acting as a teratogen Mycotoxicosis. Mycotoxin contamination of silage may be a factor in herds where silage feeding occurs, but will not explain the occurrence in herds with a history of drought with no forage being fed.
    • A reduced bioavailability of trace elements.
    • Prenatal infection with bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV) Bovine viral diarrhea virus: the virus has been reported to induce brachygnathia and reduced length of long bones, but the histological findings of the growth plate in BVDV infected calves differs to that of chondrodystrophoid cases.
    • Blood phosphate Calcium and phosphorous: overview was reported to be increased in cases.
    • Growth plate abnormalities and growth retardation have been induced experimentally by feeding zinc deficient diets to rats and broiler chickens. Thus, White and Windsor (2012) have suggested that short term zinc deficiency Zinc: overview may be a factor in the occurrence of congenital chondrodystrophy. They suggest that a short term deficiency of the dam may result in abnormal foetal development without causing skin lesions in the dam.
    • Another hypothesis they suggest is that with a reduced appetite there will be a reduction in all nutrients or reduced availability of nutrients due to the presence of antagonists to manganese (such as high levels of Iron Iron: overview, Sulphur and Calcium Calcium and phosphorous: overview in the feed).
    • Feeding trials indicated that the incidence could be reduced by the inclusion of straw and concentrates to a winter ration of silage.
    • The time lag between when the insult occurred to the when the affected cases were born resulted in the true trace element status of the dam at time of the fetal insult being unknown.


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Further Reading


Refereed Papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • White P J, Windsor P A (2012) Congenital chondrodystrophy of unknown origin in beef herds. Vet J 193, 336-343 PubMed.
  • Hill B D, Holroyd R G, Sullivan M (2009) Clinical and pathological findings associated with congenital hypovitaminosis A in extensively grazed beef cattle. Aust Vet J 87, 94-98 PubMed.
  • Cave J G, McLaren P J, Whittaker S J, Rast L, Stephens A, Parker E M (2008) An extended outbreak of congenital chondrodysplasia in calves in South East Australia. Aust Vet J 86, 130-135 PubMed.
  • McLaren P J, Cave J G, Parker E M, Slocombe R F (2007) Chondrodysplastic calves in northeast Victoria. Vet Pathol 44, 342-354 PubMed.
  • Cutler K (2006) Congenital joint laxity and dwarfism. UK Vet Livestock 11, 27-31.
  • Hansen S L, Spears J W, Lloyd K E, Whisnant C S (2006) Feeding a low manganese diet to heifers during gestation impairs fetal growth and development. J Dairy Sci 89, 4305-4311 PubMed.
  • Wang X B, Fosmire G J, Gay C V, Leach Jr R M (2002) Short-term zinc deficiency inhibits chondrocyte proliferation and induces cell apoptosis in the epiphyseal growth plate of young chickens. J Nutr 132, 665-673.
  • Rossi L, Migliaccio S, Corsi A, Marzia M, Bianco P, Teti A, Gambelli L, Cianfarani S, Paoletti F, Branca F (2001) Reduced growth and skeletal changes in zinc-deficient growing rats are due to impaired growth plate activity and inanition. J Nutrit 131, 1142-1146.
  • Mee J F (2001) Herd outbreaks of dwarfism. Irish Vet J 54, 409-411.
  • Milne M H, Barrett D C, Fitzpatrick J L (2001) Chondrodystrophy in calves - Case studies. Cattle Practice 9, 35-37.
  • Hilbe M, Ossent P, Zlinszky K, Ehrenserger F (2000) Abnormal bone development associated with bovine virus diarrhea virus (BVDV) infection in a newborn calf. Eur J Vet Pathol 6, 115-119.
  • Gunn G J, Scott D, Thorpe B, Loveridge N, Goldie J (1997) Congenital chondrodystrophy of calves in Scotland. Bovine Practitioner 31, 87-90.
  • Mee J F (1995) Nonhereditary disproportionate dwarfism in a beef herd - Clinical and pathological features. Irish Vet J 48, 93-105.
  • Staley G P, Lugt J J vd, Axsel G, Loock A H (1994) Congenital skeletal malformations in Holstein calves associated with putative manganese deficiency. J South Afr Vet Assoc 65, 73-78 PubMed.
  • Ribble C S, Janzen E D, Doige C E (1993) Congenital spinal stenosis and dam mortality associated with feeding moldy cereal straw. Can Vet J 34, 221-225.
  • Muir M R (1993) Congenital joint laxity and dwarfism (CJLD) - A field study. Cattle Practice 9, 35-37.
  • Proulx J G, Ribble C S (1992) Congenital joint laxity and dwarfism in a beef research herd. Can Vet J 33, 129-130.
  • Hidiroglou M, Ivan M. Proulx J G, Davicco M J, Coxam V, Barlet J P (1992) Plasma 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D, insulin-like growth factor-1, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus concentrations in pregnant beef cows and calves from a herd with a known history of congenital joint laxity and dwarfism. Res Vet Sci 53, 32-37.
  • Hidiroglou M, Ivan M, Bryan M K, Ribble C S, Janzen E D, Proulx J G, Elliot J I (1990) Assessement of the role of manganese in congenital joint laxity and dwarfism in calves. Ann Rech Vet 21, 281-284 PubMed.
  • Doige C E, Townsend H G G, Janzen E D, McGowan M (1990) Congenital spinal stenosis in beef calves in western Canada. Vet Pathol 27, 16-25 PubMed.
  • Ribble C S, Janzen E D, Proulx J G (1989) Congenital joint laxity and dwarfism: A feed-associated congenital anomaly of beef cattle in Canada. Can Vet J 30, 331-338.
  • Ribble C S, Janzen E D (1987) Congenital skeletal deformity syndrome. Can Vet J 28, 160.
  • Hurley L S, Mutch P B (1973) Prenatal and postnatal development after transitory gestational zinc deficiency in rats. J Nutrit 103, 649-656.
  • Rojas M A, Dyer I A, Cassatt W A (1965) Manganese deficiency in the bovine. J Anim Scie 24, 664-667 PubMed.
  • Barry M R, Murphy W J B (1964) Acorn calves in the Albury District of New South Wales. Aust Vet J 40, 195-198.
  • Dyer I A, Cassatt W A, Rao R R (1964) Manganese deficiency in the etiology of deformed calves. BioScience 14, 31-32.

Other sources of information

  • Goodwin J, Philbey A, Glastonbury J, Searson J, Links I (1992) Bovine congenital chondrodystrophy. In: Annual Conference Proceedings; Australian Society for Veterinary Pathology. Adelaide, Australia, p 1.
  • Scott F W, Kahrs R F, Lahunta A D, Brown T T, McEntee K, Gillespie J H (1973) Virus induced congenital anomalies of the bovine fetus. I. Cerebellar degeneration (hypoplasia), ocular lesions and fetal mummification following experimental infection with bovine viral diarrhea-mucosal disease virus. Cornell Vet 63, 536-560.


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