13 Common Yorkshire Terrier Health Issues

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You’ve decided the perfect pooch for you might just be a Yorkshire Terrier, these adorable pint-sized pups can make wonderful dogs but they also come with some known disease predispositions. Not every Yorkshire Terrier, affectionately known as a Yorkie, will experience any or all of the health conditions listed in this article. They are however at a higher genetic risk of having these issues (just like some humans are genetically predisposed to certain diseases). And remember, all dogs have one or two issues.

The most common Yorkie health related issues include orthopedic problems, respiratory and dental issues and also eye problems. It’s important to know which diseases your future pooch may be predisposed to as this allows you to make an informed decision about what your Yorkshire terrier pup may experience through their life. 

If you have your heart set on purchasing a Yorkshire terrier or if you’re considering rescuing one from a shelter then have a read through this article which will walk you through the main breed concerns that these dog’s can experience.

Common health problems

In this section, we discuss some of the main genetic issues that Yorkshire terrier may experience. 

Genetic diseases are those caused by an aberration in the animal’s DNA compared to those without the disease. 

Not every dog of the breed will experience one or maybe even any of these diseases but it means that they are at a higher risk of developing them. 

Orthopedic Issues

Luxating patella

A luxating patella is one that “pops out” or moves out of its normal anatomical alignment and occurs in about 25% of all Yorkshire terriers. Most commonly seen in small breed dogs, up to 12 times more than in large breeds, other breeds affected include Jack Russell terriers and Chihuahuas. While a luxating patella can affect dogs of any age, it’s mostly diagnosed in younger Yorkies, particularly females or those that are below the average weight for the breed. 

The most commonly reported sign of a luxating patella is an intermittent lameness where your Yorkie may suddenly lift one of their hind limbs when running and “skip” for a few steps. dogs usually return to a normal walking gait within a few minutes after kicking out their affected leg. One or both hind limbs can be affected by luxating patella. Generally classified as a painless disease, the recurrent scraping of cartilage within the stifle (knee) joint causes damage and leads to pain in the future and even development of osteoarthritis. 

If the luxation or “popping out” occurs very rarely then your veterinarian will prescribe physiotherapy, controlled exercise and periods of rest. If however the limp is occurring more regularly or your Yorkie has developed pain associated with the luxation then surgery may be indicated to prevent it from occurring in the future. While there’s no way to prevent a luxating patella, you can prevent it from occurring in future generations by not breeding any Yorkshire terrier that has had “knee cap” problems in the past.

  • Recap
    • Luxating patella is “popping out” of the “knee cap” from its normal alignment
    • Commonly seen in small breeds of dogs and has an inherited component
    • Signs include intermittent lameness that seems painless with spontaneous resolution after a few steps
    • Treatment can be rest and controlled exercise with physiotherapy or in more severe cases, surgery

Legg-Calvé-Perthes Disease

This disease is a relatively common one in small and toy dog breeds. Characterised by hind limb lameness, this is a developmental abnormality that leads to an interruption of the blood supply to the femoral head within the hip joint. The femoral head is the “ball” in the hip joint” and the loss of blood causes cell death by preventing the femoral head from proper function. Pint sized pooches such as Yorkies, Maltese, Cairn and Tibetan terriers are commonly affected and this disease has a strong genetic predisposition though some dogs that have suffered a trauma can also develop this really painful condition.

Younger pups are diagnosed before they reach skeletal maturity in the majority of cases and signs include a progressive lameness that later leads to an inability to stand on an affected leg. This can occur in one or both hind limbs causing an apparent shortening of the affected leg with loss of muscle mass over the hip and down the muscles of the leg. Without treatment Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease is debilitating and extremely painful. Conservative (medical) treatment can actually still lead to ongoing discomfort within the hip and progression to osteoarthritis. 

Surgical treatment is the gold standard with a femoral head and neck ostectomy being the treatment of choice. This means the surgical removal of the ball and top part of the femur where it sits into the hip socket. Some pint sized pooches don’t require a hip replacement to be performed after this as the area can heal well by fibrosis (scarring) leading to the creation of a false hip joint. Many dogs behave as though nothing was ever wrong within a few months of surgical treatment. There’s no prevention of the disease from occurring but its incidence can be reduced within Yorkshire terriers by not breeding from any affected dogs.

  • Recap
    • Caused by loss to the blood supply into the hip, Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease causes damage to the hip joint
    • This is a painful and debilitating disease causing lameness with loss of muscle mass over the hips and leg muscles.
    • Yorkies are commonly affected as are other breeds such as Maltese and Cairn terriers. 
    • Medical management is possible but generally unsuccessful and pain continues including the development of osteoarthritis in the affected hip or hips.
    • Surgical treatment is preferred with most dogs behaving completely normally within months.
    • Prevention isn’t possible except through the careful breeding of Yorkies and not breeding from affected dogs.

Ocular (eye) Problems 

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)/Retinal Dysplasia (RD)

Progressive retinal atrophy also known as retinal dysplasia is a common cause of blindness in dogs. Up to 4% of Yorkies are affected by this disease. Affecting the cells at the back of the eye, this disease is degenerative causing cells to deteriorate and eventually lead to blindness of an affected dog. There are two types of PRA, early and late onset forms. Early onset PRA is typically diagnosed in young puppies just 8-12 weeks of age and is called RD. Late onset cases are usually diagnosed between the ages of 3-9 years of age.

Retinal dysplasia occurs when the retina in the back of the eye doesn’t develop normally which causes an early onset blindness in puppies while progressive retinal atrophy is the more commonly seen disease in older dogs where cells degenerate over time. Night blindness is the first to occur due to damage of one type of cell in the retina (rods) but this later progresses to complete blindness when the other type of cells (cones) also become affected. Most dogs affected will lose their sight completely within 2 years of the disease onset. Sadly, there’s no effective treatment.

As a non-painful disease the first signs that tend to be noticed are dogs becoming nervous at night or in darkened situations and even bumping into things in the dark. Your dog’s eyes tend to become more reflective when light shines directly on them and you may notice their pupils becoming more dilated than would be normal. You may notice your Yorkie becoming more “clumsy” and bumping into things in unfamiliar surroundings. An inherited disease, PRA tends to occur in both eyes simultaneously. Luckily blindness doesn’t tend to be as significant for dogs as it does for humans; pooches rely on other senses such as their sense of smell. They also learn their normal surroundings rapidly and don’t usually bump into anything at home unless the layout has been changed. 

The most commonly affected breeds are Yorkshire terriers, Bedlington terriers, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and American Cocker Spaniels. There’s no prevention available for affected dogs but due to its strongly inherited component you should avoid breeding affected pooches. 

  • Recap
    • Affecting 4% of Yorkies, this disease is a common cause of blindness in dogs
    • Puppies are affected by an inherited failure of cells within the retina (rods and cones) from developing properly while older affected dogs suffer with degeneration of these cell types over a period of time
    • Non-painful, blindness in dogs can go undetected for an extended period of time due to their dependence on their other senses and learning their home surroundings
    • Signs tend to be evident in unfamiliar surroundings where dogs start to bump into objects
    • There’s no successful treatment available and prevention isn’t possible in dogs. The best way to reduce the incidence of the disease however, is to not breed from dogs that are affected by the disease

Congenital Alacrima

This disease is present in dogs from birth and Yorkies are at significant risk of the disease. It’s characterized by the absence or reduced production of tears due to the abnormal development or absence of the lacrimal (tear) gland. This disorder can affect one or both eyes in pooches. Congenital alacrima is a known cause of keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) which is also known as “dry eye”. This painful disease will cause your Yorkie to squeeze their affected eye closed and you will likely notice excessive discharge from the eye. 

dogs with congenital alacrima won’t respond to typical KCS treatments due to the physical absence of the tear gland and subsequent inability to produce tears. Typically seen in young dogs due to the abnormally small or complete absence of the tear gland; the treatment of choice is surgery but there are complications and there is the risk of failure to respond to treatment. There’s a guarded prognosis for dogs with this disease and enucleation (removal of the eyeball) may be required to eliminate your Yorkie’s pain and discomfort. 

There’s a strong genetic component to congenital alacrima and affected dogs shouldn’t be bred to prevent the perdoguation of this disease in future generations. Another breed known to be affected by congenital alacrima is Bedlington terriers but the genetic significance is unknown as mixed breeds are also occasionally affected.

  • Recap
    • Yorkies are significantly at risk of this congenital disorder that involves a reduction in size or complete absence of the lacrimal (tear producing) gland
    • Patients suffering with this condition tend to develop KCS from a very young age and don’t respond well to medical treatment
    • Surgical treatment can hold its own risks and possible complications that may lead to removal of the affected dog’s eye or eyes. There’s a guarded prognosis for successful treatment of this disorder
    • The genetic component means that affected dogs should not be used for breeding purposes 

Neurological Problems

Chiari Malformation/Syringomyelia

Chiari malformations are a mismatch between the small size of the skull and the size of a large brain causing too much pressure at the back part of the brain and brainstem. These lead to changes in the flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) between the skull and spine which leads to pockets of fluid developing within the spinal cord. These pockets are known as syringomyelia. Chiari Malformations are developmental abnormalities that lead to the condition, syringomyelia. These pockets can damage the nerves that transmit messages from the brain to the body’s tissues and those that bring them back. Yorkshire terriers are commonly affected by this disease as are Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Boston and Maltese terriers. 

The typical clinical signs of these disorders include crying out from pain when falling asleep, being unwilling to stand up, not wanting their ears touched and yelping when being picked up from under the chest. Affected pooches also tend to walk slowly up stairs. Diagnosis of Chiari malformation and syringomyelia is made based on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). There are multiple treatment options available depending on the severity of your dog’s condition. Treatments include both medical and surgical options. Medical management includes pain relief as these are very painful conditions. Some pooches benefit from medical acupuncture while others are also prescribed medications that help to reduce the production of cerebrospinal fluid and to reduce inflammation. Surgical intervention unfortunately has a high failure rate, up to 50% of treated dogs deteriorate within 2 years following the procedure.

Due to their developmental nature, these conditions tend to be diagnosed in younger dogs as malformations are present from puppyhood. Due to the painful nature of the disease, without good management, dogs are sometimes euthanized due to unrelenting pain for them. Since Chiari malformations and the subsequent syringomyelia are developmental abnormalities, Yorkies with this defect should not be used for breeding. Selective breeding is the only way to prevent this condition from being passed onto future generations. 

  • Recap
    • Chiari malformations are caused by a mismatch between skull size and brain size causing increased pressure within the skull and spine
    • Syringomyelia is a sequel to Chiari malformations and is the presence of pockets of CSF within the spinal cord which can damage nerves
    • Typical signs are those of pain particularly in the neck area, not wanting to stand up and being sensitive about their heads and ears being touched
    • Medical and surgical treatments are available though in most cases medical management is preferable as surgery has many complications and its benefit can be short lived
    • Sadly the pain caused by this disease can be debilitating and many dogs are euthanized to end their suffering


Hydrocephalus is colloquially called “water on the brain” and is a condition where there is an excessive amount of cerebrospinal fluid within the skull which leads to brain swelling. This swelling causes increased pressure within the skull and can lead to brain damage and even death in affected dogs. There are two types of hydrocephalus in our canine companions – congenital and acquired. Congenital hydrocephalus is generally associated with a dome shape to the skull and puppies tend to be born with this abnormality. Conversely, acquired hydrocephalus is caused when something blocks or alters the flow of CSF, this can be due to conditions such as infection or a brain tumor. The most common cause is a brain tumor.

Puppies with congenital hydrocephalus may not show signs in the neonatal period but they do tend to develop an abnormal walk, circling or falling to one side and inability to learn basic commands or housetraining. Small and toy breeds are most commonly affected such Yorkies, Chihuahuas and Pekingese breeds. Diagnosis is made through the recognition of clinical signs, brain scans such as computed tomography (CT) or MRI imaging. In some cases electroencephalography (EEG) may be performed using electrical sensors.

Treatment options for hydrocephalus vary depending on whether it’s in the acute or chronic stages. Acute (early) stage hydrocephalus treatment options tend toward reducing CSF production and minimizing inflammation. Chronic (later stage) treatments will also include anti-seizure medications and focus on reducing the production of cerebrospinal fluid. Surgical treatment is also an option to place a shunt (a tube to allow fluid to travel from the brain to the abdomen) which has good success rates but cases must be treated early for successful outcomes.

Congenital hydrocephalus is a birth defect and in order to prevent future generations from being affected it’s best not to breed from affected pooches. This is a life threading in condition and dogs with congenital hydrocephalus have a guarded prognosis, though dogs with acquired hydrocephalus tend to have a poorer prognosis due to the presence of an underlying disease which is often a brain tumor. 

  • Recap
    • Congenital hydrocephalus is a birth defect characterized by an abnormal dome shape to the head. It isn’t always obvious until puppies start to walk and they develop an abnormal gait and other neurological signs
    • Affected puppies often struggle with basic commands and fail to grasp house training
    • Small and toy breeds are mostly affected such as Yorkies and Chihuahuas
    • Treatment options vary with both medical and surgical options available. The sooner treatment is instituted or surgery performed the better the outcome for your dog
    • Chronically affected dogs develop seizures and even with surgery these seizures may not resolve due to damage already having been done

Cardiorespiratory Diseases

Tracheal collapse

Tracheal collapse is a respiratory disorder caused by failure of the normal cartilage rings within the windpipe to maintain its tubular shape, instead these rings collapse in on themselves. Tracheal collapse can be both congenital or acquired with the severity of the collapse being dictated to a degree by genetics. Congenitally affected puppies tend to be diagnosed at just 4-6 months of age. If a dog is older when diagnosed (eg around 7 years of age) then they have acquired tracheal collapse due to an injury or another cause.

Commonly seen in a lot of small breeds, Yorkshire terriers are often affected as are Chihuahuas, Toy and Miniature Poodles, Pugs and Pomeranians to name just a few. Signs of collapse include a chronic cough usually described as a “goose honk”. The cough is typically noticed when pulling on your pooch’s collar or when they become excited. These coughs are usually episodic and sudden with some dogs being so severely affected that they have breathing difficulties, blue gums and tongue or even collapse in some situations.

Your veterinarian will diagnose your Yorkie’s tracheal collapse with a physical examination, radiographs (x-ray) or the use of tracheoscopy (a camera into their airway) to confirm the diagnosis. Once confirmed then treatment can be instituted which can be either medical, surgical or both approaches. Despite treatment, most affected dogs will continue to have some degree of a cough throughout their lives. Medical treatment involves using anti-inflammatory and cough suppressant medications. Using a harness instead of a collar where the collapsing area is in the neck is also beneficial. Obesity or other respiratory diseases can exacerbate a collapsing trachea and where possible environmental triggers should be eliminated (eg pollens and cigarette smoke etc).

Surgery is generally only performed where medical management has failed due to its high rate of complications. Surgery for this procedure should only be performed by an experienced, board-certified surgeon. Many dogs cope well with this disorder for extended periods of time and can live a long life similar to their breed counterparts. Affected dogs are, however, at risk of sudden airway collapse that could lead to a syncopal (fainting) episode that can even lead to the death of your precious Yorkie. There’s no way to prevent collapsing trachea in your pooch, but due to its genetic component, affected dogs should not be used for breeding purposes.

  • Recap
    • Tracheal collapse is a respiratory disorder where the windpipe collapses in on itself with many small breeds, particularly Yorkies, being affected
    • The main sign is a “goose honk” cough that occurs when dogs are excited, during exercise or pulling on their collar. Medical treatment includes wearing a harness instead of a collar to eliminate pulling on the neck if this is the area affected
    • Most dogs suffer with some degree of a cough throughout their lives despite successful medical management and this can be exacerbated by obesity or other respiratory diseases and environmental triggers
    • Most affected dogs can live long and healthy lives with this disorder but should not be used for breeding purposes

Heart disease

One of the most common causes of death in older Yorkshire terriers is heart disease with the most common type being mitral valve disease (MVD). About 10% of all pooches will develop some form of heart disease during their life while over 70% of these are mitral valve disease. This type of heart disease is where the mitral valve in the left side of the heart degenerates over time becoming thickened and nodular. These changes allow leakage of blood backward when the valve is supposed to be closed. This leakage leads to stretching and enlarging of the upper heart chamber (the atrium) over time. This causes the chamber to become weaker and unable to function as a pump effectively. Within years the heart can become so enlarged that it can’t function suitably leading to heart failure.

Typical signs of heart disease are a murmur which indicates there is some leakage of the valve. Some pooches have a murmur while still puppies but most are diagnosed around 4-6 years of age. There are usually no outward signs at first until the heart’s function reduces and congestive heart failure develops. This leads the murmur to worsen and signs may become evident. These signs include syncope (fainting), coughing and increased respiratory rates and some degree of exercise intolerance. Yorkies affected with MVD tend to present with just a cough in the earlier stages.

Medical treatment is the gold standard to date for treating heart disease in our canine companions. There are multiple medications available to help remove excess fluid from the body, improve the heart’s ability to pump blood, reduce blood pressure and prevent arrhythmias (heart rhythm disturbances). Don’t panic if your Yorkie has been diagnosed with a heart murmur! It doesn’t mean that your dog will die soon or that they’re in congestive heart failure. dogs with murmurs can still live long and full lives before physical signs become obvious. For pooches with clinical signs of heart disease, their response to medication is the best indicator for their long term prognosis. The most commonly affected breeds are Yorkshire terriers, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and Shih tzus. 

  • Recap
    • About 70% of all heart disease in dogs is mitral valve disease which causes a leaky valve and puts pressure on the heart causing the muscle to weaken to a point where it can no longer effectively pump blood throughout the body
    • Early cases of MVD may not show any clinical signs but when these signs develop, the most common ones are coughing (particularly common in Yorkies), exercise intolerance and fainting episodes
    • Medications to manage heart disease include those that help remove excessive fluid from the body, support the heart’s ability to pump and reduce blood pressure. Your dog’s response to medication will give an indication of their long term prognosis

Dental and Digestive Problems

Periodontal disease

Dental disease affects about 80% of canines by the age of just 2 years. Yorkshire terriers are particularly at risk of dental disease, partly due to the high incidence of retained deciduous (baby) teeth. Periodontal disease is probably the most common oral disease in our fur babies and can even be associated with systemic (whole body) diseases including renal (kidney), hepatic (liver) and cardiac (heart) conditions. Plaque and then calculus develop on teeth causing gingivitis (gum inflammation) and subsequent periodontal disease which can even lead to tooth loss. 

Other breeds at risk of periodontal disease include Jack Russell terriers, Dachshunds and Cocker Spaniels but up to 98% of Yorkies have at least one tooth affected with periodontitis by just 9 months of age. This is massively significant when compared to larger breed pooches such as German Shepherds who suffer much less with periodontal disease. There is probably a genetic component as there is variation in severity between litters, but knowledge on this area is limited with a significant role played by environmental factors such as diet too.

Signs of periodontal disease include halitosis (bad breath), plaque and tartar buildup on teeth, red, inflamed gums and loose or missing teeth. As a painful disease, dogs will often rub their mouth and face and may even have blood tinged saliva or a preference for soft food over hard kibble. As plaque and tartar build up on teeth, bacteria can transfer into the tooth root causing abscesses or even enter the dog’s blood stream where they can settle elsewhere in the body, for example in the heart causing endocarditis (inflammation and infection within the heart). Periodontal disease can also weaken teeth causing them to crack, break, loosen and even fall out. These teeth are painful and prone to development of infection.

Luckily, it’s possible to prevent periodontal disease through daily brushing of teeth, appropriate dental toys that don’t damage teeth (antler and bone can cause cracking/fractured teeth), dry kibble diet (encourages chewing and physically helps to remove plaque though to a lesser degree than tooth brushing). Regular dental check ups are important too and your veterinarian will examine your pooch annually at their vaccination booster check up. Treatment of dental disease involves dental scaling and polishing, fillings and extractions as needed and without these your dog will suffer with a painful disease that can interfere with their general health too. This is a painful disease that can cause your dog’s teeth to fracture or fall out and can even cause serious illness in your dog. With careful prevention and treatment strategies your dog can live a long, happy life even with periodontal disease.

  • Recap
    • Up to 98% of Yorkies have signs of dental disease by just 9 months of age
    • Periodontal disease is one of the most common dental diseases that affect dogs and can even lead to systemic illnesses causing heart, kidney and liver problems
    • Clinical signs of dental disease include bad breath, red and inflamed gums and plaque buildup on teeth
    • Periodontal disease is painful and prevention is key through daily brushing, dental toys and feeding a dry kibble diet alongside regular check ups with your veterinarian

Congenital Portosystemic Shunts (PSS)

A congenital Portosystemic shunt (PSS) is an abnormal flow between the portal vein or a branch and another vein relating to the liver. The portal vein is a large vein that carries blood from the gut, pancreas and spleen to the liver where the toxins can be removed. About 80% of blood to the liver travels through the portal vein and so a PSS is a serious condition. This abnormal flow (shunt) means there’s a reduction in bringing chemicals away from the liver including nutrients which leads to a build up of toxins within the blood. There are two types of PSS, extra hepatic (outside the liver) and intra hepatic (inside the liver). The most common one is an extra hepatic shunt which is caused by abnormal development while in the uterus. Most extra hepatic shunts occur in small breeds such as Yorkshire terriers, Maltese terriers and Shih tzus. Shunts occur in about 0.5% of pooches with most being diagnosed as puppies under 1 year old.

Clinical signs involve the nervous, gastrointestinal and urinary systems. One of the most common signs are pooches that are small and unthrifty with smaller than normal livers. Typical signs include depression, ataxia (incoordination), circling, vomiting, diarrhea, anorexia, difficulty urinating, blood in urine and the development of specific urinary stones. These signs tend to be most obvious after eating. Your veterinarian will diagnose your dog based on blood results, liver biopsy and computed tomographic angiography (CTA) where they assess the blood flow to the liver.

Treatment of a PSS varies depending on the severity of clinical signs. Some close spontaneously without any treatment while others can actually contribute to encephalopathy (brain disease), developmental delays or cardiopulmonary compromise. Shunts that cause these problems should be closed with medicine or surgery following medical stabilization. dogs can be stabilized with diet and medications including anti-seizure drugs prior to surgery. Surgery is the preferred treatment choice with most dogs going on to live a long and healthy life while a small number require medical management for the duration of their life. Conversely, of medically managed dogs, just ⅓ live a relatively long life but over ½ are euthanized within 1 month of diagnosis due to poor control of the neurological signs or further progression of liver damage. Due to the possible genetic component, dogs with PSS should not be used for breeding.

  • Recap
    • A PSS is an abnormal flow of blood away from the liver leading to a buildup of toxins in the bloodstream. This also results in a lack of nutrients reaching the liver which causes liver damage
    • PSS are a developmental abnormality in utero with most puppies being diagnosed before reaching one year of age
    • Neurological signs tend to be the most severe including seizures, incoordination and depression while gastrointestinal and urinary tract signs are also evident in affected dogs. Most signs are worst just after eating
    • Surgery is the treatment of choice with most dogs living relatively normal lives after the procedure, medically managed dogs however, don’t survive as long sadly

Urinary tract problems

Urinary bladder stones

Urinary bladder stones are also called uroliths or cystic calculus and are rock-type growths of minerals that develop within the bladder. There are a few theories on how these stones develop but one of the most likely ones is that crystalline compounds are present in high levels in the urine due to dietary or disease factors and once these compounds reach a certain threshold the urine cannot hold it in solution any more and the compounds precipitate out forming small crystals which then form clusters and harden into stones.

These crystals are irritating and sharp causing damage to the lining of the bladder wall causing mucus production and bleeding which is evident in the urine as hematuria (blood in urine) and difficulty or straining to urinate. The straining may be due to inflammation and swelling of the bladder wall or urethra (tube from bladder to the outside world), muscle spasms or even physical obstruction due to a stone blocking the entrance to the bladder or even the urethra. A complete obstruction can even be life threatening, needing immediate emergency treatment. The typical signs are dogs that strain to urinate but don’t produce any urine or only produce small squirts.

Stones/uroliths can take just 2 weeks to form if conditions are favorable for the crystal type but many take months to form. One type of stone, struvite, are most commonly found in Yorkshire terriers, Dachshund and Miniature Schnauzers with 85% of affected pooches being female around 2-3 years old. Prevention of some stone types are possible via specialized diets, regular urinalysis and prompt treatment of urinary infections that may stimulate stone formation. Your veterinarian will make a diagnosis depending on clinical signs and ultrasound or radiographs (x ray) and urinalysis.

Treatment varies with the type of stone present, options include dietary dissolution of stone, voiding urohydropropulsion (flushing the bladder and removing small stones), ultrasonic dissolution (ultrasonic waves targeting the stones to break them up), laser lithotripsy via cystoscopic retrieval (laser to break up the stones via a camera passed into the bladder) and cystotomy (surgery to open the bladder and remove stones). Recurrence rates are relatively high though diet changes can help to reduce recurrence. Affected dogs can live long and healthy lives with careful management.

  • Recap
    • Bladder stones are a collection of mineral that builds up within the bladder causing irritation and even physical blockages
    • Sharp crystals cause irritation and damage the lining of the bladder leading to clinical signs of blood in urine and difficulty urinating. Complete obstruction of the urethra or bladder entrance can be life threatening and affected dogs need immediate emergency management
    • Female pooches between the ages of 2-3 years are the most commonly affected by struvite stones
    • There are a number of treatment strategies available depending of the type of stone and their size
    • Prevention is possible through careful dietary management and prompt investigation and treatment of urinary infections
    • Most dogs with urinary bladder stones can live long and full lives with management strategies

Other diseases

Diabetes mellitus

Arguably one of the most common endocrine diseases in dogs, Diabetes mellitus is characterized by hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) and glycosuria (glucose in urine) causing a range of clinical signs. Diabetes melllitus in dogs is generally due to an insulin deficiency. Middle aged to older dogs (5-12 years old) tend to be diagnosed with females being more likely affected with diabetes than males. There appears to be a genetic component with breeds such as Yorkshire terriers, Samoyed and Tibetan terriers at increased risk of developing diabetes mellitus compared with other breeds.

Typical signs of diabetes mellitus in our canine companions include polydipsia (increased thirst) and polyuria (increased urination), lethargy, bilateral cataracts and some degree of weight loss. Urinary tract infections are often common in dogs with diabetes. Without treatment, dogs can suffer a condition called ketoacidosis which presents as lethargy, anorexia, vomiting and dehydration. This is a life threatening complication of diabetes mellitus and requires immediate veterinary intervention. 

Your veterinarian will make the diagnosis based on clinical signs, blood and urinalysis results and urine culture. Typically, blood results will show hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) and glycosuria (glucose in urine) with many dogs also having a concurrent bacterial urinary tract infection. After diagnosis, medical treatment with insulin and dietary modification is key. The aim is to eliminate clinical signs (reduce the thirst and urination and stabilize your Yorkie’s body weight). The goal isn’t to have a constantly normal blood glucose level but to minimize huge fluctuations that happen without treatment. Regular exercise will help dogs as will careful control of infectious, neoplastic or other hormonal diseases. Once your dog’s diabetes has been stabilized your veterinarian may advise surgery for their cataracts. 

Diabetes mellitus can be well managed in most pooches but it can take some time to stabilize and requires commitment and communication between both veterinarian and dog parents. Once diagnosed, the highest mortality rate for dogs with diabetes is within the first 6 months while a well regulated, stable and appropriately managed pooch will have a life expectancy similar to other dogs without the disease. Due to the likely genetic component to diabetes in dogs, and lack of dogs entering remission (not needing insulin) following treatment means that prevention isn’t feasible in most cases but preventing obesity and keeping your dog fit and healthy will help.

  • Recap
    • Diabetes mellitus is one of the most common endocrine disorders in our canine companions and is typically diagnosed in female pooches aged between 5-12 years of age
    • Characterized by increased thirst, urination and the development of bilateral cataracts, diabetic pooches that aren’t treated can develop a life threatening condition called ketoacidosis which needs veterinary attention immediately
    • Diagnosis of diabetes is made based on blood and urine results and your veterinarian will advise treatment with insulin and dietary modification to minimize large fluctuations in blood glucose that can make your dog ill
    • dogs with well regulated diabetes mellitus can expect to live a relatively normal life, similar to their non-diabetic counterparts


Allergies are relatively common in Yorkshire terriers; we call these allergies, atopy. The most common allergens are pollen, mold, dust and even some dietary ingredients. Atopy is regularly diagnosed in many small breeds including Bichon Frisé, French bulldogs and Maltese terriers. dogs with atopy develop worsening signs year on year and are usually diagnosed by 3 years of age with most diagnosed between the ages of 1-3.

Signs of atopy include licking paws, scratching ears incessantly, recurrent ear infections, rubbing the face and eyes and even anal gland issues for some dogs. The skin on the feet, belly, facial folds and ears are most commonly affected. Medical treatment is possible with immunomodulatory (immune system regulating) medications and antimicrobials for secondary bacterial pyoderma (skin infections). dogs affected by atopy tend to have a normal life span in comparison with other, non-affected dogs. There’s a genetic component to the development of allergies and as such there’s no real strategy for prevention of them occurring except avoiding breeding dogs that are affected with the disease.

  • Recap
    • Atopy is a collective term for allergies due to genetic tendencies. These are heightened immune responses to common allergens leading to clinical signs
    • Most dogs are diagnosed by the age of 3 years with signs becoming worse as time goes on
    • Signs include licking and scratching paws, ears, face and eyes with some dogs also having recurrent anal gland issues
    • Medications are available to help give affected dogs some relief but they must be taken appropriately as your veterinarian directs
    • There’s no prevention except not using affected dogs for breeding to reduce the incidence in future generations

Yorkshire Terrier Health issues across the lifecycle

So we’ve gone through a pretty comprehensive list of disorders that Yorkies can suffer with; not every Yorkshire terrier will suffer with one of these nor will they have all of them at one time in their life. Some disorders are more likely to be seen in puppyhood such as hydrocephalus while others like diabetes mellitus tend to not be diagnosed until middle age. Let’s go through some of the age specific diseases with which your pooch could struggle. 

Yorkshire Terrier Puppy Health Issues

Most genetic disorders that affect Yorkshire terriers are evident while still in puppyhood. Disorders such as portosystemic shunts, Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease and hydrocephalus are all evident before pups reach maturity as are retinal dysplasia, Chiari malformations and subsequent Syringomyelia.

Adult Yorkshire Terrier Health Issues

Some diseases that Yorkshire terriers are prone to that don’t manifest until adulthood include periodontal disease, urinary bladder stones and atopy. While there is potentially a genetic component to some of these conditions, they’re not all fully understood. 

Other disorders such as tracheal collapse and patellar luxation can occur in pooches of any age but are often first diagnosed in young adulthood.

Senior Yorkshire Terrier Health Issues

Older pooches aren’t spared from diseases and disorders with heart disease being one of the most common causes of death in older Yorkies. Another disease that older Yorkies are prone to developing is diabetes mellitus.

Yorkshire Terrier Health Issues and average lifespan

Yorkies live on average 13-16 years though I have treated a few fur babies older than this as a veterinarian. 

Potentially the leading cause of death among older Yorkie pooches is heart disease, with mitral valve disease being the most common type in this breed. While some of the conditions we’ve discussed in this article can lead to euthanasia due to unrelenting pain and a poor quality of life, other disorders don’t seem to impact most furbabies. 

Developmental disorders such as Chiari malformation and syringomyelia and hydrocephalus can cause seizures and can be extremely painful for affected pooches which may lead to an early death due to their compromised welfare. 

Conversely, disorders such as Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease and urinary bladder stones can be very painful but readily treated with these dogs going on to live full and happy lives during and after treatment. Other disorders such as retinal dysplasia or a luxating patella don’t actually cause pain and affected dogs can continue to live their life with modifications to their care and management without adversely impacting their lifespan. 

Yorkshire Terrier Health Issues VS Other Dog Breeds

Reading this article you could be forgiven for thinking Yorkies are prone to almost every disease under the sun but that’s not the case. This article gives you a run through of some of the diseases that Yorkshire terriers are at an increased risk of developing, but this doesn’t guarantee that they WILL suffer with any or all of these conditions. 

In fact ALL pure breeds of pooch are prone to certain diseases, most of the disorders noted in this article are also common in other small dog breeds such as Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Shih tzus, Maltese terriers and French bulldogs. 

Conversely, large dog breeds tend to be prone to a different range of diseases, for example, Doberman Pinschers are prone to heart disease but the type differs, they tend to develop dilated cardiomyopathy while smaller breeds tend to develop mitral valve disease.

The important thing to remember is just because it’s possible, doesn’t mean it’s likely for your dog to suffer with these conditions. Education is key in this matter so that you can be prepared in case your fur baby does go on to be diagnosed with any of these conditions.

Health Signs Yorkshire Terriers Parents should be aware of

Some disorders can present with similar clinical signs so it’s good to know what to watch out for and when to consult with your dog’s veterinarian.

  • Lameness – This can be a sign of the painful condition Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease which is painful or if your dog is carrying their hind limb intermittently it may be the painless patellar luxation causing the issue.
  • Pain – Crying out when being picked up, not wanting to stand up or walk or rubbing at their face are all signs of pain and should always be taken seriously and your veterinarian consulted as your dog may be suffering with Chiari malformation or periodontal disease, both of which are very painful.
  • Seizures – These are one of the most severe signs we see in dogs with disorders such as Chiari malformation and syringomyelia, hydrocephalus or portosystemic shunts and if your dog develops seizures or any other neurological signs then you should consult your veterinarian for further investigations.
  • Scratching – This can be a sign of pain or irritation and inflammation of a particular area, for example the discharge seen from the eyes with congenital alacrima can be irritating and your dog may rub and scratch at their face; conversely it could also be an indication that your dog is suffering with atopy (allergies).
  • Vomiting – While dogs all vomit occasionally, if your dog starts to vomit excessively or has other signs such as lethargy and increased thirst or urination then your dog may be in diabetic ketoacidosis and needs to be seen by a veterinarian as an emergency.
  • Coughing – A very non-specific sign, coughing can be an indicator of collapsing trachea or heart disease and should be investigated if it is recurrent or chronic.

Yorkshire Terriers Health Care Tips and Prevention

Now we’ve run through some of the diseases and disorders your new Yorkie pup may be at risk of. It’s time to look at some tips and tricks you can do at home to prevent your pooch from becoming ill and maintain them in the best of health for as long as possible:


Feeding your dog high quality food (as best you can afford), ideally with some component being a dry kibble will help to keep your dog in tip top shape from inside out. Don’t overfeed!! The average Yorkie should be just 3-3.5kg, they’re pint sized pooches.


Don’t let their tiny frame fool you, Yorkies love to be active and should ideally receive 30 minutes of exercise each day. Yorkshire terriers love to run and play and are a very fun dog.


As these are long haired pooches, regular grooming, trimming and nail care are essential to keep your dog comfortable and prevent allergens from becoming trapped in your dog’s fur and causing worsening of allergies. Grooming should also include daily tooth brushing to prevent dental disease

Other preventative measures

As with all other pooches, annual veterinary check ups, vaccine boosters and appropriate parasite protection is important to help keep your Yorkie in the best of health and allow them to live a long and happy life. 

The Final Woof 

Yorkshire terriers are wonderful fur babies with cheeky personalities and incredible intelligence, these pint sized pooches have a huge personality. 

All dog’s come with the possibility of disease and disorders including so called “mutts” or cross breeds, not just pure breed pooches. 

Yorkies are prone to a range of orthopedic, respiratory, dental and eye problems but that doesn’t mean that your pooch will experience any or all of these conditions listed in this article. Knowing what to expect is part of the battle so you can prepare and be sure of what you’re signing up for if you choose to add a Yorkie pup to your family. 


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Freitas, H.M. et al. (2021). Retrospective and prospective study of progressive retinal atrophy in dogs presented to the veterinary hospital of the Federal University of Parana, Brazil. Open Vet. J. 11(3): 370-378q

Westermeyer, H.D. et al. (2009). Breed predisposition to congenital alacrima in dogs. Vet. Ophthalmol. 12(1): 1-5

Cinalli, G. et al. (2019). Hydrocephalus in Animals. Paediatric Hydrocephalus 12: 53-95

DeProspero, D.J. et al. (2021). Myxomatous mitral valve disease in Miniature Schnauzers and Yorkshire Terriers: 134 cases (2007-2016). J. Am. Vet. Med. Assoc. 259(12): 1428-1432

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Anglin, E.V. et al., (2022). Clinical characteristics of, prognostic factors for, and long-term outcome of dogs with multiple acquired Portosystemic shunts: 72 cases (2000-2018) JAVMA 260(1)

Konstantinidis, A.O. et al., (2023). Congenital Portosystemic shunts in dogs and cats: classification, pathophysiology, clinical presentation and diagnosis. Vet. Sci. 10(2): 160

Sanz, C.R. et al., (2021). Polymorphisms in canine immunoglobulin heavy chain gene cluster: a double-edged sword for diabetes mellitus in the dog. Anim. Genet. 52(3): 333-341

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Since graduating from Dublin, Ireland in 2013 with an honors Veterinary Medicine degree, Edele has enjoyed working with as many species of animal as possible. Edele is currently working in clinical practice while studying towards Advanced Practitioner status with the RCVS in the UK. Passionate about education and writing, Edele’s goal is to maximize the pet-owner bond and welfare through education accessible to everyone. Never found without her middle-aged Weimaraner, Purdy (who still thinks she’s 18 months old), Edele spends her limited time outdoors with her horses, hiking and traveling home to Ireland to spend time with family.

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