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Small Dog Health Problems

Small Dog Health ResourcesSmall Dog Health Resources
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Not all small dog health problems afflict all tiny dogs.  But anyone considering a small dog should be aware of some of the more common problems that appear frequently in tiny dogs. 

The good news is that small dogs generally live longer than their larger cousins. 

The bad news is that some problems result because of their small size and physical structure.

Worse yet, some problems creep up due to their long lives such as dental issues, heart disease or cancer. 

Keep in mind that all dogs are susceptible to infectious diseases such as Parvo, all dogs can get worms, and all dogs can be bothered by external parasites such as fleas.

These issues are common in all dogs and can be prevented through yearly veterinary exams, vaccinations, wormings, and external parasite control. 

Keep your small dog healthy with these simple pet health tips.

Small Dog Health Prevention

Health Problems Common to All Dogs

Good preventative care helps reduce the risks and costs associated with major problems.  Luckily we have plenty in the health arsenal to help us cope with the routine health issues in dogs.

Small Dog Health Problems: 
Breed Specific

Some small dog health problems are more common in certain breeds and those breeds that are most popular tend to have genetic or inherited diseases show up more because of inbreeding and indiscriminate breeding practices. 

As a general observation, many small breeds are prone to similar maladies so rather than describe breed specific problems, we have added this page as a table of contents of dog diseases.  Go to your breed of choice page and scroll down to learn about their specific diseases.

As a whole, small dogs are healthy but they do have some concerns unique to their size.

Small Dog Health Problems

Please check back frequently as this page about Small Dog Health changes often.

Cherry Eye

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Do you think Cherry Eye in dogs is simply cosmetic or a serious medical issue?  If you have a "B" breed, you might encounter it during the course of your dog's life time. This can happen to any dog, but we've included her on our small dog health page because many small dogs are afflicted with this issue.  Find out more about this unsightly gland protruding from the corner of your dog's eye. 

Read more about Prolapse of the Third Eyelid or Cherry Eye.

Dental Issues

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Tarter on the teeth, bad breath, loose teeth, bleeding gums—all signs of dental problems common in toy breeds.  Unfortunately, plaque buildup and gingivitis lead to tooth loss, but that is not the worst of it.  Dental problems can potentially cause damage in other vital organs such as the heart and kidney. Luckily, this is a preventable problems through good dental care.  This is a common problem in any dog that does not receive adequate dental care, but seems to be more of a small dog health issue.

Read more about how you can prevent these problems from happening.


Diabetes begins when the cells in the pancreas stops making or makes less than the normal amount of insulin.  It can be an inherited disease but not always especially when a dog suffers from pancreatitis. 

Insulin is the substance in the body that enables glucose to pass into cells where it is metabolized to produce energy.  When there is not enough insulin, hyperglycemia or high blood sugar occurs and then high urine sugar (glycosuria). 

The dog excretes large amounts of urine, which causes dehydration and the urge to drink large amounts of water.  Initially, dogs have an increase in appetite and a desire to consume more food.

Later, with the effects of malnourishment, the appetite drops. The signs of early diabetes are frequent urination, drinking lots of water, large appetite and unexplained loss of weight.  Dogs are treated with medication in the form of insulin injections and a strict diet. 

Hip Dysplasia

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More common in large breed dogs than in small dogs, hip dysplasia is a dreaded condition that leads to pain, inflammation and lameness.  It has a genetic component, but environmental factors play a role as well.

As you can see in the pictures, the hip joint is made up of ball and socket, where the ball (or top of the leg bone) is supposed to fit nicely into the socket or pelvis.  When the socket is misshaped, the leg can not move nicely and the dog experiences pain and has difficulty walking.

Read more about Hip Dysplasia in Small Breed Dogs


Hypoglycemia Symptoms
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Hypoglycemia is a problem that occurs mainly in toy breeds between 6 and 12 weeks of age. A hypoglycemic attack which is a quick drop in blood sugar is often brought on by stress.

Outward signs can include lethargy, depression, staggering gait, muscular weakness, and tremors-especially of the face.

Puppies with a severe drop in blood sugar develop seizures and can ever go into a coma followed by death.  This can be a serious threat to small dog health.    


As happens in people, an under active thyroid gland produces too little thyroid hormone which results in a low metabolic rate.  It results from a problem within the immune system which attacks the tissue of the thyroid gland. 

Symptoms include lethargy, weight gain, skin infections, dry skin, hair loss, slow heart rate, ear infections and depression. It is treated with medication.

Luxating Patellas

From the Latin, luxare, the word luxation means to dislocate or pop out.  The Patella is the knee cap, so a Luxating patella is a knee cap that is prone to popping out of place or groove in the thighbone where it normally rides.  This causes the knee to lock up and the dog appears to hop.  A patellar luxation can cause pain and limping but often the symptoms go over looked.  Small dogs tend to tolerate the discomfort longer.

Brachycephalic Syndrome

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That squished in nose look that we love in Pugs, Pekingese and Shih Tzu may be adorable, but it can cause serious respiratory difficulties causing the dog to wheeze or snort.  This problem can become exacerbated in hot temperatures where the dog can suffer heat prostration.

Read more about Brachycephalic Syndrome...


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Overweight dogs are at increased risk of developing painful conditions like arthritis and life-threatening ones like cardiovascular disease or diabetes.

Sadly many toy breeds are at risk for obesity.  They are so content to cuddle up on your lap that sometimes you forget they need exercise and substitute with some yummy snack instead. Dog  obesity is a serious small dog health concern.  This is preventable through good diet and exercise. 

Read more about what you can do to prevent overweight dogs from becoming obese.

Reverse Sneeze

Reverse Sneezing is a common occurrence in some dogs and can sound menacing and even give the impression that the dog is choking or worse. It is generally a harmless event but coughing can also be the symptom of other diseases.

Read about Reverse Sneezing:  Should You Be Worried?

Collapsed Trachea

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The wind pipe, or trachea is basically a tube leading to the lungs and is kept open by cartilage ring.  If the trachea weakens, it begins to collapse causing the amount of air that can get through to be reduced.  This is common in Chihuahuas, Italian Greyhounds, Maltese, Pomeranian, Toy Poodles and Yorkshire Terriers.

When the dog starts inhaling air quickly, the trachea flattens and obstructs the passage of air, which results in less oxygen to the lungs.  The most noticeable symptoms are a dry, honking like cough and labored breathing.

Read more about Tracheal Collapse

Umbilical Hernia

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An umbilical hernia is the most common type of hernia found in the dogs.  An umbilical hernia is a condition where there is a small opening in the abdomen wall area of the umbilicus allowing the possibility of contents from the abdomen to protrude.  This area can be found on the dog’s stomach at the location where the umbilical cord was attached.  It appears as a little soft lump or swelling. 

Read more about Umbilical Hernias...

Legg Calve Perthes Disease

This problem of the hip joint is very common in small breed dogs and is thought to have a genetic component.  Causing pain and lameness in many small dogs, surgery may be the best option for the health of your little dog. 

Read about Legg Calve Perthes Disease.

All dogs will have health problems at one point in their lives. Many of these are preventable through good preventative care, caution to avoid accidents, good diet, and overall good health habits. 

Since small dogs live longer they are more susceptible to health issues especially those associated with aging.  The small dog health problems addressed on this page are a few of those issues that plague small dogs. 

Remember if your dog is showing signs of an illness, please do not use this information in lieu of a visit to your local veterinarian.

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