Four Common Health Problems in Small Dog Breeds

Even if small dog breeds have a longer life expectancy than large breeds, it’s important to be aware of threatening conditions that may affect them.
Four Common Health Problems in Small Dog Breeds
Luz Eduviges Thomas-Romero

Written and verified by biochemistry Luz Eduviges Thomas-Romero.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

In this article, we’ll be looking at common health problems in small dog breeds. In the last few decades, several scientific studies have used canine pet demographic information to evaluate their main health problems.

Thanks to these efforts, we now know, for example, that small dog breeds have a longer life expectancy than large breeds. Despite this increased longevity, small dogs tend to suffer from a higher rate of disease than their larger counterparts.

For owners, understanding what types of problems can occur is important in being able to take prompt action. Here are some of the most common health problems in small dog breeds.

1. Patellar dislocations: one of the health problems in small dog breeds

Normally, the tendons of the knee keep the kneecap fixed in its position. Patellar dislocation occurs when the kneecap ⁠—or patella⁠— is dislocated from its normal position, the groove of the joint bone.

This dislocation causes pain and functional weakness in the leg. The condition affects the hind legs, and can be easily diagnosed by your vet in a physical examination.

Even though it can occur in any breed of dog, small dogs such as Boston Terriers, Pomeranians, Chihuahuas and Toy Poodles are more prone to the disease. At home, it’s fairly easy to notice the symptoms of this problem when the dog lifts his paw by bending the knee or takes a small jump.

Therefore, if you ever notice a strange “bunny hopping” gait in the animal, consult your veterinarian. There are several different types of procedures to correct this problem, but when it’s serious it may require surgery.

Small dog breeds.

2. Tracheal collapse

In its normal state, the trachea stays open due to cartilage rings that allow air to flow freely. However, for an unknown reason, a progressive weakening of this cartilage can occur in small dog breeds.

As a consequence, the shape of the tracheal rings is altered and the trachea may begin to flatten. This makes breathing difficult.

The softening of the cartilage can be associated with congenital diseases, throat compression, or chronic inflammation. Tracheal collapse typically occurs in small dog breeds. Thus, Pomeranians, Miniature Poodles, Toy Poodles, Yorkshire Terriers, Chihuahuas, and pugs are the most affected ones.

This condition is characterized by a “goose-honk” cough and difficulty in breathing. It’s important to know that this condition worsens if your pet is obese or when it gets very excited.

Even if there’s no known prevention method for this condition, the best recommendation is to wear a harness instead of a collar and keep your pet at a healthy weight. It’s also important to avoid exposure to smoke, dust, and strong odors.

Many dogs get better with medical treatment cough suppressants, anti-inflammatory steroids, and bronchodilators. In severe cases which document a collapse of the airways, the vet may recommend the surgical placement of a prosthesis or stent.

3. Hypoglycemia

Blood sugar is the main source of energy for all biological functions of the body. When blood sugar levels drop suddenly, a state of hypoglycemia occurs. This is a common condition in miniature breeds such as Yorkshire Terriers, Chihuahuas, and Toy Poodles.

The clinical manifestation of hypoglycemia varies depending on the underlying cause and level of the hypoglycemia. The duration, the drop in blood sugar levels, and the capability of the hormonal mechanisms regulating hypoglycemic states also play a role.

If you have a small breed dog, you must pay attention if you notice it becomes weak or lethargic. It’s possible that it may have difficulty in maintaining a uniform pace or it may have tremors, especially in its face. These could all be signs of a hypoglycemic attack.

Hypoglycemia can be serious. A sudden drop in blood sugar levels can even put a dog into a potentially fatal coma. Therefore, in dogs with tendencies to hypoglycemic states, it’s important to avoid prolonged fasting.

4. Imbalance in maintaining the temperature

It’s important to know that disorders in maintaining body temperature cause neurological dysfunctions and pose a threat to life. In dogs, the response to thermal stress is done mainly by convection and evaporation.

Small dogs, especially puppies and senior dogs, don’t tolerate temperature extremes.

As the owner of a small dog, you must manage these disorders in a decisive and expeditious manner in order to avoid secondary neurological injury.

Also, take great care when exposing the dog to extreme weather, as this can kill the dog. For example, you should avoid letting these dogs in parked cars or other closed areas with poor ventilation.

When exposed to the risk, the dog can present heat rashes, cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke. In addition, some drugs can induce hyperthermia and produce one of several specific clinical syndromes.

A small dog.

Although it may seem demoralizing to think of the health problems that a small dog may suffer, the truth is that the more you know, the better you can take care of them. Without a doubt, veterinary practices should also focus on the illnesses affecting these breeds the most.

In general, the adequate disclosure of the risk of diverse health problems in small dog breeds helps a differential diagnosis and the appropriate selection of treatments.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Idowu, O., & Heading, K. (2018). Hypoglycemia in dogs: Causes, management, and diagnosis. The Canadian Veterinary Journal, 59(6), 642.
  • Wangdee, C., Theyse, L. F. H., & Hazewinkel, H. A. W. (2015). Proximo-distal patellar position in three small dog breeds with medial patellar luxation. Vet Comp Orthop Traumatol, 28(4), 270-3.
  • Kim, E., Choe, C., Yoo, J. G., Oh, S. I., Jung, Y., Cho, A., … & Do, Y. J. (2018). Major medical causes by breed and life stage for dogs presented at veterinary clinics in the Republic of Korea: a survey of electronic medical records. Peer J, 6, e5161.
  • Johnson, L. R., & Pollard, R. E. (2010). Tracheal collapse and bronchomalacia in dogs: 58 cases (7/2001–1/2008). Journal of veterinary internal medicine, 24(2), 298-305.
  • Bonnett BN, Egenvall A, Hedhammar A, Olson P. 2005. Mortality in over 350,000 insured Swedish dogs from 1995–2000: I. breed-, gender-, age- and cause-specific rates. Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica 46(3):105–120DOI 10.1186/1751-0147-46-105.
  • Dorn CR. 2000. Canine Breed-Specific Risks of Frequently Diagnosed Diseases at Veterinary Teaching Hospitals. Raleigh: AKC Canine Health Foundation
  • Fleming JM, Creevy KE, Promislow DE. 2011. Mortality in North American dogs from 1984 to2004: an investigation into age-, size-, and breed-related causes of death. Journal of VeterinaryInternal Medicine 25(2):187–198DOI 10.1111/j.1939-1676.2011.0695.x.
  • Robinson NJ, Dean RS, Cobb M, Brennan ML. 2015.Investigating common clinical presentations in first opinion small animal consultations using direct observation. Veterinary Record 176(18):463DOI 10.1136/vr.102751

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.