From Pugs and French Bulldogs, to Dachshunds and Boston Terriers, to Papillons and Shih Tzus, small dogs come in a range of shapes and personalities. Although these small breeds differ in many ways, from their activity levels to their fur patterns, they also have many things in common. Unfortunately, a number of these are health problems.
Just as large-breed dogs tend to experience a few specific ailments over their lifetimes, so too do small-breed dogs. Before you adopt a tiny pup, it’s important to understand the health problems that might be waiting down the road, so you’re prepared to spot and treat them quickly.
Take a look at these five common health problems afflicting small-breed dogs.
1. Airways issues
Small dogs of many breeds are more susceptible to a few issues that affect their airways and ability to breathe. The first is specific to brachycephalic (short-nosed, flat-faced) breeds like Pugs, French Bulldogs and Shih Tzus. Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome refers to a few upper airway problems because of the way these breeds’ faces and airways are shaped.
Dogs experiencing Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome might snore loudly, breathe noisily while they’re awake, pant or breathe rapidly, cough and gag while eating and appear winded during moderate exercise. Many dogs can live happy, healthy lives with this condition but might require additional monitoring in certain circumstances like overexcitement, humid climates and allergy season.
A more serious airway problem in both brachycephalic and other small-breed dogs is tracheal collapse. Over time, your dog’s windpipe may begin to flatten as the tissues holding its shape weaken se. This can make it harder for your pup to breathe, causing wheezing, coughing, breathing trouble and fainting.
2. Intervertebral disc disease
Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) can affect dogs of any size, but small dogs are particularly susceptible to a specific type of disease. In IVDD, the fluid-filled discs that rest between your dog’s spinal vertebrae harden and rupture. Once this occurs, nerves in the spine may be compressed or damaged, causing a range of mobility issues.
Some small dogs, like Dachshunds, are commonly affected by IVDD because of the shape of their long, curved backs. Small dogs in general are also more likely to experience rapid disc calcification (rapid hardening of the disc’s tough outer layer), which makes the disc more brittle and susceptible to rupturing.
Symptoms of IVDD can change based on the herniated disc’s severity. Pet parents will want to look out for leg pain or weakness, limping or limb dragging, muscle spasms and paralysis.
3. Displaced kneecaps
The vertebrae aren’t the only problematic bones in small dogs’ bodies. Their kneecaps are also a common source of trouble. In fact, displaced kneecaps, or patellar luxations, are some of the most common orthopedic problems in all dogs.
Patellar luxation can occur if your dog flexes their knee and the patella (kneecap) temporarily or completely dislocates from its usual groove along the thigh bone. Without this stability, dogs have difficulty putting weight on that leg or walking at all, and the problem is quite painful.
In some cases, the kneecap can be manipulated back into place and allowed to heal without any trouble. In others, your dog may require surgery to replace the bone and stabilize the leg.
4. Transitional cell carcinoma
Transitional cell carcinoma (TCC) is a type of cancer that is most common in small-breed dogs. It’s commonly called bladder cancer since it usually affects the urinary tract.
By growing in the lining of the urethra, bladder, kidneys, vagina or prostate, TCC often causes difficult or inappropriate urination in both male and female dogs. Your pup might strain to urinate, urinate frequently, urinate around the home or not be able to urinate at all.
TCC is particularly aggressive and difficult to treat due to the sensitive tissues throughout the urinary tract. Chemotherapy, urethral tubes and alternative treatment methods may help extend you pup’s life.
If the pancreas—an organ that releases digestive enzymes—malfunctions or becomes inflamed, the resulting condition is called pancreatitis. Digestive enzymes can be released prematurely, leading to damage of the pancreas and surrounding organs on either a chronic or acute basis.
All dogs can experience pancreatitis, especially after eating extremely fatty foods. However, it tends to show up in small breeds more often. Symptoms for the condition include vomiting, abdominal pain, fever, lethargy and inappetence.
Pancreatitis needs to be treated as soon as possible to prevent major damage. If it’s a chronic condition, you may need to protect your pet by changing their diet to avoid high-fat food and feeding them smaller meals throughout the day.
Small dogs, big love
Although small dogs are prone to these and other health conditions, that does not mean they will develop them for certain! Many small dogs live long, happy lives with no ailments whatsoever. What’s most important is that you take your pup in for routine vet exams to monitor their health and look out for signs of trouble to treat any problems right away.