Yorkshire Terrier Health Problems – Common Issues

Health issues in a particular breed of dog are typically inherited or congenital, but can sometimes even be acquired. We’re going to discuss some of the most common Yorkshire Terrier health problems, and teach you how to spot symptoms early on so that your dog can have the best possible outcome and live a long happy life!

Many Yorkshire Terriers live their whole life with little or no health problems, so don’t be too worried about your little one having or acquiring these issues. Responsible Yorkie breeders work hard to eliminate inherited health conditions from their bloodlines, keeping the health of the puppies a top priority. However, genes can sometimes skip several generations, so even the best breeders can’t avoid all of these problems 100% of the time.

It’s best to educate yourself just in case you need to take action against one of these health concerns.

Genetic Defects

The following list contains the most common defects and health concerns that are typically found in Yorkshire Terriers.

1. Hypoplasia of dens – This is when the pivot point of the second cervical vertebra does not form, leading to spinal cord damage.

  • Onset – Symptoms can begin at any age
  • Symptoms – Can range from neck pain to full paralysis of all four limbs. (quadriplegia)
  • Diagnosis – A vet will be able to determine via X-ray.

2. Luxating Patellas – One of the more common of the genetic defects is luxating patellas, or slipping kneecaps. This condition can also be caused by an injury obtained from a fall, or from jumping off of things that are too high up. The kneecaps should fit snug and secure just within the walls of bowl-like structures called the patellar grooves. It is held in the correct place by strong tendons and ligaments. If the dog is born with shallow patellar grooves, or weak tendons and/or ligaments, the patella (kneecap) can easily dislocate by slipping sideways outside of the patellar groove. This causes the knee to lock-up and makes it very difficult and sometimes impossible for the dog to use the affected leg.

    • Onset – Symptoms can begin early because of a genetic defect, or can develop later due to an injury.
    • Symptoms – Usually the dog will let out a cry when the kneecap comes out of place. With some dogs it will cause temporary lameness until the kneecap goes back into place again, and other dogs will continue to walk even on a kneecap that is dislocated. Most dogs will either limp for a while when this happens, or hold up the affected leg. More serious cases can make the dog completely unable to walk, until the issue is resolved through surgery.
    • Diagnosis – Can be detected through ultrasound or X-ray.
    • Treatment – Many Yorkies only have occasional issues with luxating patellas, which calls for some ant-inflammatory medications and bed rest. Others have a more severe case, and have almost constant issues, which typically requires surgery to repair, at a 90% success rate.
    • Preventative care – Unfortunately, when a Yorkie has an issue with this, it tends to happen again and again. The more the kneecap is shifting around and rubbing against the patellar grooves, the shallower the grooves become, making it eveneasier for the kneecap to dislocate. Having your dog walk uphill outdoors or on atreadmill, can help to strengthen the tendons and ligaments that hold the kneecap in the correct place. It is also important to keep your pup from jumping off of high surfaces, like couches and beds. If you still want your Yorkie to join you on the couch or in bed, encourage them to walk up a little set of stairs like these ones below.

3. Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease – This is an Avascular necrosis of the femoral head. This means that the ball of the thighbone dies due to lack of adequate blood flow to the hip area.

  • Onset – Early on. Usually between 5 and 8 months of age.
  • Symptoms – Pain, limping, or losing the ability to walk.
  • Diagnosis – X-rays, sometimes a few different ones to confirm.
  • Treatment – Surgery must be performed to remove the section of bone which has died. Recovery can be a long process, but fibrous tissue will form and act as a cushion in the dog’s joint, to prevent bone from rubbing on bone. The leg will be a bit shorter than the other legs, which could cause a permanent limp, but a lot of Yorkies regain almost normal use of the leg.

4. Distichiae, eyelashes – When an eyelash grows in an abnormal location, or in an abnormal direction on the eyelid. They often emerge through the opening of the meibomian gland. This can cause irritation to the eyes, and bring on problems such as: tearing, squinting, inflammation, corneal abrasions, or corneal ulcers, and scarring.

  • Onset – Can occur at any age
  • Symptoms – squinting, eye irritation, rubbing at the eye, not being able to open the eye, redness, and eye discharge.
  • Diagnosis – A vet will be able to examine your dog’s eye and see if there is an abnormally growing eyelash.
  • Treatment – manual removal, electrolysis, and in more difficult to remove areas, surgery can be performed.

5. Retinal Dysplasia – There is a thin layer of tissue which covers the back of a dog’s eye called the retina. When a dog has Retinal Dysplasia, it means that there is an irregularity with that tissue. The irregularities can vary in severity. If the dog has retinal folds, then he or she will likely only have some blind spots in her vision, and will be able to function, and live a normal life. If the dog has a more serious irregularity it can cause greater vision issues and in some cases, complete blindness. There are other dog breeds that are more prone to this as well. Breeders working with dogs that are prone to this problem should do thorough testing and screening to make sure this is not present in their dogs. If it is, then they should not be bred.

  • Onset – This is usually an inherited condition, so it can be present from birth. However, it is believed that it can also be caused by damage to the eye, or from infections in the eye.
  • Symptoms – You may notice that your dog is running into things, looking for you when you’re right in front of them, stumbling over objects, or having a hard time finding his way about the house. These can definitely be signs of Retinal Dysplasia, or a vision problem in general.
  • Diagnosis – This can usually be detected through regular eye exams, and if your vet suspects it, they will make an appointment for your dog to be tested by an ophthalmologist.
  • Treatment – There is currently no treatment for this. The best thing you can do is learn how to give your Yorkie the best life possible given their condition. In many scenarios the condition is mild and you will hardly know your Yorkie has it, if you even notice at all. If the dog has a severe enough irregularity which causes partial or complete blindness, rest assured that most can learn to adjust very well to a life without sight. They learn to compensate with their other senses, and usually get around quite well! Make sure you keep the dog’s surroundings as familiar as possible. Keep their belongings, and food/water dishes in the same places. Give them a daily routine they can get used to and enjoy, and be very sensitive when introducing them to new and possibly scary situations.

6. Portosystemic Shunt – This is a congenital malformation of the Portal Vein. The Portal Vein has the job of bringing blood to the liver for cleansing. When the portal vein is malformed, it fails to bring a portion of the uncleaned blood to the liver. Some blood bypasses the liver and travels to the heart, brain, lungs, and other organs. Because this blood was not cleansed by the liver, it actually poisons the other organs that it come in contact with.

  • Onset – This in an inherited condition that is present at birth, so it is good to know the symptoms so you can spot them quickly in a puppy. In most cases symptoms start to present themselves before the dog’s first birthday.
  • Symptoms – Poor growth, small and generally lanky looking stature, poor muscle tone, diminished ability to learn, little to no appetite, staggering or poor coordination, disorientation, vomiting, diarrhea, changes in behavior, and drooling. If it goes on without treatment the dog can suffer from seizures, blindness, coma, and even death. Symptoms usually worsen shortly after eating.
  • Diagnosis – Your Doctor will run a series of blood tests, and other tests to confirm this diagnosis.
  • Treatment – In most cases surgery is performed and it is usually successful. In some instances a second surgery is needed. Another treatment option is to put the dog on a low protein diet, and medications to help remove toxins from the blood, however this is not a cure. The affected pup will still have flare-ups, and it is likely that he or she will have a shortened lifespan.

7. Collapsed Trachea – This is a common condition in Yorkies and also in other toy breeds. The walls of the trachea are made up of several incomplete rings. (Imagine a vacuum cleaner hose) Some Yorkie’s rings on their trachea walls are weak due to genetics, and this can worsen over time. It can also be caused by Cushing’s Syndrome. This is when the adrenal glands over-produce the steroid hormone, causing cartilage to become weak which can lead to trachea collapse. Trauma to the neck area, or too much pressure on the trachea can also cause the trachea to weaken and end up collapsing. For this reason it is very important to always use a harness with a Yorkie, and other toy breeds, instead of a traditional collar. Using a traditional collar can put too much pressure on the throat if the dog pulls, or if you pull the dog back with the leash.

  • Onset – A Yorkie can be born with weak trachea walls, and the condition can worsen over time, but this condition can also be acquired.
  • Symptoms – A “honk-like” cough (especially when excited, exercising, drinking, or eating) gagging, labored breathing, and wheezing.
  • Diagnosis – This can be diagnosed with X-Rays
  • Treatment – The cough can be helped with cough suppressants and bronchodilators. Keeping the dog out of very cold weather, away from smoke, and keeping them at a healthy weight will also be beneficial to a dog with this condition. In very severe cases surgery will be necessary.


Other Common Health Issues

Hypoglycemia – Hypoglycemia is very common in Yorkies and other toy breeds. It typically

occurs sometime within the first four months of life. It can happen to older dogs as well, but this is pretty uncommon, and usually comes along with other health conditions. It is very important to watch a Yorkie puppy closely in those first four months. Hypoglycemia is brought on by a sudden drop in blood sugar levels. This is very dangerous, and can lead to brain damage and even death if it is not caught quickly enough. The brain needs sugar to function, and if it is not receiving enough, a hypoglycemic attack can occur.

  • Cause – This is usually caused by the puppy not eating often enough. Yorkie puppies are very small and cannot store as much glucose in their tiny muscles. They need to eat often (every 3-4 hours) in order to have enough glucose available to their body at all times. An attack can also be brought on by stress, lack of proper nutrition, too cold of an environment, fatigue, a diet change, or an underlying health issue.
  • Symptoms – Drowsiness, shaking, listlessness, poor coordination, fainting, weakness, tremors, seizures, body temperature dropping, and even going into a coma. A puppy may show one or many of these symptoms, and the situation can elevate incredibly quick. You must take action immediately, and seek medical attention in order to save the puppy’s’s life.
  • Diagnosis – Your veterinarian will be able to tell quickly if your pup is suffering from a hypoglycemic attack, older dogs may require some testing.
  • Treatment – If you get a Yorkie puppy, you should keep honey, dark kero corn syrup, or a product like Nutri-Cal on hand so that you can give it to the dog at the first sign of an attack. Rubbing it on the gums, or dabbing a small amount on your finger and letting them lick it, (if they are able to) should be done to help the Yorkie get some sugar into their system. It is also important to keep the puppy warm. A few heating pads or some heated up corn bags placed around the dog will do. Once you’ve done these steps, the dog needs to be rushed to the vet right away. Your veterinarian will give your dog a dextrose solution and keep your puppy on an IV until he or she is able to regulate their own blood sugar again.

*Note*  When I got my pup, I was advised by the breeder to put a pea size amount of dark kero syrup in her drinking water to keep her blood sugar levels stabilized, and to also rub a small amount on her gums first thing in the morning, and before bed. Doing this, along with feeding every 3-4 hours, worked well for us, and she never had any issues. Prevention is best!!

Dental Disease

Yorkies are prone to developing teeth issues. Common problems are excessive tartar build up, gum disease, and teeth falling out prematurely. Yorkie’s mouths and teeth are so small, and can become crowded. This makes it easier for plaque to hide and build up. If the build up gets bad enough, bacteria will begin to develop on the surface of the teeth, leading to periodontal disease. This can even lead to heart and kidney problems if the bacteria spreads throughout the body.

The best treatment in this case is prevention! It is so important to brush a Yorkie’s teeth regularly with toothpaste made specifically for dogs. Some Yorkies may need professional cleaning done by a veterinarian if they have problems with excessive tartar build up, or if they are not good about getting their teeth brushed.


Keeping your Fur Baby in tip top shape!

Now you know some of the most common health concerns that a Yorkie could face, how to spot the symptoms, and how to help prevent some of them from happening.

Some other things that should be paid attention to in order to keep your Yorkie a happy and healthy pup are:

  • Yearly check-ups at the Vet. This is very important! A veterinarian will be able to catch things that you may not be able to see.
  • Keep up with Vaccinations. It’s important to keep your pet vaccinated against harmful diseases. (puppies should not be brought into public places until they have received all of their vaccinations)
  • Use Flea/Tick and Heartworm medications YEAR ROUND. It is less likely for a dog to get fleas/ticks and heartworms in the winter, but it is still a concern, especially in warmer climates. Be safe, not sorry.
  • Practice regular grooming. If you decide to keep your Yorkie’s hair long, he or she will need daily brushing, and a Yorkie kept in a short cut will need their hair cut every month or two. Your dog will also need their ears kept clean, toenails clipped, and teeth brushed. If you’d like to learn how to do a simple low maintenance cut on your Yorkie at home Click Here to see our tutorial!
  • Feed your Yorkie a well balanced and nutritious dog food. This is more important than some may realize! Yorkie’s are known for having very sensitive tummies. Digestive issues are common. A quality dog food will help tremendously with keeping your dog healthy and to keep their digestive system working properly. To read more about Yorkie’s nutritional needs, and some of our top recommended dry dog food choices. Click Here!
  • Exercise is important for little dogs too! Yorkies can generally get enough exercise just by chasing squirrels, and tearing around your house. However, this doesn’t stop there natural drive to walk! Dogs crave walking and seeing the world. It helps calm them physically and mentally and reduces anxieties. A healthy mental state is just as important as a healthy body physically! Make sure you are using a harness while walking instead of a traditional collar and leash. To read our post about our favorited harnesses for small dogs, click here!
  • Love. If you are knowledgeable about Yorkie Health concerns, and you give your four legged Best Friend plenty of attention and love, you can expect them to be a wonderful and cuddly companion for years to come!


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For further reading on the average lifespan of the Yorkshire Terrier, and how you can help give them a long and happy life, click here! 

If you have any questions at all, Willow and I would love to help! Let us know in the comment section below, and we will bark back to you as soon as we can.  (A friendly bark of course)  



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