Most Common Health Issues in Small Breed Dogs

Getting a small breed dog is like starting an adventure full of love and friendship. But remember – it’s also about taking care of their special health needs. These little dogs, so cute and lovable, unfortunately face some health issues. Unlike large breed dogs, who often deal with things like cancer and joint problems, small breeds have different health risks. Factors such as their genes, body shape, and even how fast they burn energy matter a lot. 

For example, their crowded teeth – that’s their compact dental architecture – can lead to dental issues. And their size can make them more prone to bone and joint problems. 

But, with the right knowledge and care, many of these problems can be handled or even avoided. This article is all about the 13 most common health problems in small breed dogs. Our goal is to give you the key info you need to spot, understand, and tackle these issues effectively.

What Defines a Small Breed Dog?

When we talk about small breed dogs, we’re focusing on their size – both how much they weigh and how tall they are. Usually, these little guys are under 22 pounds, but sometimes they can be a bit heavier, like up to 25 pounds. And when it comes to how tall they stand, they’re often not taller than 16 inches. Imagine, that’s like the length of a school ruler and a half! Many of these pups are even shorter, standing around 10 inches at the shoulder.

Size is super important, but the type of breed matters too. Let’s look at the American Kennel Club’s Toy Group – this group is like the VIP club for small dogs. It’s packed with breeds that are definitely on the smaller side. Here are some of the stars of this group:

  • Affenpinscher
  • Chihuahua
  • Chinese Crested
  • Italian Greyhound
  • Toy Manchester Terrier
  • Miniature Pinscher
  • Japanese Chin
  • Papillon
  • Pekingese
  • PomeranianBrussels Griffon
  • English Toy Spaniel
  • Havanese
  • Toy Poodle
  • Toy Fox Terrier
  • Yorkshire TerrierPug
  • Shih Tzu
  • Silky Terrier

And there’s more! Some small breeds hang out in other AKC groups. Like the Bichon Frise, who’s part of the Foundation Service group, the Boston Terrier from the Non-Sporting Group, and the Dachshund who’s in the Hound Group. There are also some small dogs that aren’t in the AKC, but they’re just as small and adorable. Take the Jack Russell Terrier, for example – not officially in the AKC, but definitely fits the small dog vibe.

13 Most Common Health Issues in Small Breed Dogs

Adding a small pup to your family is a big deal, and it’s super important to know what health issues they might face. So, here’s a list of the 13 most common health problems that can pop up in small-breed dogs. Being aware helps you take awesome care of your little, but super strong, four-legged friend.

  1. Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome

Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome (BAS) is a significant health issue and shows up a lot in small breeds with flat faces, like Pugs, Boston Terriers, Pekingese, Lhasa Apsos, Shih Tzus, and those royal Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. It’s all because of a genetic mutation that makes their skull bones develop in a way that gives them a wide, short head, squeezing their airways. 

These pups can have a tough time breathing and you can tell by sounds like snorting, and loud breathing, and sometimes, after running around, they might even gag, vomit, or faint. 

Extra chubby dogs need to watch out even more. Managing mild BAS, involves reducing exercise and stay cool. But if it’s really serious, they might need surgery. It’s super important for dog parents to know these signs so they can get their furry buddies the help they need right away.

  1. Patellar Luxation

Patellar luxation is a common knee problem in small dogs—like your little furry friends such as Miniature Poodles or Chihuahuas. This issue is about the kneecap popping out of place. It happens a lot because of how their bones are shaped from birth, and it’s more common in tiny breeds. These include breeds like Boston Terriers, Yorkshire Terriers, and Pomeranians. And it’s mostly the female dogs —that get this more than the male dogs.

What you’ll notice first is their walk getting a bit weird. They might start limping or do this ‘skip-and-hop’ thing, lifting the sore leg now and then. This poor kneecap can pop out sometimes or be out all the time in really bad cases. And, it can lead to arthritis if it keeps happening.

Treatment depends on how bad it is. Some dogs just learn to live with it if it’s not too bad. But the really tough cases need surgery to fix and stop things like torn ligaments. Catching it early is super important. If your dog starts limping or skipping, take them to the vet right away. They need to check it out and help your furry friend stay happy and healthy.

  1. Mitral Valve Disease

Mitral valve disease is a serious heart problem that’s often found in older small dogs. Basically, it’s when the heart’s mitral valve – that’s a crucial part of the heart – wears out and doesn’t close right. This causes blood to flow back into the heart’s left atrium. It’s a common issue, affecting about 30% of dogs over 10 years old, especially in breeds like Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.

This disease usually shows up as a heart murmur – that’s an unusual sound in the heartbeat – which your vet can hear during a check-up. As time goes on, this problem can lead to congestive heart failure. That means the heart can’t pump blood as well as it should. Dogs with this issue might have a persistent cough, gag a lot, and get tired easily. These signs show that the heart is struggling and fluid is building up in their lungs.

Early action is really important. And once your vet figures out what’s going on, there are lots of treatments and medicines that can help manage heart failure. But, because heart murmurs can lead to sudden death, regular vet visits are super important for dogs with suspected mitral valve disease.

  1. Intervertebral Disk Disease

Intervertebral Disk Disease, or IVDD for short, is a big health worry for small dogs, especially ones in their middle years. It’s about the disks between the bones in the spine – these disks cushion the vertebrae – getting hard and sometimes poking into the spinal cord. 

This can range from mild stiffness and pain to nerve damage, weakness, or even paralysis.IVDD can happen in different parts of the spine, like the neck or lower back. Vets usually diagnose it using X-rays, neurological exams, and MRIs. 

For treatment, mild cases might just need steroids, anti-inflammatory medications, and less activity. But severe cases could need surgery and then physical therapy. Catching it early and getting the right treatment is key to keeping these little guys as healthy as possible.

  1. Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease

Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease is another issue for small dogs, especially those under 20 pounds – think terriers and toy breeds. This disease means the head of the femur bone in the hip starts to break down, messing up the hip joint and leading to arthritis. 

It usually shows up in puppies between 3 to 18 months old. They might have a lot of pain, limp, and even lose muscle in the affected leg. 

To find out if it’s Legg-Calve-Perthes, vets use radiography. Mild cases can sometimes be managed with medicine, but bad cases often need surgery and then physical therapy. Spotting it early and treating it right away is super important to stop long-term problems and help the pup live a better life.

  1. Obesity

Obesity in small-breed dogs is a big deal, and it’s often made worse by giving them too much food and not enough exercise. These small breeds aren’t very active. And even a few extra treats can lead to them packing on the pounds. This extra weight is a problem – not only does it make any health issues worse, but it also increases the chances of getting other problems for example diabetes, arthritis, breathing and heart issues, high blood pressure, and even some types of cancer.

Spotting if your dog is overweight is pretty easy: you might struggle to feel their ribs, they might not have an obvious waist, and reduced mobility are key indicators.

To fix this, it’s important to give them the right amount of food, cut down on treats, and make sure they get exercise every day. And if your dog looks like they’re carrying extra weight, a chat with the vet for a custom weight loss plan is key for their health and happiness.

  1. Tracheal Collapse

Tracheal collapse is a common breathing problem in small dogs — it’s because they tend to have weaker cartilage. This condition means the cartilage rings in the trachea (that’s the tube from the mouth to the lungs) aren’t strong enough, which makes breathing tough. The main sign of this is a unique cough that sounds like a “goose honk.” And it gets worse at night, when the dog is excited, or if their collar is pulling on their neck.

Although some dogs are born with it, tracheal collapse usually shows up in middle-aged or older dogs. It can get worse if the dog is overweight, in humid weather, or if they’re tugged by the leash

Genetics play a big part in this, too. To help prevent it, using a harness instead of a collar is a good idea — it’s easier on their neck. If you notice symptoms of tracheal collapse, getting to the vet fast is key. Treatment can be as simple as medication or, in serious cases, might need surgery.

  1. Dental Disease

Dental disease is also a big problem for small-breed dogs. Their little mouths get crowded with teeth — making it easy for plaque to build up. This plaque turns into tartar and leads to periodontal disease. The first signs you’ll notice are bad breath, tartar on the teeth, and red gums. Over time, this can cause pain, loose teeth, and trouble eating.

So, regular dental care is super important. And brushing their teeth often is key to preventing these problems. Using stuff like special dog foods, treats, and toothpaste that the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) recommends can really help keep their teeth clean. Also, it’s a good idea to ask your vet for product advice and to get their teeth professionally cleaned when needed. This helps keep their tiny mouths healthy for the long run.

  1. Whelping Complications

Whelping complications are pretty common in smaller dog breeds, like Chihuahuas and Pomeranians. This is mostly because of their size and shape – they have a small body and a narrow pelvis. That makes giving birth really tough for them. 

These dogs often struggle to deliver puppies that are too big for their birth canal – a problem that’s sometimes made worse by breeding choices aiming to have bigger puppies. Key signs of trouble when giving birth include the mom being pregnant for too long, having a hard time during labor, delivering too early, or the puppies being in distress.

In these cases, a Cesarean section – that’s surgery to help deliver the puppies – might be needed to keep both the mother and her babies safe. And if you notice any signs of labor trouble, getting help from a vet right away is super important.

  1. Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis is really tough condition in dogs, and it’s more common in small breeds. It’s when the pancreas gets inflamed — that’s the part that helps with digestion. Various things can cause it, like eating too much fatty food, some medications, being overweight, infections, or even an injury.

The symptoms are pretty bad: dogs might have stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, dehydration, lethargy, and sometimes even a fever. The pancreas, super important for breaking down food, makes enzymes. But when it’s inflamed, these enzymes can start damaging the pancreas itself and the tissues around it. This can hurt a lot.

While a mild case of pancreatitis might clear up quickly, the serious ones need fast action. And that includes going straight to the vet, who might have to hospitalize the dog, give it fluids through an IV, and start medications. That’s because catching it early and treating it right away is key to handling this painful and dangerous situation.

  1. Hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia is a really serious condition where a puppy’s blood sugar levels drop suddenly. It’s more common in little pups, like small and toy breeds. There are a bunch of reasons this can happen – like their immature liver function, low body fat, or intestinal parasites hindering digestion. 

The signs are pretty clear: weakness, disorientation, trembling, seizures, fainting, lack of appetite, lethargy, lack of coordination, muscle twitching, skin and gum discoloration, unusual behavior, dilated pupils, stupor, or coma.

When this happens, you’ve got to act fast. Keeping the puppy warm is a must – think blankets or your own body heat. And it’s crucial to get sugar into them quickly. You can use corn syrup or maple syrup (make sure it’s xylitol-free) – either give it to them to swallow or if they can’t, just rub it on their lips and gums. 

Regular meals are key to avoiding these scary situations. But if you see any signs of hypoglycemia, get to the vet ASAP, and always have some glucose ready at home for emergencies.

  1. Temperature Sensitivities

Small dog breeds, like Chihuahuas or Yorkies, have a hard time dealing with temperature changes because they can’t regulate their body heat very well. This issue makes them prone to hypothermia when it’s cold and overheating when it’s hot. 

You might see your tiny pooch shivering even when it’s just a bit chilly, or panting heavily on sunny days. To keep these little guys safe, it’s super important to pay attention to the weather.

And when it’s really hot outside, make sure they don’t spend too much time outdoors and have a shady spot to cool off. During winter, cutting down on their time outside and dressing them in warm coats or sweaters can stop their body temperature from falling too low. These simple steps – easy to remember and do – are important for keeping your pet at a healthy temperature.

  1. Ectropion

Ectropion is the eye problem that’s pretty common in small dogs, like French Bulldogs, Cairn Terriers, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. What happens is their eyelids roll outwards, exposing the inside part of the lid. This leads to discomfort and irritation, and you can usually see pink tissue under the eye’s white part. Signs that your dog might have ectropion are brown tear stains, pawing at their eye, or a bottom eyelid that sticks out.

And while it can be genetic issue, it could also point to other health issues. For the not-so-serious cases, eye drops and ointments usually do the trick. But, in persistent or severe cases, surgery might be needed to fix the eyelid and make your pup more comfortable.


So, if you’re thinking about getting a small breed dog, it’s super important to know about these health problems. Each breed has its own set of issues, and being prepared means you can give the best care to your furry friend. Remember – knowing about these things is the first step to preventing and catching them early. By learning about conditions from breathing problems to genetic disorders, you’re not just being a responsible pet owner; you’re helping your dog live a happier, healthier life. 

So, as you enjoy life with your small breed dog, keep these tips in mind. Your awareness and proactive care really make a huge difference in your pet’s health.


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