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As mentioned in our last blog post, behavioral issues are the leading cause of re-homing dogs. Every breed has typical physical and behavioral characteristics that all owners, or potential owners, should be aware of. In addition, when looking for the right dog for you always be aware of common health problems of each breeds. In this post, we’ll discuss 6 common health issues in small breeds that you should be aware of in before you buy in order make an educated decision and to take the best care of your animal as you can.

For this post, small breed refers to any breed smaller than 25 pounds as an adult. This includes the breeds you’re probably thinking of—shih tzu, chihuahua, maltese, pomerantian, yorkies, many of the terrier breeds, but also slightly larger breeds like pugs, French bulldogs, beagles and others that are closer to the 25 pound limit.

  1. Temperature
    No dog does well with quick fluctuations in temperature but small breeds in particular have little insulation and not much surface area causing them to be impacted more than others. In some cases, extreme heat or cold has killed our little friends. If you live in an area that has temperature extremes you can still own a small dog, just be smart about it and think about what you yourself would want in the situation. If it’s cold, bundle up—a dog sweater or jacket can help reduce the impact of the cold on a dog just like it can on you. If it’s hot, let your dog drink lots of water, find shade and take things slow so as to no overexert your pup.
  2. Spinal Injuries
    Many long body small breeds like dachshunds, shih tzus and corgis are prone to spinal injuries. Cute little legs supporting an active, springy body make these breeds predisposed for Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD). Fortunately, you can spot IVDD early and the medical options to address it have come a long way in recent years. Symptoms include: rear leg dragging, altered gait, difficult standing up, hesitance to jump or play and decreased appetite, among others. Solutions for IVDD include: acupuncture (yes, acupuncture for dogs), hydrotherapy, massage, natural supplements for pain relief, doggy wheelchairs and surgery. The earlier you catch it, the better chance you have of avoiding long-term issues.
  3. “Cherry eye”
    “Cherry eye” is a common term for prolapse of the gland of the third eyelid, or nictitans membrane. Many mammals, including dogs, have an “extra” or third eyelid located inside the lower eyelid. This serves as an additional protective layer for the eye, especially during hunting or fighting. The third eyelid contains a gland that produces a significant portion of the tear film. When this gland prolapses or “pops out”, the condition is known as “cherry eye”. The gland of the third eyelid is normally anchored to the lower inner rim of the eye by a fibrous attachment. In certain breeds, it is thought that this attachment is weak, which allows the gland to prolapse easily. The breeds most commonly affected include cocker spaniels, bulldogs (this happened with our bulldog, Basil), beagles, bloodhounds, Lhasa apsos, Shih tzus, and other brachycephalic breeds (dogs with “squished” faces and short limbs). Surgical replacement of the third eyelid gland is always the first choice of treatment due to the risk of developing “dry eye” if the gland is lost. In severe or chronic cases, there may be no option other than removal of the gland, especially if the function is severely diminished or absent.
  4. Entropion
    Almost opposite of cherry eye, entropion is an abnormality of the eyelids in which the eyelid “rolls” inward. This inward rolling often causes the hair on the surface of the eyelid to rub against the cornea (outer part of the eyeball) resulting in pain, corneal ulcers or corneal erosions. This corneal damage can also result in corneal scarring, that can interfere with vision.
    Most dogs will squint, hold the eye shut and tear excessively (epiphora). Interestingly, many flat-faced dogs with medial entropion (involving the corner of the eyes near the nose) exhibit no obvious signs of discomfort. In most cases, both eyes are affected. The treatment for entropion is surgical correction. The list of breeds at risk of entropion is extensive and not limited to small breeds but Pekingese, pugs, shih tzus, yorkies, toy and miniature poodles and cocker spaniels all make the list.
  5. Whelping
    Whelping (giving birth to a puppy) complications are very common in smaller breeds. Over the years we have bred dogs to the point that in some cases we have fundamentally changed their size, shape and many natural body characteristics of certain breeds. While we love our pups, in some cases these changes have made natural birth difficult. Some of the most affected breeds include toy poodles, pugs, Boston terriers and French bulldogs. If you plan to breed your new pup, talk to your vet about Cesarean section.
  6. Upper airway problems
    Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome refers to the various upper airway problems found in short-nosed, flat-faced dog breeds. The compressed respiratory system makes it harder for them to breathe. Strenuous exercise like running is out of the question for these breeds. In fact, you’ll find even a walk around the block might be a bit too much at times. The good thing is these breeds will usually let you know if they’re not up for it. Our bulldog used to cut corners to make it back faster or even just sit down in the middle of the sidewalk and refuse to walk the rest of the way.

These are only a few of the common health issues found in smaller breeds. Small breeds also have many, many positives and make great companions. Do your research and know what you’re getting into.

As always, let us know if you have questions or if you have additional information related to this post that others might enjoy.