13 Common Health Problems in Small Dogs

With small dog breeds come a particular set of health issues. No dog is immune to health problems, and screening for issues should always begin with due diligence on the breeder. Most reputable dog breeders will offer some sort of health guarantee when purchasing a new puppy.

It is estimated that for 2016, Americans will spend roughly $16 Billion on vet care, and a common ailment such as Patellar Luxation, can cost a dog owner thousands and thousands of dollars over the course of the dog’s life. So before you purchase a small dog, research your breed and what you can do for prevention as well as what to expect.

Below you will find 13 of the most common health problems in small dog breeds.

Ranked from the least common occurring to the most common health issues:

#13 Periodontal Disease

Dental disease in Small Dogs


Periodontal disease, also known as gum disease, is caused primarily by bacteria in the mouth. Because dogs dont brush and floss like humans, they are 5 times more likely to get gum disease! As plaque builds up from leftover food and by-products, this slowly turns to bacteria causing gingivitis (gum inflammation) which is a precursor to gum disease.

Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to spot gum disease in a dog, as most will hide any pain or discomfort. So owners need to be proactive in detection and prevention. While not a major issue for small dogs, most breeds will experience minor gum disease at some point in their lifetime.


  • Chronic pain indicated by chewing on one side
  • Receding & red gum lines
  • Bad breath or loose teeth
  • Bloody and ropey saliva
  • Tooth & bone loss in severe cases


  • Annual oral exams for prevention and detection
  • Daily chew toys, here are some recommended ones
  • Diet change is the biggest factor that can reverse gum disease

#12 Obesity

Obesity in small breeds


Obesity in dog breeds are a result the same way that humans become obese, overeating and lack of exercise. However, several breeds are more prone to being overweight than others. The small breeds that have a knack for eating are the Beagle, Dachshund, Pembroke Welsh Corgi, and the Cairn Terrier.

Overweight dogs can lead to a host of other more serious health problems such as heart disease, respiratory problems, skeletal & joint issues, and most prominently diabetes.


  • Swaying side-to-side when they walk
  • Lazy & unwilling to exercise
  • Laborious and noisy breathing


  • Monitor eating and limit calorie intake
  • Daily exercise program for your dog depending on your breed
  • Weight of the owner many times is a direct correlation on the weight of the breed

#11 Epilepsy



One of the most common neurological disorders in dogs is epilepsy. Epilepsy is a frequent occurrence of seizures and convulsions which result in nervous shaking, whining, salivating, falling on the side etc… Each seizure can occur with or without losing consciousness.

While observing a seizure is fairly obvious, the root cause can be a little more difficult to determine. Many times exposure to poison, blunt head trauma, or head tumors can be the main factor in what starts the seizures. It is recommended to take your dog to the veterinarian, they will do a battery of tests and examinations to rule out any other issues related to epilepsy.


  • Collapse and muscle twitching
  • Involuntarily pooping/peeing during seizure
  • Dazed and confused, walking around in circles


  • Primary treatment are anti-convulsant drugs such as potassium bromide or phenobarbital. Unfortunately once started these drugs are for life.
  • Find root of underlying cause, example brain tumor

#10 Diabetes

Diabetes in Small Dog Breeds


Diabetes in canines is the same as in humans which is a glucose-insulin complication. The two types are diabetes mellitus or insulin-deficiency in which the pancreas is not producing enough insulin to breakdown the glucose in the body. The other is insulin-resistance, which even though the dog produces enough insulin, it is not able to utilize it correctly.

The result of either of these conditions is that sugars build-up in the blood which can damage maybe vital organs such as the heart, eyes, and kidneys. You will need to monitor glucose levels if you suspect your dog has diabetes.


  • Increased hunger and thirst
  • Weight gain and obesity
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Cloudy eyes and possible cataracts


  • Diet is a major factor in controlling diabetes as well as prevention
  • Daily exercise will help balance glucose levels
  • Insulin shots maybe required to get the diabetes under control

#9 von Willebrand Disease

von Willebrand disease in Small Dogs


Canine von Willebrand disease is a genetic disorder that causes bleeding by the lack of the von Willebrand factor protein (vWF) which is responsible for platelet clotting. The result is, when an injury occurs profuse bleeding will follow.

This disease comes in 3 distinct types 1,2, & 3. Type 1 contains low vWF proteins and is a normal structure. Type 2 measures low vWF but is of an abnormal structure. Type 3 is the most severe in which vWF proteins are severely low or completely absent.


  • Hemorrhaging from nose, gums, in the stool
  • Excessive bleeding from minor wounds and injuries
  • Bruising under the skin


  • In emergency situations blood transfusions
  • Currently no drugs, vitamins, or diet to manage or cure the disease
  • Minor bleeding can be treated with sutures, bandages, and tissue glue

#8 Heart Disease

Heart Disease


Heart disease in small breeds while not widespread does affect a small percentage of breeds. 3 of the most common diseases are heart murmurs, pericardial disease, and congestive heart failure.

Heart murmurs are the most common affecting the Bichon Frise, Boston Terrier, Japanese Chin, and the Smooth Fox Terrier. Types of murmurs are Mitral Valve Prolapse as well as Pulmonic Stenosis which are both heart valve abnormalities.

Many times the murmur is very minor and softly audible when a puppy. This will want to be monitored as the puppy grows into an adult. Often dogs can live their whole lives with a murmur with little to no affect. Serious murmurs will require medicine & is usually detected by a persistent cough.


  • Difficulty breathing or exercising
  • Abdominal enlargement
  • Excessive coughing with fluid build-up in lungs


  • Oral Drugs such as Enacard or ACE inhibitors
  • Heartworms can cause murmurs in some breeds
  • Prevention is key for heart disease with a proper healthy diet

#7 Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism in Small Dogs


Hypothyroidism in dogs is when not enough hormone (thyroxine) is being produced by the thyroid. The thyroid is a gland located in the neck that mainly controls the animals metabolism. Low hormone production will then lead to a host of other health concerns such as obesity, hair loss, and skin disorders. Not that common in small dogs, it mainly affects mid to large size breeds, and is very rare in miniature and toy breeds.

Hypothyroidism is usually diagnosed through a series blood tests by your local vet. Although not fatal, this disease can greatly affect the quality of life of your pet, and can often be controlled by simple drugs.


  • Laziness and inactivity
  • Hair loss and uncommon shedding
  • Weight gain and skin infections


#6 Legg Calve Perthes Disease

Legg Calve Disease


Intimidating with is long and fancy name, Legg Calve Perthes Disease is just another name for the deformity of the ball & hip joint in dogs. The cause of this deformation is a lack of blood supply to the top of the femur bone which leads to necrosis and collapse of the bone. As a result the cartilage becomes distorted and pain, inflammation, and lameness begins in the hip.

It is not fully understood why this happens, possibly genetic or through some sort of injury. When selecting a puppy from a breeder or through dog adoption always ask about the parents health and history. Dogs with this condition should not be bred!


  • Chewing and irritability at the hip area
  • Progressive and quick lameness (course of 1-3 months)
  • Abnormal gait and limping
  • Atrophy of muscles surround leg & hip area


  • If not yet serious, cage rest and strict mobility can allow the hip joint to heal
  • Surgery is the recommended treatment, femoral head and neck ostectomy

#5 Skin Disorders

Skin Disorders


Skin disorders, while not life-threatening, can really affect the quality of your pups life. With over 150+ skin conditions it can be difficult to pinpoint what the issue may be right away, the most common are allergies, yeast infections, ringworm, hot spots, and basic dermatitis.

Many types of skin conditions can be cured with specialized shampoos, creams, and dog medicine.


  • Itching, scratching and rubbing face
  • Skin infections, red, dry, scaly
  • Bumps or open sores
  • Hair loss in patches or recurrent ear infections


  • Dog shampoos and topical creams
  • Antibiotics and antihistamines for allergies
  • Fatty acids and oils such as Omega-3 or salmon oil

#4 Hip Dysplasia

Hip Dysplasia


Often mistaken for Legg Calve Perthes disease due to its closeness, hip dysplasia is the abnormal development of the hip socket in dogs, more specifically a form of degenerative arthritis. This genetic condition is widespread in many different breeds especially in larger dogs.

This develops due to the femur bone not fitting correctly into the socket as well as under developed muscles in the pelvic region. Most vets will agree that it is purely hereditary, but some have argued that environment can also play a factor. Neutering a dog before full development can aid in the formation of hip dysplasia.


  • Unwillingness to run & jump
  • Limited range of motion in hip and leg
  • Shoulder muscles more developed to compensate for weak hip muscles
  • Difficulty rising from lying positions


  • Joint supplements and Omega 3 fatty acids
  • Anti-inflammatory pain relievers before known exercise periods
  • Surgical intervention

#3 Tracheal Disorders

Trachea Health Disorders


One of the most common health problems in toy dogs is tracheal collapse in which the rings that form the trachea begin to collapse. The trachea is held up by small cartilage rings that overtime begin to weaken and deform causing the windpipe to be obstructed. This results in breathing difficulties as well as a persistent honking cough.

Although a persistent cough is a telltale symptom of this condition, it is not always the case. Proper diagnosis would be from a chest x-ray or bronchoscopy, which is a direct visual exam done with a scope while the dog in under anesthesia.


  • Dry honking cough
  • Difficulty or abnormal breathing
  • Dry heaving
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Bluish complexion when excited


  • Oxygen therapy for breathing problems
  • Cough suppressants and anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Hospitalization or surgery maybe required for more severe cases

#2 Eye Disorders

Eye Disorders


Coming in at the second most common health problem in small dogs are eye disorders. With many types, the most common eye problems are dry eye syndrome, cherry eye, cataracts, and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA).

Dry eye syndrome, also known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca, is the lack of tear production that covers the cornea of the eye resulting in dryness and irritation. Cherry eye is eyelid protrusion resulting in a pink mass of the dog’s third eyelid.

Cataracts, like in humans, results in cloudiness in the lens which prevents light from passing to the retina and can lead to vision loss and if left untreated total blindness. Progressive Retinal Atrophy occurs when the rods in the eyes slowly die, first resulting in night blindness and slowly leads to complete blindness.


  • Night blindness
  • Excessive blinking & mucus discharge
  • Corneal changes in color
  • Vision impairment


  • Artificial tears and lubricants
  • Topical antibiotics
  • Surgery

#1 Patellar Luxation

Patellar Lluxation Small Breeds


Patellar luxation, more commonly known as a dislocated kneecap, occurs with a high frequency in small and miniature dog breeds and is the most common health problem small breeds face. Usually caused by a congential defect, in a few cases it can be a result of blunt trauma. This condition is graded on a scale from 1 – 4, with Grade 4 the most serious.

This genetic disease occurs 1.5 times more likely in females than in males.


  • Abnormal hindlimb movement or walking
  • Skipping or limping
  • Abrupt lameness


  • Corrective surgery
  • Non-sterile anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Vitamins and minerals to support connective tissue & exercise or rehab to build muscle

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