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6 Small Dog Breed Health Problems You Should Know About

Long haired blonde chihuahua standing on a cloth chair in a living room

Small breed dogs are fantastic for sitting on your lap and cuddling. They’re just the right size to fit! However, there are a few common health problems that you need to be aware of.

What Is A Small Dog Breed?

Generally speaking, a small breed dog weighs less than 22 pounds and is shorter than 16 inches. There is the odd exception to the rule, and some dogs that are slightly outside of the guidelines would still be considered to be a small breed dog.

What Are Some Small Dog Breeds?

Happy Beagle jumping through tall grass in a park


Chihuahua’s are among the smallest dogs at between 6 and 10 inches in height, and weighing between 2 and 8 pounds. They can have long hair or short hair. They tend to have feisty personalities, are brave, and can make surprisingly good watchdogs.


Dachshunds are also known as sausage dogs as they have long bodies and short, stocky legs. A standard dachshund is between 12 and 14 inches tall and weighs 16 to 22 pounds. Miniature dachshunds are around 9 inches in height and weigh between 9 and 11 pounds. They’re fun-loving, and affectionate dogs, but they can be suspicious of strangers. They are good watchdogs and their bark can make them sound much bigger than they are.

Yorkshire Terrier

Yorkie playing fetch with their owner on a sunny day

Yorkshire terriers are a long-haired small breed, at around 9 inches in height, and weighing around 7 pounds. They’re loving dogs, but they are high energy. They are a little high maintenance, as they need a lot of exercises, and grooming. They also need to be kept mentally stimulated as they’re very intelligent.


Beagles are between 13 and 16 inches in height and weigh around 35 pounds. They’re high energy dogs and are extremely affectionate. They can be standoffish with strangers, but will quickly warm up to them so they aren’t good watchdogs. They can be great with children but will need a lot of socialization around other animals.

What Should You Know Before Getting A Small Breed Dog?

Short hair Black Dachshund standing in a field or flowers

Some people assume that all small breeds are suited to apartment living and that they don’t need much exercise. This isn’t entirely true. Some small breeds are really high energy and will need daily exercise as well as a yard to run around in. Others will enjoy being a couch potato. Always choose the breed that suits your lifestyle and don’t rely on the size as an indication of energy level.

6 Small Breed Health Problems

The following 6 health issues are among the most common in small dogs.


Brown Dachshund running in the yard with a large stick in its mouth

IVDD, or Intervertebral Disc Disease, can happen from an injury, but it’s also common in some small dog breeds as they age or due to their conformation. It’s particularly common in chondrodysplastic breeds, which are breeds with long backs and short, curved legs, such as a Dachshund.

The vertebrae of the spine are cushioned as they have discs in between them. If these discs rupture, herniate or otherwise come into contact with the spinal cord, it can cause a number of clinical symptoms. The most commonly seen symptom is stiffness and pain in the neck and back. IVDD can also cause an inability to walk or run, an odd gait during movement, weakness in the limbs, and in more severe cases, paralysis.

Treatment of IVDD can include crate rest, medications, lifestyle changes or surgery. The treatment plan will depend on many factors such as the weight and general health of the dog, his age, and the severity of the disease.

Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome

Brachycephalic airway syndrome is a term used for airway conditions and respiratory problems that are commonly seen in brachycephalic breeds. Brachycephalic breeds have short, flat noses which can create some breathing issues. Brachycephalic breeds include dogs like bulldogs and pugs.

It is a genetic condition, but it can be exacerbated by obesity, allergies, over excitement, and hot weather. There are a number of respiratory issues that come under this heading such as upper airway obstruction, narrow nasal passages, and an elongated soft palate in the mouth. Symptoms generally include rapid breathing, excessive panting, noise when breathing, excessive snoring, difficulty eating, and in some cases, collapsing. Severe cases require medical treatment, usually surgery. There are some preventative surgical options as well. Mild cases can be managed with lifestyle changes.


White fluffy terrier looking at the camera on a sunny day

Ectropion is a common eye condition in certain breeds. Ectropion is when the eyelids droop down, and the pink tissue below the white of the eye is visible. It can be a genetic condition, but it is also a symptom of other conditions and diseases.

The symptoms of ectropion include discomfort, pawing at the eye, irritation, brown tear staining below the eye, and a protruding bottom eyelid. Mild cases can be treated with eye drops and ointments, however, severe cases, or recurring mild cases can be treated with surgical intervention.


Pancreatitis can affect dogs of any size, but it tends to be more common in small dogs, such as the miniature Schnauzer, and miniature Poodle. Pancreatitis is a condition that causes the pancreas to become inflamed and the enzymes that are normally used for digestion leak into the abdomen. These enzymes then break down the fats and proteins of the pancreas and the other surrounding organs such as the liver and the kidneys.

There are a variety of symptoms associated with pancreatitis, and these include abdominal pain, breathing difficulties, vomiting, diarrhea, fever and loss of appetite. The treatment for pancreatitis will depend on the severity of the condition, but most cases are treated with fluid therapy and medical supplements. The diet will be changed to a low fat veterinary approved diet, and the condition can be monitored by your vet.

Patellar Luxation

Shih tzu looking up at the camera with its tongue out

Patellar luxation is a condition where the kneecap moves out of the groove in which it is supposed to sit. It’s a condition that is common in dogs but most often seen in small dogs with ‘bow’ legs. It is a genetic condition and usually presents early in life. It has varying degrees of severity, from Grade 1 to Grade 4.

The most commonly seen symptom of patellar luxation is a limp, an awkward gait, and stiffness. You can occasionally notice pain in the leg. The treatment depends on the grade. Grade 1 can usually be managed with medications and weight management. Grades 3 and 4 will need surgical intervention.

Dental Issues

Small breed dogs are more prone to some dental issues than larger dogs. They can have tartar and plaque build-up as well as periodontal disease. Another issue is overcrowding of teeth where the teeth are misplaced, or extra teeth.

Some dental issues can be managed with regular tooth cleanings, a healthy diet, and chew toys. Other dental issues may need intervention from your veterinarian, such as tooth removal. Most dogs won’t show many if any symptoms of periodontal disease, but you may notice that your dog is head shy, leaves some blood on toys, or is reluctant to eat.

How To Keep Your Dog Healthy And Happy

Short Haired White Chihuahua sitting on a furry dog bed outside

Keeping your small dog healthy and happy is a priority, but it can be easily managed. Regular vet check-ups are a must, and most vets will recommend an annual appointment. This may need to increase to every six months as he ages.

You should also make sure that he has a good diet with high-quality pet food, and gets enough exercise for his breed, size, and energy levels.

Sleep is also incredibly important. Dogs need around 14 hours of sleep per day, although not all at once. He will sleep better if he gets the proper amount of exercise. However, if he is an older dog, he may benefit from having an orthopedic dog bed.

Some supplements, like CBD oil, Salmon oil, and turmeric, can help your dog with his health. For example, CBD oil may be able to give your dog some pain relief if he suffers from IVDD or patellar luxation.

Sold out

Small dogs can have just as much personality as larger dogs, and they do make great pets. However, you should always choose the most suitable breed for your lifestyle, and get your dog from a reputable breeder or animal shelter.

Meet The Author 

Grant Withers

Canine Specialist & Writer

Grant is an award-winning writer for SitStay with a passion for pets and especially dogs! Grant loves writing about furry little goofballs and aims to educate pet parents about anything and everything regarding their dogs.

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Shana Schank DVM


Shana is a veterinarian, writer and mother of 3. She graduated from Iowa State University, School of Veterinary Medicine in 2007. Dr. Schank has a diverse background including Equine Medicine, Shelter Medicine, and Private Small Animal Practice. Dr. Schank prides herself on being adaptable and able to jump into any situation and work with anyone.

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