Top 6 Health Issues Among Small Dog Breeds
Wed, April 21, 2021

Top 6 Health Issues Among Small Dog Breeds


Ready to take care of a small dog? Perhaps you have done your research about raising a small dog from toys to how to take it on a vacation, said Erin Ollila of Hill’s Pet, an American pet food company. However, you should also familiarize yourself with some of the most common health issues among small dogs.

Of course, you want your pet to be happy, but you should also stand by your dog’s side in times of hardships. Some health issues may be present in small dogs, albeit not everything will be experienced by your dog.   

Purchasing Dogs With Potential Welfare Problems Among Danish Owners (2017)

P. Sandøe and colleagues of PLOS ONE, a peer-reviewed open access scientific journal, said no contact was made with 364 out of 3,000 participants as some of them moved or due to an unknown address being supplied. Only 911 out of 2,636 participants responded to the questionnaire, with a response rate of 35%. Of the 24 owners who said that they neither currently nor earlier had owned the four dogs (Cairn terrier, Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Chihuahua, and French bulldog), only 883 respondents remained.

Among Cairn terrier and French bulldog owners, 5.4% and 3.8% answered “Choice of dog breed was incidental,” respectively. 6.4% of Cavalier King Charles spaniel owners answered this, compared to 11.9% of Chihuahua owners. 28% of Chihuahua owners said “There wasn’t really any planning” involved compared with 14.4% of Cairn terrier owners, 12.3% of Cavalier King Charles spaniel owners, and 15.1% of French bulldog owners.

The respondents acquired their knowledge of the breed from friends/colleagues/family (16.8% of Cairn terrier owners, 20% of Cavalier King Charles spaniel owners, 13.3% of Chihuahua owners, and 11.9% of French bulldog owners). Some of them said, “I have had this dog breed before (43%, 20.9%, 11.9%, and 13%).

The respondents got their dog from a breeder with several breeding dogs (58.1% of Cairn terrier owners, 52.3% of Cavalier King Charles spaniel owners, 32.2% of Chihuahua owners, and 34.6% of French bulldog owners), from a breeder/family with only the bitch who is the mother of the dog (32.2%, 35.9%, 32.9%, and 40.5%), from a previous owner (6%, 10%, 21.7%, and 14.6%), and other like raising the dog themselves etc. (4.4%, 5.5%, 14.7%, and 11.9%).

Some of the frequently occurring problems that did not require a visit to the veterinarian were vomiting and/or diarrhea (11.2%, 6.4%, 7.8%, and 21.3%) and skin changes, ear problems, itching, and problems with the anal glands (3.7%, 12.5%, 6.4%, and 14.8%). Gastrointestinal problems like vomiting (0.7%, 2.3%, 0%, and 1.6%) and skin problems like itching (3%, 9.2%, 2.9%, and 9.2%) were some of the problems that required a visit to the veterinarian.

Annual veterinary expenses were between 0-99 DKR (0-150 USD) for Cairn Terrier owners (52.7%), Cavalier King Charles spaniel owners (36.2%), Chihuahua owners (36.9%), and French bulldog owners (34.5%). The respondents also spend between 1,000-4,999 DKR (151-759 USD) (44.1%, 57.5%, 60.8%, and 53.4%), and 5,000 DKR or more (760 USD or more) (3.2%, 6.3%, 2.3%, and 12.1%). The results emphasized the need to find better ways to motivate prospective owners to acquire dogs that do not suffer welfare issues associated with extreme conformation and inbreeding.



Common Health Problems Among Small Dogs

1.     Intervertebral Disk Disease (IVDD)

IVDD occurs when one or more of the cushions between each of your dog’s vertebra comes into contact with the spinal cord, causing a number of clinical signs, stated Ashley Gallagher, DVM, quoted by Vladimir Negron of Pet MD, a vet-written and reviewed website. Signs can range from irritation resulting from pain to spinal compression, with the latter causing weakness and paralysis. Dachshunds are more prone to this disease.  

2.     Regulation of Body Temperature

Does your dog appear cold even if you live in a warm climate? Does your dog overheat in the warm weather? Unlike larger breeds, small dogs often struggle with maintaining and regulating their body temperatures. Animal hospital VRCC Veterinarian Specialty and Emergency Hospital explained, “Small breeds, short haired dogs, puppies and geriatric dogs, dogs that are normally 'indoor' pets and those with heart or other medical conditions are all more sensitive to colder temperatures,” as cited by Ollila.

Hence, small dogs are more vulnerable to hypothermia and overheating. If your dog has hypothermia, dress it in a sweater and jacket to prevent its internal temperature from dropping. As for overheating, keep your dog indoors or in cool, shaded areas. Provide your pet with a fresh supply of water to help maintain a healthy temperature.

3.     Tracheal Collapse

Breathing issues often affect small dog breeds, particularly French bulldogs and other brachycephalic breeds that have small, flattened muzzles. Most canines experiencing tracheal collapse or those of middle age or older, though younger dogs may experience tracheal problems on some occasions.

Signs of this condition include wheezing, trouble breathing, fainting, and strong coughing.  Weight loss, medications, and sedation may be helpful to treat pets who have difficulty breathing due to tracheal issues.  Specialty board the American College of Veterinary Surgeons (ACVS), said, "Tracheal collapse is a chronic, progressive, irreversible disease of the trachea, or windpipe, and lower airways," Ollila quoted



4.     Ectropion

It is an abnormality that commonly occurs in short-nosed, flat-faced dogs like French Bulldogs, Cairn terriers, and Cavalier King Charles spaniels. Ectropion happens when the eyelid’s margin rolls outward, exposing the tissue that lines the palpebral conjunctiva or the inner lids.  

5.     Pancreatitis

This happens when your dog’s pancreas becomes inflamed, which can occur due to obesity, trauma, etc. or even out of nowhere. Pancreatitis can lead to fever, vomiting, mild to severe abdominal pain, diarrhea, and dehydration. Any dog breed can have pancreatitis but small dogs like miniature poodles are the most affected.

6.     Whelping Issues

Consult your vet if you have plans on breeding your dog. Narrow pelvic openings can make labor difficult for small dogs, especially among pugs, Boston terriers, and toy poodles, according to Blackwell's Five-Minute Veterinary Consult, a book written by Lawrence Tilley, mentioned Ollila.

If you spayed your dog right away, then you don’t have to worry about whelping issues. But if you are breeding your dog, you have to have it undergo a cesarean section rather than having them birth naturally. C-section is one way to prevent whelping issues. If you want your pet to give birth at home, be sure to have your vet on speed dial. In case of dystocia (stalled and difficult labor), it is recommended to have a veterinarian assist you to save your dog and its offspring.  


Small dogs are cute and loveable, but they also come with a number of health issues like tracheal collapse. Owners should consult their veterinarian should their small dog exhibit the aforementioned complications.