Dogs come in all shapes and sizes, and because of that, nutrition should never be considered a "one size fits all" matter. A 6-pound toy poodle, for example, should not be eating the same food as a 200-pound Saint Bernard. So what should you focus on as a small dog owner? The following are some vital nutritional elements to keep in mind when it comes to feeding your small breed dog.
Kibble/food size - Small dogs have, of course, small mouths and teeth. It's therefore important that the size of their kibble also be small. And if you prefer mixing your own ingredients into your small bred dog's food, cut anything you add into tiny bites. This will not only help with the digestion process, it will help prevent your dog from choking.
Energy requirements - Food for small dogs should be energy dense. That is, it should have more calories per cup than a medium or large dog formula. Why? Small breed dogs have a high metabolism and thus need higher energy reserves. It is also important that your small dog have a proper ratio of protein, fat, vitamins and minerals according to his/her size and breed.
Digestibility - Much like in humans, small dogs absorbs nutrients through the digestive system. However, the length of the intestine can affect the speed at which food moves through the system as well as the amount of nutrients absorbed. In fact, depending on the size of the dog, food may move through the digestive tract as fast as 12 hours, or as long as several days. To make sure your dog receives the proper amount of nutrients, provide him/her with a diet that has a high nutrient digestibility.
Frequency - How often you feed your small dog will ultimately depend on his/her age and your personal preference. However, many veterinary nutritionists recommend that the average adult small breed dog be fed twice a day. Small breed puppies, meanwhile, must be fed several times a day -- usually three. And because toy puppies have an extremely rapid metabolism, they may require four to six meals a day for the first six months. This is to help prevent the onset of hypoglycemia, a life-threatening drop in blood sugar.
As always, consult with your veterinarian when it comes to choosing a specific formula for your pet.
Small breed dogs make wonderful pets, but there are a few health conditions that small dogs are more likely than large dogs to develop. Being aware that these issues can be present is important for anyone who has, or is considering getting, a small breed dog.
Toy Breed Hypoglycemia
Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is a common problem in toy breed dogs, puppies in particular. These breeds often have a hard time regulating their blood sugar, and low blood sugar levels can cause listlessness, incoordination, and seizures. If you own a toy breed puppy, make sure he is eating well and that the meals provided are small and frequent.
Additionally, keep Karo syrup handy for use in an emergency. If you suspect your puppy is hypoglycemic, rub some Karo syrup on his/her gums. (Note: Your puppy does not have to swallow the syrup;it will be absorbed through the gums.) Depending on your puppy’s condition, intravenous injections of dextrose (a sugar) may be necessary. Therefore, it is important that you bring the puppy to a veterinarian immediately.
The Luxating Patella
Though not exclusive to small dogs, luxating patellas are very common in some small breeds, including the affenpinscher, Brussels griffon, Chihuahua, English toy spaniel, Japanese spaniel, Maltese, Manchester terrier, miniature pinscher, papillon, Pekingese, Pomeranian, poodle, pug, shih tzu, silky terrier, and Yorkshire terrier.
Also known as “kneecap dislocation,” a luxating patella occurs when the patella, or kneecap, slips out of its normal place in the knee joint. The patella may be permanently dislocated, or it may slip in and out of place periodically. Lameness is the result.
Controlling your dog’s weight is an important part of managing any orthopedic disease, and a patellar luxation is no exception. Keeping your small dog lean will not cure the condition or keep the kneecap from luxating, but it will help ensure your dog is more comfortable.
Medications such as glucosamine and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications can also be used to control your dog’s joint health and reduce pain. However, surgery is the only cure for a luxating patella.
Tracheal collapse occurs when the trachea, otherwise known as the windpipe, flattens and causes an obstruction of air flow. When this happens, the affected dog will cough or gag in an attempt to reopen the trachea. Tracheal collapse is common in toy and small breed dogs, with poodles, Yorkshire terriers, and Pomeranians being some of the most commonly affected breeds.
Tracheal collapse episodes often happen when a dog is excited or nervous. The coughing causes inflammation in the trachea. Over time and with repeated collapses, the amount of inflammation increases and the condition worsens.
Control of collapsing trachea requires maintaining your small dog’s weight, since obese dogs are likely to have more serious issues than lean dogs. Medications such as cough suppressants, anti-inflammatory drugs, and bronchodilators (which help open up the airways in the lungs) can also be used to help control the symptoms. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary.
Hydrocephalus is a disease of the brain caused by increased pressure from too much fluid in the brain (commonly known as “water in the brain”). Breeds most commonly affected are the Chihuahua, Pomeranian, Yorkshire terrier, English bulldog, lhasa apso, pug, Pekingese, Boston terrier, Maltese, toy poodle, and cairn terrier.
Hydrocephalus may be suspected if your puppy has a dome-like skull. S/he may have an open fontanelle, which is the soft spot on the top of the head. Your puppy may also show neurological signs such as seizures, blindness or head pressing. S/he may be particularly difficult to house train as well. Diagnosis will depend on clinical signs and imaging of your puppy’s head with an MRI, CT scan, or ultrasound.
The symptoms of hydrocephalus can sometimes be controlled temporarily with medications that help reduce the amount of fluid in the brain, such as diuretics (“water pills”). Corticosteroids are also sometimes used to decrease inflammation. However, surgical placement of a shunt that drains the excess fluid from the brain is the only permanent solution for hydrocephalus.
As always, if you think your small dog may have a health issue, consult your veterinarian.
Just because your dog is small doesn't mean s/he shouldn't be trained. In fact, small dogs often develop poor behavior skills because they lacked the proper discipline or social interaction early in their development. So, what can you do to help prevent this from happening to your dog (and stop it if it's already happening)? Here are five tips to get you started.
1. Don’t Baby Your Small Dog
While walking in the park, you notice a little dog on a leash yipping at a massive bullmastiff. The mastiff pays no mind to the little dog at first, but soon begins to get annoyed. Even worse, the small dog's owner looks on and coos, "That's mommy's little boy. You show that big dog who's boss." Sound familiar? It happens every day and is the sign of a poorly disciplined dog. No matter what your dog's size, always discourage bad habits (e.g., jumping on strangers, barking at friendly dogs, etc.). And be sure to have lots of praise for good behavior.
2. Be Consistent &Positive
You should not let bad behavior "slide" every now and then just because the circumstances are slightly different. For example, if you don't want your dog jumping on people, always say "No!" in a firm tone. Allowing your dog to jump on you and then yelling at him/her when he does it to guests can be confusing for the dog. Additionally, keep things positive during your training sessions. Punishment based training can be harmful and frightening to a small dog.
3. Keep Training Sessions Short
Training sessions can be frequent, up to three times a day, but should also be short in duration. Small dogs grow tired and weary of sessions any longer than 10 to 15 minutes. Also, try to squeeze in a quick training session before mealtime. This creates a positive connection between obedience and rewards in your dog's mind.
4. Remain Patient
If you're becoming frustrated with your dog because s/he's learning at a slower rate than you'd like, it's probably time for both of you to take a break. Forcing your dog to continue may cause him/her to regress, as if the lesson was never learned at all. Come back when you’re both fresh and ready to make training fun.
5. Get Professional Help
If your dog persistently disobeys your instructions and is showing no progress after weeks of training, it may be time to bring in the "big guns." Professional dog trainers are equipped to handle all types of dogs. Perhaps you can even find one who specializes in small dogs. Ask your vet for guidance on finding a local trainer who’s right for your dog’s needs.