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Get To Know Small Breed Dogs

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A Beagle with a red collar lies on a rug in front of a couch.

Small dog breeds are cute, cuddly, and often incredibly affectionate. Though they’re small in size, many have larger-than-life personalities and make excellent companions.

What Is Considered a Small Dog Breed?

Dog breeds are often categorized based on their weight, ranging in size from an extra small four-pound dog to a gentle giant that tips the scale at 200 pounds. Although there are average weight ranges for each group, there aren’t universally defined minimum and maximum weights for each one—it depends on who you ask.

Common small dog breeds include:

Although breed standards define them as small, nearly all dog breeds have an average weight range, with males being slightly heavier and larger than females. That said, every so often, there are exceptions to the rules, and a “small” dog may stay extra-small, or they could grow uniquely large for their breed.

How Much Do Small Dog Breeds Weigh?

On the low end, a small dog can weigh 15 pounds. Dogs smaller than this are considered part of the toy dog category. A small dog’s weight can go up to 25-30 pounds, at which point they are considered a medium-sized breed.

How To Take Care of a Small Dog Breed

When caring for small dogs, there are some unique, size-related needs to remember. For instance, extra attention, time, and patience may need to be given to housetraining. However, with consistency and positive reinforcement, you can help your small dog learn that outside is the place to go—not indoors.

When you and your dog venture outdoors, it’s helpful to keep in mind that small canines don’t always have the best temperature regulation. This means they can get colder faster in winter, and in summer, they could overheat more quickly—especially for brachycephalic breeds. As temperatures rise, it can be helpful to provide your dog with plenty of shade, ensure they always have access to clean drinking water, and keep them indoors during the heat of the day. Whenever temperatures drop, you may want to consider getting your dog a sweater or coat or keeping blankets out for them to lie on.

In many ways, caring for small dogs is like caring for dogs of any other size. For example, small dogs still require monthly parasite preventives to be protected from fleas, ticks, and heartworm. Dogs of all sizes also need to receive regular grooming.

  • Brush them on a weekly basis (more often for some)
  • Give them baths every few months
  • Trim their nails whenever you can hear them clicking on the floor
  • Brush their teeth weekly to help avoid dental disease
  • Check their ears (especially the floppy ones) and clean them whenever they appear dirty

Keeping up with a consistent grooming routine can help your dog feel and look their best well into their senior years—small breeds average a longer lifespan into their teens.

Another fantastic way to keep your canine companion healthy is to provide them with daily exercise and enrichment. However, small breeds require less physical activity than their larger counterparts—an average of 30 minutes per day is ideal. Whether you take them for a walk, go on a hike, or just let them run around the yard, these activities can help keep your pup at a healthy weight and provide them with mental stimulation.

A small white dog lies on a green couch.

Small Dog Breed Health Problems

Although various health conditions can affect dogs of any age, size, and breed, some are more typical for dogs of smaller stature. These can include:

  • Patellar luxation

    This occurs when a dog’s kneecap becomes dislocated. It is usually a hereditary condition due to a dog’s anatomy, but some traumatic injuries can also be the cause. Cases can range from mild to severe, though this condition does not affect your dog’s life expectancy. Thankfully, veterinarians can provide a few forms of treatment and management.

  • Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD)

    IVDD is a health condition that involves the cushions between the vertebrae coming into contact with the spinal cord. There are two main types of IVDD (Hansen Type I & Hansen Type II), and their symptoms can range from mild to severe.

  • Brachycephalic airway syndrome

    Known as the medical term for the airway and breathing difficulties faced by brachycephalic (flat-nosed) dogs, this health condition typically leads to dogs needing to breathe more from their mouth instead of their nose. This issue can also cause dogs to have difficulties catching their breath, breathing loudly, snorting, snoring, and tiring out quickly while exercising.

  • Pancreatitis

    Pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas becomes inflamed. In a majority of cases, the underlying cause is unknown. A dog’s symptoms will be affected by whether they have acute (sudden) or chronic (long-term) pancreatitis.

  • Dental disease

    Smaller dogs may have more oral-related issues due to crowding of the teeth. You’ll want to be aware of any build-up on the teeth, bad breath, or reddened gums, all of which could indicate an underlying problem. You can help prevent these issues by regularly brushing your dog’s teeth or talking with your veterinarian about getting your dog a professional dental cleaning

To help your pup stay in tip-top shape, schedule yearly veterinary appointments. This is a great way to monitor your dog’s long-term health and catch any possible health issues earlier.

Learn more about how pet insurance could help you cover your pet’s eligible veterinary care expenses.

Small Dog Safety

Due to their small size, a few extra precautions may need to be taken to help keep your small dog safe in their day-to-day life. Here are five tips to keep in mind:

  1. Be mindful of your dog’s diet

    Small dogs can be at a higher risk of weight gain, which could lead to a string of other health concerns. Understanding the correct portion sizes and number of meals your dog should have daily can help keep their weight in check. That said, small dogs still require nutritious and high-calorie foods that can keep up with their high metabolisms. In addition to their meals, remember to keep treats to only 10% of their daily caloric intake—though it can be tricky not to shell out extra goodies when the puppy eyes are peering your way.

  2. Dog-proof your home

    Before you welcome your new best bud into your home, observe your space with a small dog in mind. Could they fall down the stairs? Consider setting up a gate. Do you have produce sitting out on low shelves? Put them in sealed containers or move them out of reach. It’ll also be helpful to consider if there are any areas of your home where you don’t want your small dog to wander, such as under your bed, into a cluttered closet, or behind storage shelves. In this case, consider how you can block off the area or rearrange items to keep your dog safe from those spaces.

  3. Help make amenities more accessible

    Even if your dog is allowed on furniture, it may not be easy for them to jump onto the couch or bed with their little legs, and jumping could accidentally cause an injury. To make your space accessible and still allow your small dog to be independent, consider purchasing a doggy ramp or mini stairs. These can be set up in front of furniture or overtop of some short stairs, such as those into the garage or off a deck. You’ll also want to consider the location of your dog’s water and food bowls, bed, toys, and crate. In a multi-story house, your small dog may appreciate these items being centrally located or a water bowl and bed on each floor.

  4. Prioritize training

    With small dogs, sometimes training can be overlooked. However, it’s crucial that you teach your dog good manners and basic cues. There are countless situations and scenarios during which having a well-trained dog can help keep them safe. Whether you ask them to “leave it” when there’s a piece of toxic food on the ground, tell them to “come” if they accidentally get loose, or “stay” when they should leave another dog alone, training is a life-long asset.

  5. Keep their small size in mind when in the big world

    Being relatively short in stature, your small dog may find much of the world intimidating—understandably so. When you take your dog with you, try looking at things from their perspective. For instance, you may consider carrying them in crowded areas, so no one accidentally steps on their paws if they’re on the smaller side. This can also give their petite legs a break if you’re doing a lot of walking. When going to dog parks, take them to the ‘small dog’ side if possible and reassure them with positive affirmation when they are learning to interact with larger dogs.

As a dog parent, you can’t help but be proud when you get to watch your best pal overcome fears and challenges. As any protective pet parent also knows, sometimes you need to lend a helping hand.

Adopting a Small Breed Dog

Have you been thinking about adding a dog to your family? As you visit your nearby dog shelters and humane societies, consider the small pups, too—they may be the perfect fit. Talking with the facility’s staff can also help narrow down which dogs will mesh well with your home, lifestyle, and any other pets you may have.

Best Small Breed Dogs for First-Time Owners

If this will be the first dog you’ve ever had, choosing the best breed for your lifestyle might feel both overwhelming and exciting. To help narrow down your options, consider these breeds, as they can make great choices for first-time dog parents.

One of the many rewarding parts of having a dog in your life is that you can learn and grow together, and before you know it, you’ll be each other’s best friend.

An ASPCA® Pet Health Insurance plan can help you with eligible costs for covered conditions like surgery expenses for accidents and help provide peace of mind that your pet can receive the care they need. Check out our online resources to learn more about your insurance options and get a free quote today. The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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