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9 of the Most Common Health Problems in Small Breed Dogs

By Stacy Painter
published: February 17, 2021 • 3 min. read
overweight pug dog

You never knew something so small could take up so much room in your heart, but here you are, the proud pet parent of a small breed dog. Though they share the same ancestors, the common health conditions faced by small dog breeds are vastly different than those of large dog breeds. Learning about the common health conditions of small dog breeds will help you better understand your little pup and how to keep him as healthy as possible. 

Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome

Brachycephalic dogs are those with short noses or flat faces, like pugs and Frenchies. Some brachycephalic dogs are born with compressed airways which makes it harder for them to breathe. Symptoms include snorting or noisy breathing and in more severe cases, gagging, vomiting, or fainting after exercise. Being overweight can worsen the problem. Mild cases may be managed by limiting exercise and time spent in hot or humid weather, whereas severe cases require surgery. 


Intervertebral Disk Disease (IVDD)

This condition occurs when the cushioning disks between the spinal vertebrae protrude into the spinal cord. Depending on the severity, IVDD can cause pain, nerve damage, or even paralysis. Symptoms include stiffness, sensitivity to touch, lameness, weakness, and collapse. It occurs primarily in middle-aged dogs and treatment ranges from medical management to surgery.


Affecting young puppies, especially toy breeds, hypoglycemia is a quick drop in blood sugar. It can be caused by intestinal parasites that compromise digestion or occur as a result of their immature liver and low body fat. Being so small and young, a sudden drop in blood sugar can be very dangerous. Symptoms include weakness, disorientation, trembling, seizures and fainting. Make sure your puppy eats frequently and if you notice symptoms, start with wrapping him in a blanket or snuggling close to help keep him warm. Try to get your puppy to eat a bit of canned food or even a few drops of corn syrup or maple syrup (xylitol free). You can also rub some syrup on his lips and gums if he has fainted. 


The inflammation of the pancreas is accompanied by tummy pain, loss of appetite, and vomiting. It may also cause low energy and dehydration. Pancreatitis in dogs isn’t fully understood, but it could be caused by certain medications or eating high-fat foods like table scraps. Mild cases of pancreatitis may pass fairly quickly, but serious cases may require a hospital stay and IV fluids. 

Tracheal Collapse

Small dogs are more susceptible to tracheal collapse due to their weaker cartilage structure. The trachea is the airway from the mouth and nose into the lungs and when it collapses, a dog will experience bouts of coughing, often described as sounding like a goose honk. This condition may be present at birth and can be brought on by exercise, excitement, or stress, but often occurs due to walking on leash with a collar. Using a harness instead of a collar is the first preventive measure you can take. If your dog suffers from tracheal collapse, seek veterinary care. Treatment may involve certain medications or even surgery.

Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease

Legg-Calve-Perthes disease is the spontaneous degeneration of the head of the femur bone. It is unknown what causes this condition that leads to inflammation at the hip joint and eventually collapse of the hip. This condition is most commonly seen in small dogs between 5 and 8 months old and symptoms include pain and limping or lameness on one or both legs. Mild cases may be medically managed but serious cases will require surgery.

Patellar Luxation

Patellar luxation is when the kneecap is able to become dislocated and may be due to genetic malformation of the bones. It is more common among smaller dog breeds and is seen in females more often than males. Signs of this condition include hind leg lameness or skipping. Repeated occurrences can cause degenerative arthritis, so surgery is recommended for more severe cases. 

Dental Disease

Proper dental hygiene is important for all dogs, especially small breeds who face higher risks of dental issues due to the crowding of teeth in such a small mouth. Dental problems starting with tartar buildup can cause bad breath and ultimately lead to gum disease, pain, and broken teeth. Fortunately, you can save your dog from suffering by maintaining a regular teeth brushing routine


Because they are so small, it can be easy to go a little overboard on the food and treats which ultimately leads to weight gain. Carrying extra weight can increase your dog’s risk of developing other medical conditions as well as make many issues, like the ones mentioned above, worse. Make sure your pup gets daily exercise and consult your veterinarian about developing a weight loss plan.

Health conditions can arise unexpectedly, but pet insurance can help cover the costs of veterinary care to diagnose and treat them. If your pup isn’t already covered by a Healthy Paws pet insurance plan, get a quote today!

Stacy Painter profile
By Stacy Painter

Stacy has always been an animal lover and has worked in the pet industry and pet insurance specifically for over a decade. As a writer since early childhood, content writing for Healthy Paws pet insurance was a natural career path to combine her two passions. She currently lives in Florida with her boyfriend and Taiwanese rescue dog, Kaya.

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