Common health problems in toy breed dogs

Small breeds often have more reactions to various chemicals, drugs and vaccinations.

Toy breeds are amongst the most popular breeds today. Such breeds as the Maltese and Poodle, to name two popular breeds, are not only highly intelligent, but very loyal and wonderful family pets. Compared to larger breed dogs, most of the toy breeds have a significantly longer lifespan than larger or giant breed dogs.

As veterinarians, we are often asked about the common health problems seen in certain breeds. With the toy breeds, there are several conditions that come to mind. Given their small size and often immune and genetic sensitivity, these breeds are the ones I see more reactions to various chemicals, drugs and vaccinations. That is why I will often stress the most natural lifestyle possible for these little tykes, including feeding less processed foods and more natural diets such as Wysong, and giving the least number of vaccinations possible.

Immunity to core viruses like parvo and distemper can last 5-10 years, and rabies should not be given more frequently than every 3 years. I also recommend that one never gives multiple vaccinations at once to these toy breeds, separating vaccinations out by at least 3 weeks, so as to avoid the increased risk of immune reactions. Common health issues that can come up include certain musculoskelatal conditions or back issues like trick knees, known as patella luxations, as well as occasional genetic problems of the hips, known as Legg-Perthes Disease. There are also some breeds that may be predisposed to degenerative disc disease.

Cardiovascular issues can include narrowed or inflamed airways such as collapsing trachea syndrome, chronic obstructive or pulmonary airway disease, known as COPD, and degenerative heart disease of the mitral valves called mitral regurgitation. Because of their immune sensitivity, many toy breeds are prone to skin allergies, often secondary to inhalant/contact allergens, food allergens, or flea bite allergies.

Dental disease appears to be fairly common as well, especially as they get older, stressing the importance of regular at home dental care with excellent products like C.E.T. toothpaste and C.E.T. rinse. Endocrine or hormonal issues can also be seen, including low thyroid known as hypothyroidism, as well as an overactive adrenal gland, known as Cushing’s disease.

Toy breeds also seem to be prone to urinary tract issues, both behavioral urine problems at times due to their emotional sensitivity, as well as urinary tract infections, including the occasional formation of bladder stones. However, with good diet and regular routine veterinary exams and evaluations many of these problems can be avoided or detected early. Toy breeds are for the most part wonderful canine companions, and I would highly recommend them to any canine lover.

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  1. I have two Shitzus and they both are sensitive to their vacinations. We have a wonderful Vet who has separated their shots and only so many each year.

  2. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianFebruary 18, 2010 at 12:36 am

    Hi Sherry. It is great to hear that you have an understanding vet about separating the shots. I would go further and tell you that core viral immunity to main viruses parvo and distemper lasts for MANY years to the life of the animal, according to leading immunologist and veterinary vaccine expert Dr Ron Schultz, from Wisconsin Vet school. You can ask your vet to measure antibody titers in future to document this long term protection or if your pets are over age 2, they likely would never need parvo or distemper shots again if adequately immunized as youngsters. ONly shot I would give is rabies as required by law every 3 years in most states, and hopefully that duration will be extended very soon—see

  3. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianFebruary 23, 2010 at 12:51 am

    I believe I answered this one earlier. But in most cases immunity to core viruses like parvo/distemper lasts for years to life of pet. Most dogs dont need these vaccines once adequately immunized as youngsters. Blood antibody testing can be done to show this or you could just skip these shots in adult pets in my opinion. Only vaccination I would give these dogs is rabies if required by law every 3 years in most states. Stay away from noncore nonuniversally approved vaccinationsl like lyme and lepto which could make your pets more chronically ill, especially if your pets are prone to acute vaccination reactions.

  4. We will be picking up our 3 lb Yorkie in 3 weeks and I’m looking for a vet that specializes in toy breeds. I live in Burnsville MN, a suburb of Minneapolis. Can you help me?

  5. My 12 years old, toy poodle 9 lbs., has a collapsed trachea, diabetes and on insulin for that, he has a bad tooth, however, we cannot seem to keep the infection away long enough to have it removed. He is on Stadol for the trachea. I couldn’t find that or many direct answers in what I search for on this site ? I need to know THE best antibiotic to nip this thing in the bud ! Clamovox Tabs 62.5mg is not getting to it. I think his immune system is wacky and he needs something to know out the infection and get the puss producing tooth to the best point as possible. His vet has said he has been too sick with all combined, to have the strength to make it out ‘alive’ through a surgery.. any advice from a Doctor here ? Thanks for your time.

  6. I meant something to KNOCK OUT the infection..on my hubby’s horrible key board…I look forward to hearing from you. Time is not a luxury that we have with this little old man doggie :-).

  7. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianJune 9, 2011 at 11:48 am

    My favorite antibiotics for oral infections are clindamycin or doxycycline. Ask your vet about possibly scripting you one of those. They will help control bacterial overgrowth in the mouth but will not help with gum inflammation, etc


  9. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianSeptember 1, 2011 at 9:07 pm

    You can try advantage or front line

  10. I have a 5 year old Shiih-Tsu who was on clavanox for 2 weeks for a urinary track infection. Her urine had crystals but her x ray was negative for stones. She is eating, drinking, and appears to be perfectly healthy. The vet said I could put her on Royal Canin SO for a few weeks but is There another food you would recommend? She ihas been on Nutro Max lite for several months because the vet felt she needed to lose weight she has lost 2 pounds. She now weighs 15 lbs. Could the food have caused the UTI?

  11. I meant Clavamox

  12. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianSeptember 26, 2012 at 9:25 pm

    I dont think the food could have caused the UTI. I personally am not fan of these prescription diets. I prefer natural preferably low grain diets such as evo or wysong epigen from 1800petmeds.

  13. I have a seven year old 2 lb 10 oz Yorkie. Last week she received her parvo / distemper vaccine and she had a bad reaction. (after reading the prior comments, I will decline this vaccine in the future). About 12 hours after the shot she started shivering which last for hours and she did not eat or interact normally for two days. She is fine now, but I am concerned about bringing her back for her Rabies Vaccine. Should I expect a similar reaction? Is there any way the vet can adjust the dose for such a tiny dog?

  14. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianDecember 6, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    Hi Beth: I am sorry to hear of your yorkie’s situation. It is hard to predict whether she will react to rabies vaccination or not. I know if you were my client I would consider writing a medical exemption for rabies, as the duration of immunity to rabies vaccination lasts for much longer than 3 years, even though most states require every 3 year shots. In many states, they will accept a medical exemption for those pets who have reacted to previous vaccinations. To learn more see as well as my website Sometimes using a smaller dose of vaccine can help, but many conventional vets will not do that. You could ask. Good luck in tough situation.

  15. My Yorkie passed at 6 years of age after being diagnosed with renal failure. Is this common among Yorkies and what causes this type of disease?

  16. Hi Margie and thank you for your question. I am so sorry for the loss of your Yorkie. Please feel free to refer your question to holistic vet Dr. Dym using our Ask the Vet form.
    ~ Abby, PetMeds Pro

  17. The more we read the more confused we are about whether or not to give our 3 lb pom the Lepto vaccine. Might you have a position regarding give the vaccine to tiny poms?

  18. What is your position regarding giving the Lepto vaccine to a 3lb 6month old pomeranian?

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