Caring For Your Yorkshire Terrier: Common Health Problems

Learn to diagnose the sypmtoms of health problems and diseases common to Yorkshire terriers; treatments and remedies included.

Tiny but rambunctious, the Yorkshire terrier is in general a hearty and healthy dog. However, there are a few medical problems common to this breed.

Yorkshire terriers are prone to hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, which needs to be monitored to prevent complications. The condition is caused by low concentrations of glucose in the blood, and can cause lethargy and weakness. Toy breed dogs younger than three months old are the most commonly afflicted, and symptoms can include: lethargy, weakness, twitching, trembling, seizures, lack of coordination, loss of appetite, dilated pupils, seeming blindness and in severe cases, coma. To diagnose hypoglycemia, a veterinarian may conduct several tests, including measuring blood glucose concentration, running a complete blood count, conducting serum biochemistry tests, measuring serum insulin concentration and conducting a urinalysis. Treatments can include administering glucose orally or by IV, and hypoglycemic dogs may require snacks throughout the day to prevent their blood sugar from dropping too low.

Yorkies frequently have difficulty delivering puppies, a condition called dystocia. It is sometimes caused by problems associated with the mother, such as a narrow pelvis, a problem the dog may be born with or that can result from a previous injury. Sometimes the uterus simply becomes worn out during labor, causing a condition called uterine inertia. When this occurs, the uterus becomes unable to contract, and the puppies cannot be pushed through the birth canal. Dystocia can also be caused by problems associated with the puppies, such as being too large to fit through the birth canal, being in a position that prevents easy passage through the canal, or suffering from birth defects that cause body parts to be enlarged or the puppies to be positioned unnaturally. If trouble with delivery occurs, veterinary attention should be sought immediately to determine if natural delivery is possible, or if surgery is necessary. If the puppies can be delivered naturally, the vet can administer medications to assist in the process.



Another common ailment is congenital patellar luxation, a musculoskeletal disorder affecting the kneecap. The condition is common among small dogs, and develops when the bones surrounding the kneecap, or patella, are not aligned properly. The patella then becomes displaced, and cannot glide along its normal groove in the femur. The disorder can result from trauma, but more often is congenital, developing when the dog is under a year old. It is diagnosed through a physical exam and X-rays, and is ranked according to severity, ranging from I, the mildest form, to IV, the most severe. If the condition is mild, it may be managed through supplements, exercise and diet. More severe cases usually require surgery.

Like other small breeds, Yorkies are also prone to severe dental disease. Because they have a small jaw, their teeth can become crowded and may not fall out naturally. This can cause food and plaque to build up, and bacteria can eventually develop on the surface of the teeth, leading to periodontal disease. In addition, the bacteria can spread to other parts of the body and cause heart and kidney problems. The best prevention is regular brushing of the teeth with a toothpaste formulated specifically for dogs. Human toothpaste is not recommended, because it foams easier and may be swallowed. Professional teeth cleaning by a veterinarian may also be required to prevent the development of dental problems.

Portosystemic shunt, an abnormality in the flow of blood to the liver, is also commonly seen in Yorkies. It occurs when blood returning to the heart, which should pass through the liver, instead bypasses the liver completely. Because the liver filters and detoxifies the blood, if blood misses this step it can carry toxic byproducts throughout the body. This can result in mental and neurological problems. Diagnosing the condition may require a physical exam, X-rays, blood work, ultrasonagraphy, dye studies and exploratory procedures. Treatment may require surgery to redirect the blood flow, or it may be possible to manage the condition through diet and medications. However, the prognosis is generally poor, because even after treatment dogs usually do not recover completely. Their liver may never function properly, and in severe cases even surgery may not remedy the problem.

Owners should also watch for signs of hydrocephalus, a neurological disease common among toy breeds like Yorkies. The disease causes excess fluid within the brain, and is seen in both younger and older dogs. Some fluid in the brain is normal, and in fact protects the brain. But with hydrocephalus, the excess fluid can cause the skull to bulge and lead to brain damage. The condition can be caused by infection, congenital defects, trauma or tumor. Symptoms vary according to the cause, but can include crying, difficulty walking, problems with sight and hearing, abnormal movements of the eyes, tilting or pressing the head, hyperexcitability or dullness, circling, coma and seizures. Diagnosis requires not only a physical exam, but possibly extensive testing as well. The veterinarian may want to perform an ultrasound, CT scan, blood work, radiographs and electroencephalogram. Treatment depends on the severity of the disease, but could include either medication or surgery. If the condition is untreated it usually results in death, and some animals may have symptoms too severe to be controlled by medical intervention. Other animals, however, respond well to medication or surgery and can remain stable for many years.

Yorkshire terriers have a tough personality, but their small size makes them fragile and easily injured. They should not be left unattended with small children, who may accidentally be too rough and harm them. As with all breeds, there are several medical conditions common to the Yorkie, but with regular medical checkups and prompt veterinary care, problems may be caught early enough to start treatment and provide the best chance of recovery and long-term health.

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