Small Breed Health Concerns

No one wants to think about their dog getting sick, and with the right care, you can do a lot to keep your dog healthy and happy. But there are some conditions that can occur even in healthy dogs as a result of their size, breed and other genetic factors. Knowing which conditions are most likely in your dog and how to recognize their symptoms allows you to treat them right away should they come up, giving your dog the best chance at recovering. Here are some conditions that are most common in smaller breeds of dogs.

Heart Issues

Heart disease, occurs most frequently in smaller breeds of dogs.  When heart disease occurs, the heart’s valves stop working properly so that they are no longer able to prevent the “backward” flow of blood, which can cause fluid to build in the lungs and abdomen. The causes are unclear, but the condition can usually be detected during a routine check-up with the veterinarian (if your pet has this condition, the vet will hear a “murmur” when listening to the heart). Dogs with this condition may show symptoms such as a decreased ability for exercise and coughing during physical activity.  Treatment options include drugs that help improve heart function, as well as regimens such as a lower sodium diet and moderated exercise. Detecting the disease in its early stages makes treatment much more effective.

Teeth and Gum Problems

Because owners often feed them canned food only instead of both kibble and canned food, small dogs are more likely to develop teeth and gum problems. Oral disease can develop, which leads to tooth loss and can even be detrimental to your dog’s immune system. Bi-weekly tooth brushing and crunchy treats and chews (made from natural ingredients) help maintain a dog’s oral health.

Collapsed Trachea

This is a condition which occurs when the tissue surrounding the trachea, or windpipe, weakens.  It is fairly common in small dogs if you don’t work to prevent it.  If the tissue weakens enough that the trachea collapses, your dog’s air supply will be severely restricted, placing a lot of stress on the heart and lungs.  The condition is most likely to occur in dogs between the ages of 4 and 14 and is made worse by by heat, humidity and too much excitement. Symptoms include: trouble breathing, fatigue, fainting, and attempts to vomit in order to clear the airway. The condition is usually managed with medication to suppress coughing and reduce swelling, and restricted activity.

There are surgical procedures available but they are risky; it is better to be proactive in preventing the condition or recognizing it in its early stages. Ways to prevent a collapsed trachea include: feeding your dog high-quality food, making sure your dog maintains a healthy weight, using a harness rather than a collar (a collar with tags is fine, but a leash should be attached to a harness to prevent pressure and pulling on the neck), and keeping up-to-date with vaccinations in order to prevent respiratory infections.


Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is a dangerous condition that can occur in small dogs. It occurs most frequently in small breed puppies and is called “Transient Juvenile Hypoglycemia.” Small breed dogs are prone to hypoglycemia because they do not eat a lot of food but tend to be very active, which results in a decrease in blood sugar. The condition can also occur as a result of stress, change in diet that results in your dog not eating enough, infections, or low body temperature. Your dog’s gums are a good indicator of this condition: a healthy dog has warm, pink gums, but hypoglycemia causes gums to become cool and white. “Tenting” of the skin is another indicator; if you pull up your puppy’s skin and it stays up rather than flattening out you can suspect hypoglycemia.

More serious symptoms include laziness, lethargy, shivering, stumbling, or a completely non-responsive state. If not treated right away the condition can be fatal. If you suspect hypoglycemia you should immediately feed your dog sugar (i.e. Nutra-Cal or Karo syrup) and seek medical attention if symptoms do not improve. Hypoglycemia is easy to prevent, though. Just make sure that your dog eats all its meals because missing even one meal can be very dangerous, especially for puppies. Small puppies are very active, but make sure that your puppy doesn’t over-do it and that he gets enough rest.

Luxating Patella

This is a condition in which the knee cap sits on the inside or outside of the leg rather than the front. It develops early in a dog’s life and the severity of its effects range; some dogs with a mild condition will not show any signs of it, but the more severe symptoms include lameness, “skip” walking, crooked back legs and a popping sensation when the knees move. Because this condition is usually caused by genetics, there is little you can do to prevent it, but surgery is often very effective and dogs usually recover within two months.

Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease

This disease is a joint disorder that occur in the hip and causes pain and lameness. The disease tends to develop when a dog is about 3 months old, but symptoms are usually not visible until the dog is 6 to 10 months old. It is thought that genetics is the main cause of this disease, but injuries to the hip may also be a trigger.  Symptoms include: irritability, chewing at the hip region, progressive lameness, stiffness of affected limb, a “crunchy” feeling when the affected joint movies.  The condition can be diagnosed with an x-ray and if it is not too severe, a treatment regime of strict cage rest and physical therapy may be effective.  There are also surgical options that are very effective, although effects may still be visible during heavy exercise or changes in weather conditions.

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