Typical Health Problems in Small Breed Dogs

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Congratulations! You and your family are about to adopt a small dog. You've researched everything, from the best toys for small pups to how to take your pooch on vacation. You should also be aware of some of the most common small dog health problems. As a caring pet parent, you want to be prepared for all the happy, playful times, while also knowing what to expect if anything were to go wrong.

Of course, just because some health problems are common for small dogs, it doesn't mean your new family member will experience them. Read on to learn about five common health problems that small dogs may face.

1. Tracheal Collapse

Breathing issues often affect small dogs, especially brachycephalic breeds such as French bulldogs and Pugs who have small, flattened muzzles. The American College of Veterinary Surgeons (ACVS) reports, "tracheal collapse is a chronic, progressive, irreversible disease of the trachea, or windpipe, and lower airways." It is more common in overweight dogs or pups who live in a household with smokers.

Most dogs who experience this are of middle age or older, though occasionally some young dogs may have tracheal problems. Signs include wheezing, difficulty breathing, fainting, and strong coughing. Weight loss, medications, and even sedation may be necessary to assist pets who are having problems breathing because of tracheal issues. There's nothing you can do to prevent your dog from experiencing this, but it is likely that if he experiences it once, he'll continue to need careful monitoring.

2. Patellar Luxation

Many small dogs have problems with their knees. The ACVS reports that patellar luxation (a displaced kneecap) is the most common orthopedic condition for small dogs and is diagnosed in 7 percent of puppies. Some of the most commonly affected breeds are miniature poodles, Chihuahuas, Boston and Yorkshire terriers, and Pomeranians.

A luxated kneecap can move out of place temporarily or dislocate completely in more serious situations. When this occurs, a small dog will have trouble putting weight on that leg (if he can do so at all). Some small dogs may experience this on and off, and treatment may require a trip to the veterinarian and a prescription to ease the discomfort until the kneecap adjusts back into place. For serious cases, surgery is the only treatment to ease the pain associated with a luxated patella.

Keep an eye out for your dog walking on just three paws, walking with a locked, straight leg or shaking. Small dogs with luxation issues may experience them often or rarely, but if surgery is recommended, most dogs are expected to recover quickly and without any concern that more issues will develop in the future.

Blonde Pomeranian mix being groomed

3. Mitral Valve Disease

One of the serious small dog health problems takes place in the heart. According to the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation (AKCCHF), mitral valve disease occurs when the mitral valve in the heart begins to deteriorate. A deteriorated valve can't open and close correctly, and may allow some blood to leak backwards into the left atrium of the heart (one of its four chambers). This condition happens with age, so it's nothing to worry about if you're adopting a young puppy.

The AKCCHF explains that many dogs with the disease will not even show signs, but that pups with several mitral valve problems can be at risk for congestive heart failure. The signs of congestive heart failure include difficulty breathing, breathing faster than normal, poor appetite, exercise intolerance, lethargy and collapse.

Unfortunately, there's no prevention methods that will help avoid this disease; however, just experiencing a mitral valve deterioration doesn't mean a small dog will end up with congestive heart failure. Regular monitoring by a vet can help owners understand their small dog's chance of a prolonged heart condition.

4. Whelping Complications

If you're considering breeding your dog, be sure to consult with your vet before even beginning the process. Narrow pelvic openings make birthing puppies difficult for small dogs, particularly pugs, Boston terriers and toy poodles, reports Blackwell's Five-Minute Veterinary Consult. If you're planning on spaying your new pet right away, you'll never have to worry about whelping issues, but those considering breeding should discuss potentially getting a cesarean section for their small dogs instead of allowing them to birth naturally. There are no potential signs that will indicate your dog may have trouble birthing her litter, but planning ahead may help to avoid serious complications.

There's very little that can help prevent whelping issues, except for a scheduled c-section. However, if you want your dog to attempt a birth at home, keep your vet on speed dial. If your female dog is having a stalled and difficult labor, called dystocia, a vet intervention will be necessary to save the lives of your dog and her litter.

5. Regulating Temperatures

Does your dog always seem cold, even if you live in a warm climate? Similarly, do you find your dog overheating in the warm weather? Compared to large breeds, small dogs often have trouble maintaining and regulating their body temperatures. "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," says VRCC Veterinarian Specialty and Emergency Hospital. This means they're more susceptible to hypothermia (or even overheating). The good news is that some simple measures can prevent any major issues from a homeostasis imbalance.

If your dog is averse to the cold, avoid any issues by dressing him in sweaters and jackets to keep his internal temperature from dropping. Dogs who are at risk for overheating will benefit from staying indoors or in cool, shaded areas. Proper hydration is also important to maintain a healthy body temperature. Consult your vet if your dog's temperature regulation becomes a consistent, hard-to-manage issue.

Knowing what small dog health problems your new pet may potentially experience puts you one step closer to being able to help your dog if anything does happen down the road. But, remember — just because your dog's size makes him a potential candidate for some of these health concerns, it doesn't mean he'll ever experience any of these medical issues. Knowing what signs to look for will help you potentially avoid issues altogether or treat them right away if they arise.

Contributor Bio

Erin Ollila

Erin Ollila believes in the power of words and how a message can inform—and even transform—its intended audience. Her writing can be found all over the internet and in print, and includes interviews, ghostwriting, blog posts, and creative nonfiction. Erin is a geek for SEO and all things social media. She graduated from Fairfield University with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. Reach out to her on Twitter @ReinventingErin or learn more about her at http://erinollila.com.

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