Common health problems with Yorkshire Terriers

5 June 2024 - 5 min read
yorkie on tan background

Feisty, proud and fiercely loyal, Yorkshire Terriers delight owners with their surprising personalities and confidence.

Despite being a small dog, Yorkies aren't afraid to let their voices be heard. Their distinct looks and charms make them household favourites.

But like any pedigree breed, they're prone to certain health issues. Below, we discuss the most common Yorkie health issues, how they're diagnosed and how to care for one.

The most common Yorkshire Terrier health issues

Yorkshire terrier

Patella luxation

Yorkies are bow-legged, meaning their legs curve outwards at the knee. It sounds small, but over time, it causes the kneecap (patella) to not develop properly. This curve increases the chances of dislocation and limits extension. We call this patella luxation.

You'll notice this if your dog starts 'skipping' or shows signs of lameness, like:

  • An unusual stride

  • Visible pain

  • Swelling

  • Muscle loss

Vets grade patella luxation on a scale of one to four, with four being the most severe. The grading dictates the type of treatment a Yorkie will get.

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 treated medically whilst higher grades require surgical correction.

Patella luxation can lead to osteoarthritis in the knee and puts extra stress on the cruciate ligament. This really isn't good, so it's essential to get it diagnosed early and managed carefully.

Tracheal collapse

The trachea is held open during breathing by strong cartilaginous structures. Yorkshire Terriers are predisposed to this cartilage weakening. It causes the airway to flatten and narrow, which makes it hard to breathe.

It'll sound like a ‘honking’ cough, which worsens with exercise, stress, excitement or heat. This can progress to a wheezing sound when a dog is breathing. It's a serious condition that eventually leads to collapse and severe respiration difficulties.

Mild cases are usually managed with cough suppressants, anti-inflammatories or bronchodilators (a medicine that makes breathing easier). Some severely affected dogs will go on to require surgery to give the trachea permanent support.

Eye problems

Yorkshire Terriers are prone to a few eye problems. Lens luxation is a common one, and it's a hereditary condition. It happens when eye fibres, which hold the lens in place, break down. This causes the lens to fall out of its usual position.

Lens luxation is an emergency, as it causes pressure to build up in the eye, resulting in blindness. The eye will look cloudy, red and painful. It'll always need surgical treatment.

Insufficient tear production is another hereditary condition which causes something called dry eye. The surface of the eye becomes red, inflamed and irritated, leading to infections and ulcers. Treatment is possible but lifelong.

Portosystemic shunt

A congenital portosystemic shunt (PSS) will be picked up when a dog is very young. It's a disorder that causes problems with blood supply from the intestines, which means blood bypasses the liver. The liver detoxifies blood, so if the organ is skipped over, toxins build up throughout the body.

Puppies with a PSS are usually small and fail to thrive. We usually see neurological symptoms like:

  • Restlessness

  • Incoordination

  • Lethargy

  • Blindness

Surgical treatment is required to close the shunt and allow blood from the intestines to pass through the liver.

Bladder stones

Bladder stones form when there is an imbalance of minerals in the urine. Bladder stones can be painful and make dogs feel unwell. Signs include:

  • Frequent urination

  • Straining to urinate

  • Drinking more

  • Blood in the urine

There are different types of bladder stones, and the type determines treatment. Diet changes can dissolve some bladder stones, while others need surgical removal.

It’s common for dogs with bladder stones to get urinary tract infections which need to be treated with antibiotics.

How to care for a Yorkshire Terrier

Image of a Yorkshire Terrier looking into the camera on a beige background

Regular grooming and keeping ears clean

Grooming can help keep your Yorkie healthy and happy. But an important part to pay attention to is cleaning their ears, as they are prone to infection.

You can prevent ear infections by keeping your dog’s ears clean and dry at home. Regular swimming can increase the dog's chance of infection, so you shouldn’t let them get their head wet too often. Avoid getting water in the ears when you bathe them.

Ear cleaners can help remove excess wax, but they shouldn’t be used too often. Your vet can guide you on this, and our dog ear-cleaning guide can help if you're stuck.

Watch out for excessive wax/discharge or foul smells coming from the ear and get any concerns checked at the vet.

Genetic testing and selective breeding

Numerous Yorkshire Terrier health problems are hereditary, meaning they can get screened for. For example, any dogs affected by hypothyroidism shouldn't be bred. The same applies to conditions like epilepsy.

A vet will always screen for hereditary health issues if your dog's unwell. Some can only get a diagnosis after clinical examination, while others need advanced imaging like MRI or a CT scan.

Some conditions can't get screened for, but still limit a Yorkie from breeding. Cherry eye, for example, is easily spotted on clinical examination. If a dog has a cherry eye or has had to have surgical correction, it shouldn’t be used for breeding as the pups are likely to have it too.

By limiting dogs with hereditary conditions from breeding, it can help improve the general health of the breed.

Having a good relationship with your vet

Having a good, regular relationship with your vet is important because the majority of health conditions benefit from early diagnosis. For example, hypothyroidism can only be ruled out with a clinical examination and blood testing. The same applies to serious conditions like cherry eye.

Preventative pet care is the cornerstone of good health for any breed, so always trust your vet and tell them if something's up.

Picking a responsible breeder

Picking a responsible breeder is one of the most important things you can do as a dog owner.

Always ask if the Yorkshire Terrier puppy you're buying has had its health checks done.

How dog insurance helps

Yorkshire Terrier insurance protects your pet and helps you prepare for unforeseen health issues.

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.

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