Small, but mighty, Yorkies are well-loved. They're often:
- Brave and ready for adventure
- Always on the go, has a keen eye for adventure
- Small and travels well
- Loving and loyal to her owners
- Protective of family; a good watchdog
- Quirky and entertaining personality
But pay close attention to these characteristics:
- Can be difficult to housetrain
- Suspicious of and aggressive toward strangers and other dogs if not socialized properly
- May have a tendency to bark excessively
- Can be snappy with children
- Determined and has a mind of her own
Yorkies may be little, but of course, they have big personalities. This petite and down-to-earth beauty loves her family and is always up for an adventure, making her the perfect travel companion!
It’s hard to envision the Yorkshire Terrier as a blue-collar dog, but she was once, in fact, a working breed! Yorkies were first bred for use as ratters in mine shafts and clothing mills in Northern England. They made their way to North America in the 1870s and were acknowledged by the AKC in 1885. They have adjusted to a more laidback lifestyle in today’s world and particularly enjoy spending time indoors with their families. Despite their comfort indoors though, Yorkies are active dogs and still need at least a daily walk. Yorkshire Terriers are not big shedders but their silky coats do need regular brushing and grooming. The Yorkie is a generally healthy breed with an average lifespan of 13-15 years.
Your Yorkshire Terrier's Health
Because you care so much about your dog, you want to take good care of her. That is why we have summarized the health concerns you will want to be discussing with your primary care veterinarian over the life of your Yorkie. By knowing about health concerns specific to Yorkshire Terriers, you and your primary care veterinarian can tailor a preventive health plan to watch for and hopefully prevent some predictable risks.
Many diseases and health conditions are genetic, meaning they are related to your pet’s breed. There is a general consensus among canine genetic researchers and veterinary practitioners that the conditions we’ve described herein have a significant rate of incidence and/or impact in this breed. That does not mean your dog will have these problems; it just means that she is more at risk than other dogs. We will describe the most common issues seen in Yorkshire Terriers to give you an idea of what may come up in her future. Of course, we can’t cover every possibility here, so always check with your primary care veterinarian if you notice any unusual signs or symptoms.
This guide contains general health information important to all canines as well as the most important genetic predispositions for Yorkshire Terriers. This information helps you and us together plan for your pet’s unique medical needs. At the end of the article, we have also included a description of what you can do at home to keep your Yorkie looking and feeling her best. You will know what to watch for, and you will feel better knowing that you're taking the best possible care of your pal.
General Health Information for your Yorkshire Terrier
Dental disease is the most common chronic problem in pets, affecting 80% of all dogs by age two. Unfortunately, your Yorkshire Terrier is more likely than other dogs to have problems with her teeth. Dental disease starts with tartar build-up on the teeth and progresses to infection of the gums and roots of the teeth. If you don’t prevent or treat dental disease, your buddy may lose her teeth and be in danger of damage to her kidneys, liver, heart, and joints. In fact, your Yorkie's life span may even be cut short by one to three years! Your primary care veterinarian can clean your dog’s teeth regularly and let you know what you can do at home to keep those pearly whites clean.
Yorkshire Terriers are susceptible to bacterial and viral infections — the same ones that all dogs can get — such as parvo, rabies, and distemper. Many of these infections are preventable through vaccination, which is recommended based on her age, the diseases your primary care veterinarian sees in the area, and other factors.
Obesity can be a significant health problem in Yorkshire Terriers. It is a serious disease that may cause or worsen joint problems, metabolic and digestive disorders, back pain, and heart disease. Though it’s tempting to give your pal food when she looks at you with those soulful eyes, you can “love her to death” with leftover people food and doggie treats. Instead, give her a hug, brush her fur or teeth, play a game with her, or perhaps take her for a walk. She’ll feel better, and so will you!
All kinds of worms and bugs can invade your Yorkie's body, inside and out. Everything from fleas and ticks to ear mites can infest her skin and ears. Hookworms, roundworms, heartworms, and whipworms can get into her system in a number of ways: drinking unclean water, walking on contaminated soil, or being bitten by an infected mosquito. Some of these parasites can be transmitted to you or a family member and are a serious concern for everyone. For your canine friend, these parasites can cause pain, discomfort, and even death, so it’s important that they are tested for them on a regular basis. Your primary care veterinarian will also recommend preventive medication as necessary to keep her healthy.
Spay or Neuter
One of the best things you can do for your Yorkie is to have her spayed (neutered for males). In females, this means surgically removing the ovaries and usually the uterus, and in males, it means surgically removing the testicles. Spaying or neutering decreases the likelihood of certain types of cancers and eliminates the possibility of your pet becoming pregnant or fathering unwanted puppies. Performing this surgery also gives your primary care veterinarian a chance, while your pet is under anesthesia, to identify and address some of the diseases your dog is likely to develop. For example, if your pet needs hip X-rays or a puppy tooth extracted, this would be a good time—it’s more convenient for you and easier on your friend too. Routine blood testing prior to surgery also helps to identify and take precautions against common problems that increase anesthetic or surgical risk.
Genetic Predispositions for Yorkshire Terriers
Cushing's Disease is a malfunction of the adrenal glands that causes them to produce too much steroid hormone. This is a common problem in dogs, and your Yorkie is more likely than other dogs to be affected. The condition usually develops slowly, and the early signs are easily missed. Symptoms include drinking and urinating more than normal, increased appetite, and reduced activity level followed later by a potbelly, thin skin, and hair loss. Treatment usually includes oral medications and requires close coordination with your primary care veterinarian to ensure correct dosing.
Not many things have as dramatic an impact on your dog's quality of life as the proper functioning of his eyes. Unfortunately, Yorkshire Terriers can inherit or develop a number of different eye conditions, some of which may cause blindness if not treated right away, and most of which can be extremely painful! Your primary care veterinarian will evaluate his eyes at every examination to look for any signs for concern.
- Cataracts are a common cause of blindness in older Yorkies. You will want to watch for the lenses of his eyes to become more opaque—meaning they look cloudy instead of clear. Many dogs adjust well to losing their vision and get along just fine. Surgery to remove cataracts and restore sight may also be an option.
- Dry eye, also known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca or KCS, is common in Yorkshire Terriers. KCS reduces the amount of fluid produced by the tear glands such that they are no longer able to keep the eyes moist. This results in sore, itchy eyes and infections. Symptoms of KCS include a dull, dry appearance or thick discharge from the eyes, squinting, and pawing at the eyes. KCS is a painful condition; please call your primary care veterinarian immediately if you notice any of these signs, and they will conduct a tear test on your pet. If he has this disease, they'll prescribe ointment that you’ll need to apply for the rest of your dog’s life.
Your Yorkie is more likely than other dogs to have a liver disorder called portosystemic shunt (PSS). Some of the blood supply that should go to the liver goes around it instead, depriving the liver of the blood flow it needs to grow and function properly. If your friend has PSS, his liver cannot remove toxins from his bloodstream effectively. To check for this problem, we’ll conduct a liver function test in addition to a standard pre-anesthetic panel every time he undergoes anesthesia. If he develops symptoms such as stunted growth or seizures, your family veterinarian can test his blood and possibly conduct an ultrasound scan of his liver. Surgery may be needed, but in some cases, a shunt can be treated with a special diet and medication. Your primary care veterinarian will tell you if you need to see a specialist, like us at CTVSEH or if it is something they can treat with diet. It will all depend on the severity of the shunt.
Yorkshire Terriers are prone to multiple types of heart disease, which can occur both early and later in life. Your primary care veterinarian will listen for heart murmurs and abnormal heart rhythms when they examine your pet. When indicated, your primary care veterinarian can perform an annual heart health check, which may include X-rays, an ECG, or an echocardiogram, depending on your dog’s risk factors. Early detection of heart disease often allows time to treat with medication that can prolong your pet’s life for many years. Veterinary dental care and weight control also go a long way in preventing heart disease.
- Yorkies are susceptible to a condition called patent ductus arteriosus, or PDA, in which a small vessel that carries blood between two parts of the heart does not close as it should shortly after birth. This results in too much blood being carried to the lungs, causing fluid build-up and strain on the heart. Outward signs may be mild or severe, including coughing, fatigue during exercise, weight loss, shortness of breath, and weakness in the hind limbs. There is a specific type of heart murmur to diagnose this problem during your pet’s examinations. If your pal has this condition, surgery may be recommended to close the problematic vessel.
- Heart failure is a leading cause of death among Yorkshire Terriers in their golden years. Most heart disease in dogs is caused by the weakening or slow deformity of heart valves such that they no longer close tightly; blood then leaks back around these weakened valves, straining the heart. Pets with heart valve disease (sometimes called mitral valve disease) have a heart murmur. If your dog has a heart murmur or outward signs suggesting heart problems, they may need to have testing to determine the severity of the disease. The same tests will need to be repeated at least every year to monitor the condition. If heart valve disease is diagnosed early, your primary care veterinarian may be able to prescribe medications that could prolong your pet’s life for many years. Veterinary dental care and fatty acid supplementation can also help prevent heart disease, and weight control can help diminish symptoms.
Bone and Joint Problems
A number of different musculoskeletal problems have been reported in Yorkshire Terriers. While it may seem overwhelming, each condition can be diagnosed and treated to prevent undue pain and suffering. With diligent observation at home and knowledge about the diseases that may affect your friend's bones, joints, or muscles, you will be able to take great care of him throughout his life.
- Sometimes your Yorkie's kneecap (patella) may slip out of place. This is called patellar luxation. You might notice that your pet, while running, suddenly picks up a back leg or skips and hops for a few strides. He might then kick his leg out sideways to pop the kneecap back in place. These are common signs of patellar luxation. If the problem is mild and involves only one leg, your friend may not require much treatment beyond arthritis medication. When symptoms are severe, surgery may be needed to realign the kneecap to keep it from luxating further.
- Young Yorkshire Terriers may be prone to a painful degenerative hip condition called Legg-Calve-Perthes disease. The exact cause of this condition is still not completely understood, but it is thought to be caused by a reduced blood supply to the hip, which causes the femoral head (the top of the thigh bone) to become brittle and fracture easily. Usually occurring between six and nine months of age, LCP causes pain and lameness in one or both rear legs and often requires surgery.
- Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) is a common condition in Yorkies. The disease is caused when the jelly-like cushion between one or more vertebrae slips or ruptures, causing the disc to press on the spinal cord. If your dog is suddenly unable or unwilling to jump or go upstairs, is reluctant to move around, has a hunched back, cries out, or refuses to eat or go potty, he is likely in severe pain. He may even experience sudden paralysis—he may drag his back feet or be unable to get up or use his back legs. If you see these symptoms, don’t wait! Call your primary care veterinarian or call an emergency clinic immediately! In many cases involving paralysis, surgical removal of the ruptured discs is recommended (within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms for the best results). For less severe cases, rest and medication may resolve the problem. And as with so many other diseases, weight control helps reduce the risk of IVDD. You should also provide ramps or steps for your pet from puppyhood on to prevent your dog from stressing his back by jumping on and off of the furniture.
Bladder or Kidney Stones
There are a few different types of stones that can form in the kidney or in the bladder, and Yorkshire Terriers are more likely to develop them than other breeds. Your primary care veterinarian will periodically test his urine for telltale signs indicating the presence of kidney and bladder stones, which in addition are very painful! If your buddy has blood in his urine, can’t urinate, or is straining to urinate, it is a medical emergency. Call your primary care veterinarian or an emergency clinic immediately!
Diabetes mellitus is a fairly common disease in dogs. Any breed can be affected, but Yorkies have an above-average incidence. Dogs with diabetes are unable to regulate the metabolism of sugars in their bodies and require daily insulin injections. Diabetes is a serious condition and one that is important to diagnose and treat as early as possible. Symptoms include increased eating, drinking, and urination, along with weight loss. If he shows signs, he will need lab tests to determine if he has this condition. Treatment requires a serious commitment of time and resources. Well-regulated diabetic dogs today have the same life expectancy as other canines.
In humans, allergies to pollen, mold, or dust make people sneeze. In dogs, rather than sneezing, allergies make their skin itchy. We call this skin allergy “atopy”, and Yorkies often have it. The feet, belly, folds of the skin, and ears are most commonly affected. Symptoms typically start between the ages of one and three and can get worse every year. Licking the paws, rubbing the face, and frequent ear infections are the most common signs of allergies. The good news is that there are many treatment options available for these conditions.
There are several types of inherited bleeding disorders that occur in dogs. They range in severity from very mild to very severe. Many times a pet seems normal until a serious injury occurs or surgery is performed, and then severe bleeding can result. Von Willebrand’s disease is a blood clotting disorder frequently found in Yorkshire Terriers. Your primary care veterinarian can conduct diagnostic testing for blood clotting times or a specific DNA blood test for Von Willebrand’s disease and other similar disorders to check for this problem before any surgery.
Retained Puppy Teeth
Dogs normally begin to lose their primary ("puppy") teeth at around 4 months of age. If the primary teeth don't fall out as the adult teeth come in, infection or damage to the adult teeth may occur. Retained puppy teeth crowd the incoming adult teeth and can trap food and hair between the teeth causing cavities and infections. Painful gums, bad breath, and adult tooth loss can result if untreated. Retained teeth are common in small breeds like Yorkshire Terriers, but can be monitored by you and your primary care veterinarian at each exam so you can discuss the removal of any retained puppy teeth when indicated.
The trachea, or windpipe, is made up of rings of cartilage that look similar to the ridged hose of a vacuum cleaner. This ridged structure provides both flexibility and strength to the trachea. In Yorkies, these cartilage rings are sometimes weak or incorrectly formed. As a result, the trachea can collapse and become too narrow, leading to coughing or difficulty breathing. Most cases of tracheal collapse are mild and can be treated symptomatically with medication. When symptoms are severe, however, surgery may be recommended.
Low Blood Sugar
Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is a common condition in young, small-breed dogs, like your Yorkie. Physical signs of hypoglycemia include weakness, collapse, and seizures. Hypoglycemia may occur after exercise, periods of excitement, or after missing a meal. If your little one shows any of these signs, call your primary care veterinarian right away! Most pets outgrow the tendency to hypoglycemic reactions, but it’s important to control an affected pet’s blood sugar while he’s young.
Most commonly seen in small and toy breeds like your Yorkie, hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, or HGE, is a serious and sometimes fatal disease in dogs that is characterized by bloody diarrhea, vomiting, and severe dehydration. Extensive treatment may be necessary for dogs suffering from hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, and some dogs may not survive the disease, particularly if they are not promptly treated. There are many causes of gastrointestinal disease in dogs, but any dog with these symptoms should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Taking Care of Your Yorkshire Terrier at Home
Much of what you can do to keep your dog happy and healthy is common sense, just like it is for people. Watch her diet, make sure she gets plenty of exercises, regularly brush her teeth and coat, and call your primary care veterinarian or a pet emergency hospital when something seems unusual (see “What to Watch For” below). Be sure to adhere to the schedule of examinations and vaccinations that are recommended for her. This is when she'll have the necessary “check-ups” and test for diseases and conditions that are common in Yorkies. Another very important step in caring for your pet is signing up for pet health insurance. There will certainly be medical tests and procedures she will need throughout her life and pet health insurance will help you cover those costs.
Routine Care, Diet, and Exercise
Build her routine care into your schedule to help your Yorkie live longer, stay healthier, and be happier during her lifetime. We cannot overemphasize the importance of a proper diet and exercise routine.
- Supervise your pet as you would a toddler. Keep doors closed, pick up after yourself, and block off rooms as necessary. This will keep her out of trouble and away from objects, she shouldn’t put in her mouth.
- Daily brushing and regular trimming are recommended to prevent mats and keep her long coat beautiful.
- Yorkshire Terriers often have serious problems with their teeth, so you’ll need to brush them at least three times a week!
- Clean her ears weekly, even as a puppy. Ask your primary care doctor to show you how.
- Highly active indoors, she is well suited to apartment living and traveling.
- She has a tendency to chase small animals; always leash walk your Yorkie. A harness is recommended!
- Your Yorkie can be sensitive to cold, so a warm winter wardrobe is necessary.
- Keep your dog’s diet consistent and don’t give her people food.
- Feed a high-quality diet appropriate for her age.
- Exercise your dog regularly, but don’t overdo it.
What to Watch For
Any abnormal symptom could be a sign of serious disease or it could just be a minor or temporary problem. The important thing is to be able to tell when to seek veterinary help and how urgently. Many diseases cause dogs to have a characteristic combination of symptoms, which together can be a clear signal that your Yorkshire Terrier needs help.
Call your primary care veterinarian for an appointment if you notice any of these types of signs:
- Change in appetite or water consumption
- Tartar build-up, bad breath, red gums, or broken teeth
- Itchy skin (scratching, chewing, or licking); hair loss
- Lethargy, mental dullness, or excessive sleeping
- Fearfulness, aggression, or other behavioral changes
- Drinks and urinates more; eats more; potbelly, poor haircoat
- Slow or stunted growth; sometimes seizes after eating
- Increased hunger and thirst, weight loss
Seek medical care immediately if you notice any of these types of signs:
- Scratching or shaking the head, tender ears, or ear discharge
- Inability or straining to urinate; discolored urine
- Cloudiness, redness, itching, or any other abnormality involving the eyes
- Coughing, exercise intolerance, rapid breathing at rest
- Leg stiffness; reluctance to rise, sit, use stairs, run, or jump; “bunny hopping”