Yorkshire Terriers are a healthy dog breed, often enjoying a lifespan of 12 to 15 years. But like all breeds, Yorkies are prone to several inherited diseases, as well as health issues that commonly plague small breeds.
Keep reading to learn about the breed’s most common health issues and how to treat or prevent these problems from occurring.
In this guide:
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Yorkie health issues & diseases
Here’s an overview of several of the most common Yorkie health problems.
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Hypoglycemia is a sudden drop in blood sugar levels. It is common in toy breeds like Yorkshire Terriers. Hypoglycemia usually occurs in Yorkie puppies under five months of age. Since it can be life-threatening, be sure to have your Yorkie checked out by your vet.
A Yorkie’s body needs a balanced amount of glucose (sugar) in their blood to function properly. Their bodies use muscle and fat reserves to store extra glucose until needed.
Yorkie puppies, however, are so small that they lack the muscle mass and fat reserves to store extra glucose.1 When a Yorkie hasn’t eaten in a while and its body requires glucose, it has none to give, resulting in a hypoglycemic episode.
There are a variety of causes of hypoglycemia. The most common causes of hypoglycemia in Yorkie puppies are poor quality food, not eating often enough, dehydration, stress, infection, and hypothermia.1 All of these quickly deplete a puppy’s blood glucose levels.
Symptoms vary greatly and may include the following:1, 2
- Fast breathing
- Rapid heart rate
- Twitching (especially of the facial muscles)
Immediate attention is necessary to save your puppy’s life and prevent permanent brain damage. Rub a sugar syrup (nothing containing xylitol), like honey or similar, on the gums of your Yorkie’s mouth. Your Yorkie should respond quickly to the sugar. Once stabilized, take your Yorkie to a vet. They will most likely perform a few tests including a glucose level test.
Talk to your vet about possible causes to determine the best treatment for your pup. Most likely treatment will involve switching to a protein-rich puppy food and feeding three times a day rather than twice.
Yorkies are prone to dental issues, due to their small jaws and the propensity of overcrowded teeth. This leads to a buildup of plaque that can result in decay and disease that may spread to other organs.
- Halitosis (bad breath)
- Difficulty eating or holding toys in the mouth
- Aggression when you approach their face
- Swollen or inflamed gums
- Loss of teeth
You should brush your Yorkie’s teeth every day to avoid the buildup of plaque and tartar that leads to dental decay. In addition, you should get your dog’s teeth professionally cleaned at least once per year. Your vet should also take x-rays to monitor developing periodontal disease. By staying ahead of the problem, you can avoid unnecessary extractions. You can learn more about the signs, syptoms, and prevention of periodontal disease in our guide to Yorkie teeth.
Legg-Perthes is a disease of the hip joint where the top of the femur bone begins to die. It is more common in toy dog breeds and usually occurs between four and 12 months of age. It is unknown what causes this disease, but researchers believe that it is passed on genetically.
- Inability to bear weight
- Loss of muscle mass from lack of use
- Decreased joint function
It is usually diagnosed with x-rays. In some rare cases, treatment may be unnecessary as the hip area heals itself within a few months.3 However, the deterioration usually progresses to severe arthritis.
Some Yorkies can be treated with pain medication while more serious cases require surgery to remove the affected area or replace the hip entirely. The good news is that most Yorkies who have surgery make a full recovery with little-to-no pain.
Retinal dysplasia is a genetic disease that involves abnormal development of the retina.4 If the retina is greatly affected, it may result in complete retinal detachment, which leads to blindness.
It will be present at birth or weeks after, and the abnormality does not change except for the possibility of complete detachment. It commonly affects both eyes.
You will not see any physical symptoms of this disease. You may only notice your pup having trouble seeing things. Luckily, in the mildest form, vision is not impaired and your Yorkie may lead a completely normal life. In more severe cases, however, partial or full vision will be lost.
Retinal dysplasia is typically diagnosed by an eye examination. Sadly, there is no treatment to cure this disease. However, those with mild cases tend to fare well. But pups with severe cases may become blind within a year. You can help your Yorkie adjust to vision loss by keeping their bed, food dish, and walking path the same.
Since this is believed to be a genetic disease, breeders are encouraged to avoid breeding Yorkies with even mild retinal dysplasia as offspring tend to develop more severe cases.
Luxating patella is the dislocation of the kneecap. It happens when the muscles and tendons fail to hold the kneecap snugly in the patellar groove. It could be that the groove is shallow or the muscles and tendons are too weak to keep the kneecap firmly in place. Thus, it slips sideways out of the groove, causing a lot of pain.
It is usually a genetic health issue, but it can also occur with trauma to the knee.
Luxating patella typically occurs in young Yorkies, although the symptoms may not be evident until the dog is older, before three years old.6
Often your Yorkie will let out a cry when the kneecap dislocates, as it can be quite painful. Some dogs will stop walking altogether, while others will continue to walk with the kneecap dislocated. You also may notice the dog stretching its leg backward in an attempt to realign its kneecap into the right position.6
Yorkie puppies or young adults may walk in a sort of skipping gait in which the puppy will pull up the leg for several steps before returning it to the ground.5 Their gate may return to normal when the kneecap returns to the correct position—until dislocation occurs again.
In adult Yorkies, you may notice lameness with occasional skipping. Most owners notice that the dog’s ability to walk only gets worse with time.
Your vet will do a thorough examination which will most likely include testing joint flexibility and watching the Yorkie’s gait while walking and trotting. They may suggest X-rays to confirm the diagnosis.
There are a few treatments that may help your Yorkie. In mild cases, Yorkies may respond well to anti-inflammatory medications. Other successful treatments may include physical, massage and water therapy. It’s important to keep your Yorkie at a healthy weight to avoid unnecessary pressure on the injured joint.
More serious cases may involve surgery. If surgery is necessary, experts recommend getting the surgery sooner rather than later to avoid further joint deterioration.6
This Yorkie illness causes the normally C-shaped trachea (imagine a vacuum hose) to become thin like a flattened straw.7 Sometimes it only occurs in one or two cartilage rings, but in serious cases, the entire trachea can be collapsed. Tracheal collapse can be life-threatening.
Experts believe that tracheal collapse is due to either a genetic predisposition to tissue weakness between the trachea cartilage rings or other existing Yorkie diseases, such as Cushing disease, chronic respiratory disease, or heart disease. It occurs more frequently in overweight Yorkies.
It also can occur when dogs pull against their collar. Therefore, it is highly recommended that Yorkies have their leash attached to a body harness rather than to their collar.
Collapsed trachea is very common in small breed dogs and one of the most common Yorkie health problems. Typically it occurs at middle age, but it can occur at any age.
Here’s a helpful overview of the causes of and treatments for collapsed trachea from Veterinarian Karen Becker:
Symptoms of a collapsed trachea are:
- A honk-like cough
- Panting (which makes it worse)
- Difficulty breathing
- Gagging while eating
This breathing difficulty often leads to your Yorkie anxiety as well.
Diagnosis & treatment
X-rays or fluoroscopy (a moving X-ray) allow your vet to watch your Yorkie’s trachea as your dog breathes in and out. Before diagnosing trachea collapse, veterinarians should take the time to eliminate other Yorkie diseases or ailments, such as a foreign object lodged in the trachea, heart failure, or tumors or infection in the trachea.
Calming your dog’s coughing is crucial, since it exacerbates the issue. Dr. Becker recommends a few natural remedies to minimize coughing: a cool tincture of slippery elm tea, cherry bark tea, licorice root, mullein, or organic honey added to dog food.8
Medications prescribed by your veterinarian may include: steroids to bring down inflammation, bronchodilators that open the trachea, cough suppressants, cartilage builders. Additionally, Dr. Becker recommends supplements, weight loss plans, CBD oil, and possibly anxiety medications.8
If there are other factors contributing to the issue, like obesity or respiratory infection, those should also be treated, as this will help reduce symptoms of collapsed trachea.
Evaluate your dog’s environment
Things like chemical cleaners, delicious-smelling candles, and smoking in the home may be making your Yorkie’s health issues worse. You can also assume that any non-organic dog bed has been sprayed with flame-retardant chemicals, which may exacerbate the issue.
Consider buying organic products for your dog and getting an air purifier if you smoke or use a lot of chemical-laden cleaners around the home.
You should also eliminate anything that routinely goes around your dog’s neck, such as collars or clothing.
Surgery will be considered in the most serious cases when the situation threatens your dog’s life. Surgery involves placing either a stent or plastic rings inside of the trachea, which will open the trachea and allow the dog to breathe more efficiently. Unfortunately, this type of surgery often comes with the potential for complications that may require another surgery a few years later.
Liver shunts are a birth defect that occur while the dog is a developing fetus inside of its mother, and a part of the puppy’s liver does not close and seal entirely.
The liver is a complex organ that processes and distributes proteins, gets rid of toxins in the blood, and exists as a storage place for sugar. It requires blood flow to it and through it to accomplish these duties. When your Yorkie has liver shunts, their blood cannot get to and through their liver, so the liver is not able to do its job efficiently.
There are two major types of liver shunts: intrahepatic (inside the liver) and extrahepatic (outside the liver).9 Yorkies tend to experience shunts inside the liver, while larger breeds tend to have issues externally.
- Because the liver is not detoxing as it should, the toxins continue through the body up to the brain where they can affect the central nervous system. This can result in vomiting, lethargy, appearing unresponsive, and in the worst cases, seizures.
- Without proper protein distribution to the body, the Yorkie’s body can’t grow adequately, which results in Failure to Thrive. Failure to Thrive means that the puppy will be small from lack of growth, be fairly inactive, have poor muscle tone, and won’t develop like other puppies. You can track your puppy’s progress with our Yorkie growth chart.
- Sometimes liver shunts are detected when the puppy takes two-to-three times the amount of time to recover from anesthesia, as the liver processes the anesthetic.
Diagnosis & treatment
To diagnose a liver shunt, your vet will most likely do blood work, specifically a liver test of bile acids. Further testing may include MRI, CT, or portography (which watches blood flow). These additional tests can indicate where the problem is located, whether inside or outside of the liver.
Surgery is a good option for many cases. Intrahepatic shunts are less likely to have a good outcome with surgery than extrahepatic shunts. And intrahepatic shunts tend to have more secondary complications after surgery. Extrahepatic surgeries have much better outcomes.
If your Yorkie has been diagnosed with a liver shunt but displays no signs of health impairment, there may be some natural remedies you can use to manage your dog’s condition.
Plants such as milk thistle, dandelion, and some homeopathic or Chinese herbal medications may help the body detox itself without an operating liver, although you should consult a vet before beginning any such treatment.
Since the liver is responsible for processing proteins and essential to your dog’s body, you may want to work with a pet nutritionist to create a homemade, low-protein diet that contains only great-quality protein. Many low-protein, commercially manufactured dog foods do not have great-quality protein that is bioavailable to your dog’s body.
>> Read more: Yorkie Foods: What They Can Eat & What to Avoid
If your dog has been diagnosed with liver shunt, it’s important to follow your veterinarian’s instructions and monitor your dog’s health closely. However, you shouldn’t be overly distressed. Many dogs diagnosed with liver shunt go on to live very happy lives.
Here’s another helpful overview from Dr. Becker on how to treat a Yorkie with a liver shunt.
Pancreatitis is an extremely common and serious Yorkie disease brought on mostly by a high-fat diet. It refers to an inflammation of the pancreas. It can be a very mild, slow-developing Yorkie health problem or a sudden and life-threatening illness.
The pancreas has two jobs: to secrete insulin and secrete digestive enzymes.
The problem is that many commercially manufactured dog foods are so overly processed that they lack natural enzymes that aid in digestion. Therefore, the pancreas must produce an abundant amount of digestive enzymes, which taxes the pancreas.
There are also a few drugs that can induce pancreatitis, such as anti-seizure drugs or prednisone.10
The following symptoms may occur during pancreatic episodes, and if the issue is not remediated, episodes recur.
Pancreatitis can often resemble a stomach bug. Symptoms may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Decreased appetite
Diagnosis & treatment
Pancreatitis is usually diagnosed by a PLI blood test.
Immediate care during an episode involves avoiding both water and food and informing your vet. Your vet may recommend hospitalization with IV fluids and antibiotics if the episode is life-threatening.
After the episode has passed, you may be advised to switch to a nutrient-rich, low-fat diet. This will help but may not be enough. Dr. Becker suggests giving your pet a high-quality supplement of digestive enzymes.10 Your vet may also recommend medications to assist the function of the pancreas.
>> Read more: Yorkie Allergies: What Are Yorkies Allergic To?
Tips for preventing Yorkie health problems
Taking these basic steps can help your Yorkie live a long, healthy, happy life.
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1. Find the right breeder
You can minimize the risk of having a puppy with a genetic disease by choosing the right breeder.
Avoid choosing puppies from pet stores or puppy mills (yikes!) as care has likely not been taken to minimize passing on genetic diseases. Also, avoid breeders who specialize in teacup or miniature sizes of any given breed; these tend to be bred for size rather than health, which is why Teacup Yorkies tend to have a shorter life expectancy than full-sized dogs.
Go to local breeders rather than breeders who ship puppies, as these are more likely to be puppy mills. You should also call a breeder’s references to ensure there are no genetically transferred Yorkshire Terrier health issues in the breeding line.
Look for an AKC-registered breeder who provides AKC registrations for the puppies, post-adoption support, and health guarantees. You should also ask to see the parents of the puppies.
2. Choose the right Yorkie food
Your Yorkie’s food is probably the most important thing you can do to prevent illness. Substitute low-quality, cheap food for high-quality, nutrient-rich food in a balanced diet. It may be more expensive initially, but it could save you a lot in vet bills down the line—not to mention the health and wellness of your pup. See our review of the best food for Yorkies for some high-quality choices.
If you are unsure about the quality of your Yorkie’s food, speak with your vet or contact a pet nutritionist. When you switch foods, introduce the change slowly to avoid upsetting your dog’s sensitive stomach.
And as fun as it is to give your little furball treats, it’s important to keep these to a minimum. Choose all-natural treats that are good for Yorkies to avoid the risk of blowing through your pup’s daily calorie count or exposing them to nasty chemicals and sugar.
3. Create a safe environment
Toxic chemicals in household products and smoking can be harmful to your Yorkie, especially Yorkies with respiratory issues.
Avoid toxic cleaners and scented items like air fresheners, plug-ins and candles. And do your research before diffusing essential oils. Finally, consider air purifiers for respiratory illnesses.
It’s no secret that dogs love walks. They like to sniff and explore their world. But just as a good walk can be invigorating and rejuvenating for your mind and body, they can also improve your pup’s health.
Not only do walks keep them strong, but they also keep their weight in check. Just be sure to use a harness rather than attaching the leash to your Yorkie’s collar.
To sum things up
Preventative care, a healthy diet and plenty of exercise can go a long way in maintaining good Yorkie health. If you do notice a problem, take your Yorkie’s health issues seriously to avoid the problem from getting worse.
- Idowu, O., Heading, K. Hypoglycemia in dogs: Causes, management, and diagnosis. The Canadian Veterinary Journal. 2018 Jun; 59(6): 642–649. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5949948/
- Transient Juvenile Hypoglycaemia in a Yorkshire Terrier and in a Chihuahua. M. W. Vroom &R. J. Slappendel. Pages 172-176 | Published online: 01 Nov 2011. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/01652176.1987.9694093?needAccess=true
- Warren, D., Dingwall, J. Legg-Perthes disease in the dog–a review. The Canadian Veterinary Journal. 1972 Jun; 13(6): 135–137. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1695790/?page=2
- Morgan, R. Retinal Dysplasia. https://www.saintfrancis.org/wp-content/uploads/Retinal-Dysplasia.pdf
- Harasen, G. Patellar Luxation. The Canadian Veterinary Journal. 2006 Aug; 47(8): 817–818. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1524842/
- Di Dona, F., Della Valle, G., and Fatone, G. Patellar luxation in dogs. Vet Med. 2018; 9: 23–32. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6055913/.
- Becker, K. Trachea Collapse. 23 Oct. 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3N7G2Ti53k
- Becker, K. Liver Shunts. 22 Nov. 2010. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fAh8rWFD4PI
- Becker, K. Pet Pancreatitis and How to Avoid It. 31 Mar 2010. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9AqA8n0fAtk