Common health problems with Tibetan Terriers

18 June 2024 - 4 min read
Tibetan Terrier

Agile, friendly and revered for their temperament by Tibetan monks, these dogs are affectionate, versatile companions that'll stick by you through thick and thin. It helps that they're also so cute. We can see why you're looking to get one!

But like any pedigree, they're prone to certain health issues. Below, we list the most common health issues in Tibetan Terriers, how they're diagnosed and how to care for one.

Most common health conditions in Tibetan Terriers

Tibetan Terrier

Patella luxation

Tibetan Terriers, like a lot of small dogs, are bow-legged. This means the groove the kneecap (patella) sits in doesn't develop properly. Over time. this causes the kneecap to dislocate, preventing the knee from extending properly. This results in a 'skipping' gait or lameness, which you'll probably notice.

Patella luxation always leads to osteoarthritis in the knee and puts extra stress on the cruciate ligament, which causes further problems.

Vets grade the condition from one to four. A low grade means the dislocation is temporary and the patella is easily replaced. A high grade means the patella remains dislocated causing pain and inflammation.

Lower grades are often being treated medically. Higher grades will need surgical correction.

Hip dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is where the soft tissues that stabilise the hip joint loosen in the first few weeks of life, causing changes to the joint. Obesity and overexercise in puppyhood exacerbate these changes.

Symptoms start between six-12 months of age and include:

  • Hindlimb lameness

  • Issues with jumping or climbing stairs

  • Stiffness

Dogs with hip dysplasia always develop osteoarthritis. Hip dysplasia can be managed with:

Eye problems

Tibetan Terriers are prone to a few eye problems. Namely lens luxation, hereditary cataracts and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA).

Lens luxation occurs when the fibres holding the lens break down, causing it to fall out of position. It's a serious condition and vets define it as an emergency.

Eventually, pressure builds up in the eye leading to blindness. The eye will look cloudy and red. A vet will need to remove the lens surgically.

With hereditary cataracts, the eye appears cloudy. Owners will usually spot this in Tibetan Terriers when they're puppies. Cataracts prevent light from getting through the eye causing vision problems and blindness. Thankfully, most dogs can manage well with the condition. But cataracts will need surgical removal.

PRA is a serious condition that causes retina degeneration. Eventually, this leads to blindness. Unfortunately, there's currently no treatment.


Hypothyroidism is where an underactive thyroid gland doesn't produce enough hormones, specifically thyroid hormone.

The thyroid hormone plays numerous roles in a dog's body, like managing metabolism. Over time, issues with metabolism then lead to:

Vets diagnose it with blood testing. Thankfully, dogs can manage well with the condition well with lifelong medication.

Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis (NCL)

NCL is known as a progressive neurodegenerative disease which can affect Tibetan Terriers. It's a complicated condition that causes a substance called lypopigment lipofuscin to build up in the brain, eye, liver, spleen and kidneys. Usually, it's recycled.

It can lead to symptoms like:

  • Seizures

  • Dementia

  • Involuntary movements

  • Incoordination

  • Seizures

  • Blindness

It often doesn’t appear until a dog is five-seven years old, and the symptoms are progressive. It can be a difficult condition to diagnose.

Unfortunately, there is currently no treatment, but the condition is considered to be rare.

How to care for a Tibetan Terrier

Black-and-white Tibetan Terrier sitting down and looking into the camera on a beige background

Health screening, genetic tests and picking a responsible breeder

There are no health screening schemes for Tibetan Terriers that registered breeders need to comply with, as many of the conditions they are prone to cannot be screened for.

But some can, and dogs who can pass down hereditary conditions shouldn't be bred.

A genetic test is available for Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis, which will tell you whether a dog carries the defective gene.

Dogs need to have x-rays and a clinical examination to diagnose patella luxation and determine the grade. X-rays would also be needed to assess for hip dysplasia, and again affected individuals should not be used for breeding.

Hypothyroidism can only be ruled out with a clinical examination and blood testing. Any dogs affected by this condition shouldn't be bred.

There are genetic tests available for hereditary cataracts and PRA.

All in all, picking a responsible breeder is one of the most important things you can do as a Tibetan Terrier owner. Always speak to breeders to find out what health checks their dogs have had.

Check their eyes regularly

Keep close attention on your dog’s eyes. If you notice any worrying symptoms or think your dog might be struggling with their vision, it’s important to get them checked by a vet as soon as possible, especially as a lens luxation is considered an emergency.

Maintaining a healthy weight

You can keep your dog’s joints healthy by maintaining a healthy weight, as obesity can worsen conditions like patella luxation.  

Careful exercise during puppyhood

You should also take care when your puppy grows - they shouldn't climb stairs or jump into the car when their bones develop, and walks should be kept short.


Joint supplements might also help prevent osteoarthritis.

How dog insurance helps

Tibetan Terrier insurance has all you need to stay prepared for the unexpected and protect your pet.

Dog insurance helps with up to £15,000 vet fee cover, unlimited 24/7 vet calls with FirstVet and a host of other perks.

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Get £15,000 lifetime vet fee cover with our Complete policy.

A person high fiving a dog

After graduating from the University of Nottingham, Holly spent two years as a farm animal vet. She then travelled and volunteered in India, working at neutering clinics and with injured street dogs. Holly now works in small animal practice, balancing this with writing and volunteering with the comms team at Vet Sustain. She's also a marine mammal medic!