Your dog deserves to live a long and healthy life, and as an owner it's up to you to make sure they do. Small breed dogs have specific needs when it comes to overall health and wellness. Feeding a size-appropriate diet, providing the right kind of exercise, and taking measures to prevent small breed health problems will do wonders for your dog’s happiness and well-being.
Looking out for the nutritional needs of your small breed dog starts in puppyhood. Small breed puppies have a very high metabolism, which means that they burn calories extremely fast. Because of this your puppy needs to eat a lot, and often! Small breed puppies should be fed calorie-rich food three to four times a day in order to prevent hypoglycemia. The high metabolism of small breed dogs continues into adulthood, so your adult small breed dog will need to eat more calories per pound than their larger cousins.
Small breed dogs, especially toys, live longer on average than larger breeds. With old age comes the risk of many health conditions, but you can help to protect your dog by feeding a diet rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants have been shown to prevent free radicals from harming healthy tissue and causing disease, including cancer. Check the label on your dog’s food -- common antioxidants used in pet foods include vitamins A, C, E, zinc, Beta-carotene, and lycopene. Antioxidant-rich ingredients, such as berries, apples, broccoli, carrots, and whole grains, can also be found in many foods.
All dogs need regular exercise, regardless of their size. Some small breed dogs may even be more active than larger breeds, and require more physical stimulation to stave off bad behaviors like boredom-induced barking or destructive chewing.
When you think of exercise for your dog, you probably think of walks. Walks and jogs are great for small breed dogs, but don’t push your pet to the limit. Many small breed dogs are predisposed to joint problems, so they could be injured if running or walking for too long. An excessive walk or jog could also result in overheating, especially if it’s hot out. For dogs with smushed faces, called "brachycephalics," overheating is a dangerous possibility in the hottest summer months, so it's best to play inside with these dogs un summer.
Keep an eye on your dog for signs of fatigue, and provide plenty water throughout the walk. After a few walks or jogs with your dog, you’ll get a sense of the distance that your small statured pal can handle. These same safety rules can be applied to games of fetch or playtime with other dogs, both of which are great energy-sapping activities for small breeds.
Small Breed Health Risks
Small breed dogs are capable of living a very long time, but their small size puts them at a risk for a number of health conditions. Luckily, many of the conditions that affect small breed dogs are preventable with proper care. Below are some common problems that plague small breed dogs, and how to avoid them.
Those little mouths can get into a whole lot of trouble when it comes to dental disease, especially as your dog gets older. Daily teeth brushing is a must for small breeds, and you may want to look into rinses or professional teeth cleanings as extra safeguards.
This potentially life-threatening condition is caused by low blood sugar, and can be prevented by feeding your dog sufficient calories for their weight. The signs of hypoglycemia include lethargy, weakness, muscle tremors, and seizures. If you notice any of these symptoms in your dog, go to your vet right away. You’ll most likely need to adjust your dog’s feeding schedule and calorie intake.
Some breeds of small dogs with smushed-looking faces, such as Pugs, are called "brachycephalics." They can suffer from breathing issues like sneezing, snorting, and labored breathing due to a short nose, flat face, and narrow nostrils. If left untreated, breathing issues can cause stress and reduce your dog’s lifespan, so see your veterinarian if you notice any of these symptoms.
Small breed dogs may be more susceptible to bladder stones than larger dogs. Water intake can help to prevent this problem, so provide easy access to clean water and let your dog out for regular bathroom breaks. If you notice your dog straining to urinate, urinating more frequently, or dribbling urine, these may be signs that a stone has formed.
Many small breed dogs -- especially those bred for certain qualities like short legs -- are predisposed to joint problems. If you notice your dog limping, hopping, or having trouble getting up after lying down, they may be experiencing joint pain. Many dogs can recover from joint issues with rest, but if your dog is unable to walk, you should see your veterinarian. Some small breed dogs are more predisposed to joint problems than others, and may end up with a joint problem at some point in their lives regardless of the care you provide. However, you can take steps to decrease the likelihood or seriousness of joint issues:
- Keep your dog at a healthy weight so that their joints are not under stress.
- Provide enough (but not too much) low-impact exercise.
- Avoid injury around the house by keeping your dog off of tall surfaces from which they could jump, or slippery surfaces where they could fall.
- Your vet may recommend anti-inflammatory drugs to ease your dog’s joint pain or supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin to lubricate the joints.
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This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.