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Common small-breed health problems

Small-breed dogs are increasingly popular because they’re so cute — and are generally intelligent, loyal family pets. Compared to larger-breed dogs, they also have significantly longer expected lifespans. They’re prone to certain health problems, though. If you own a small-breed dog, be aware of these common conditions.

small breed dog at vet

Size matters

Because of their size and genetic sensitivity, small breeds frequently have more adverse reactions to various drugs, chemicals and vaccinations than large breeds. Provide your small dog with the most natural lifestyle possible. Minimize processed foods and provide more natural diets. Keep small dogs away from household chemicals and cleaning products, and give them the least number of vaccinations possible. For example, a three-year rabies shot is often a better choice than an annual inoculation. Try to avoid multiple vaccinations at one time; separating vaccinations by three or more weeks minimizes the risk of immune system reactions.

Quick Tip

Get your small-breed dog used to taking delicious liquids from an eyedropper. Training them with a dropper full of melted vanilla ice cream will make administering liquid medicine, when needed, a simple task for both of you.

Some small dogs are predisposed to degenerative disc disease or genetic problems with the hips known as Legg-Perthes disease. Others may have stiff backs or trick knees.

Skin and teeth

With high immune system sensitivity, many toy breeds experience skin allergies triggered by inhalation or touch contact with specific allergens or foods, or as a result of flea bites. Many small-breed dogs develop some form of dental disease, particularly as they age. Regular preventative care with products such as toothpastes and rinses formulated for dogs are a big help.


Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is a common issue for young toy-breed dogs. Symptoms include staggering gait, glassy eyes and limpness or rigidity. Failure to treat hypoglycemia right away can lead to seizures, unconsciousness and even death. If you see these signs, put some sugar in the dog’s mouth right away and head immediately to the pet clinic for further treatment. Once it has been established that the dog has hypoglycemia, you usually can prevent further attacks by changing the feeding schedule and being careful about the ingredients in the dog food and treats your pet is eating.

Toy breeds often have urinary tract issues. Sometimes, these are behavioral, because of their emotional sensitivity, and other times the problem is physical — a urinary tract infection that could include the formation of bladder stones. Regular veterinary exams can help detect these problems early, and a consistently appropriate diet can help avoid them.

Small dogs give big love to their owners, so pay them back with good food, plenty of exercise and professional care when needed.

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