Chihuahua dog breed

Let me say this up front: I love all dogs. Every single one I see in my practice brings a smile of joy to my face. But I often have concerns about certain small dog breeds, either because they may be prone to specific health problems or because they have reached such heights of popularity that mass production by puppy mills or careless breeders has put them at risk of overpopulating shelters instead of homes.

Because of this, there are some dogs I would like to see less of in my practice. Not because I think they’re bad — there’s no such thing as a “bad” dog in my book. Instead, I would like to see fewer of these types of dogs, and I would like them all to have better health and ample opportunities for loving, lifelong homes.

Which dogs worry me the most? These five Toy dog breeds.

Lovable but Trouble

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel: You might be surprised to hear me say this — Cavaliers are wonderful little dogs with sweet temperaments. They easily capture the hearts of their owners, but it’s their own hearts that I worry about. Because of their limited gene pool, Cavaliers are prone to early onset of a common heart problem in dogs: mitral valve disease. Because of this, their life spans can be as short as six to 10 years. These dogs should live up to 14 years or more. Some of them do, but not enough. Veterinary researchers and breeders are seeking an answer to this health concern, but until they find one, I’d like to see this breed’s skyrocketing popularity come back down to Earth.

Chihuahua: The great thing about Chihuahuas is their long life spans. It’s not unusual for these tiny dogs with the ginormous personalities to live 15-plus years with regular wellness care. Some of them even live into their 20s. For a dedicated owner, that’s a huge bonus. But it worries me that so many of these entertaining but bossy little dogs end up in shelters. There are so many in states such as California and Arizona that they are often airlifted or trucked to other states, where they are less common and in higher demand. Until that problem is solved, I’d like to see fewer of them walk through the doors of my practice.

Yorkshire Terrier: The terrors, er, Terriers of the Toy Group, Yorkies are mischief makers who are full of themselves — and that’s saying a lot, given their minuscule size. I love their independent nature and their sense that they are as big as Great Danes, but they can have health and behavioral problems that get them into trouble. Among their health concerns are portosystemic shunts, luxating patellas and collapsing tracheae. They’re also easily injured because of their tiny size. Behavior wise, it’s all too easy to ignore house-training or training in general. That can turn what should be a smart, highly trainable, well-behaved dog into a little tyrant. These are all among the reasons that it’s not unusual to find Yorkies and Yorkie mixes available in shelters or through rescue groups. As a veterinarian and dog lover, I’d love to see fewer Yorkies, all with better health and good homes with people who will give them the combination of love and training they need to thrive.

Puggle: This popular hybrid, or designer, dog (a combination of a Pug and Beagle) has a lot going for him. For starters, he’s cute and sweet. But as a blend of two very different breeds, he can have some issues that may become prominent and problematic after the cute factor wears off. Take his shedding — please! Both Pugs and Beagles shed heavily. When you combine the two breeds into a single dog, you’re going to wind up with a shedder — and often, people don’t realize this before they get one. Another factor is size. It’s not unusual for Puggles to grow bigger than buyers expect. And they can have the breathing problems associated with Pugs, as well as the high energy level associated with Beagles. Those are all problems that can land them in shelters or with rescue groups, seeking a family who recognizes and understands their quirks.

Teacup anything: It’s easy to understand the appeal of teeny-tiny dogs. We humans are attracted to extremes, and the idea of a dog who fits into the palm of a hand is almost irresistible. But it must be resisted. Micro dogs weighing three pounds or less at adulthood are more prone to serious health problems and generally live shorter lives. It’s hard on them, and it’s hard on their families to lose them at an early age. There are plenty of small dogs who are healthy; let’s not encourage the breeding of tiny, unhealthy dogs simply so we can have bragging rights about whose dog is the smallest.

I know that talking trash about any breed is almost certain to roil pet owners who’ve had good — or great — luck with any of these breeds. But knowing I’m going to receive some zingers in response to this article won’t deter me; I’ll wear my thick skin proudly, as this is a discussion we need to have.

That said, my veterinary colleagues and I are always here to help you care for your dog — whatever size or breed or mix — so he can have the chance to live the healthiest, happiest life possible.

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