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How Often Should Small Dogs Go to the Vet?


By Leslie Ingraham

Published: 10/08/2021, edited: 03/28/2023

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Published: 10/8/2021

In their minds, and ours, small dogs are just like big dogs. They benefit from the same healthy routines that medium and large pups do, like regular exercise, good nutrition, and regular visits to the veterinarian for checkups and vaccinations.

Pet parents who want to keep their pup living a long, happy life know that a vet is the best way to keep their doggo healthy. From wellness visits and check-ins to follow ups, your vet’s advice on when your fur baby needs care is the best guide.

Want to know how frequently your small furball should be visiting the vet? Let’s explore how often small dogs should see their vet, along with tips for happier vet visits.

How often should small dogs go to the vet?

Healthy adult dogs should visit their vet about once a year, but circumstances sometimes demand more frequent visits. For example, if a dog is taking medication, the vet will likely want to see them more frequently to monitor its effectiveness. Also, certain breeds and sizes of dogs are vulnerable to illnesses and conditions that may need to be monitored throughout the year.

Here’s what you can expect during an annual, routine visit for your small dog. Your vet will:

  • Update your pup’s medical history since their last visit, including changes in diet, exercise level, and interest in play and other activities
  • Obtain Fido’s weight, noting changes up or down
  • Do a nose-to-tail pat-down to look for swollen lymph nodes or other lumps
  • Check heart and lung sounds
  • Check the pup’s mouth for signs of tooth wear or gum disease
  • Inspect the eyes, ears and nose with a special lighted instrument
  • Check skin and fur for any abnormalities
  • Take a fecal sample to test for parasites
  • Address any concerns you may have

Immediate trips to the vet are sometimes necessary to address symptoms that seem troublesome, such as:

  • Limping
  • Any swellings on the body
  • Bleeding 
  • Disinterest in food and water
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • A rash, especially an itchy, raised, red one
  • Evidence that the pup has swallowed a non-food object
  • Swollen nose or tongue

Common Health Conditions in Small Dogs

Small dogs are prone to a number of illnesses and conditions that may require more frequent visits to the veterinary clinic. Here are some of the common ones:

Dental issues

While small dogs have smaller teeth, they still often have 42 of them, which can cause problems as all of those choppers try to maneuver for room inside a tiny mouth. In many cases, the teeth are jammed together, even overlapping, and can cause increased tartar and plaque. Problems are especially likely if the pooch is fed soft food, as many small fur buddies are. 

Most dogs are stoic when faced with pain, and smaller dogs are adept at hiding discomfort from their pet parents. They may have an abscess, cavity, or even a piece missing from a tooth and never let on. Because of this, mini-dogs may need more frequent dental exams and care. Jack Russell Terriers, for example, suffer worn-down teeth if they spend a lot of their time catching and retrieving tennis balls.

Symptoms of dental issues can include:

  •  Difficulty eating
  • Refusing to eat
  •  No interest in chew toys
  • Pawing at face
  • Crying in pain when chewing or if mouth is touched
  • Swelling in mouth

Patellar luxation

Patellar luxation, common in small and toy breeds such as chihuahuas and rat terriers, occurs when the kneecap slides outside of its normal position within the femur’s groove when the dog flexes their knee. It can be labeled “inner” or “outer” depending on which side of the leg the kneecap slides onto. 

One of the most common orthopedic abnormalities, patellar luxation usually affects both knees at once. Because the condition tends to worsen over time, your veterinarian will want to monitor your dog, and may need to prescribe pain or other medications. Surgery is possible, but because of its relatively low success rate, it’s rarely performed.

Although it’s likely that the condition causes pain, most dogs don’t seem to react to it. Sometimes a pet parent may only hear a small click. 

Symptoms of patellar luxation can include:

  • Limping
  • Crying out in pain when leg is used or moved
  • Refusal to play, run, jump or exercise
  • Weakness in legs
  • Swelling
  • Inability to bend the knee
  • Clicking sound

Cushing's Disease

Cushing’s disease is a condition in which the dog’s adrenal glands secrete too much of the hormone ACTH, leading to the over-manufacture of cortisol. The source of the problem is either a tumor in the pituitary gland which controls hormone generation, or in the adrenals themselves. ACTH regulates a pup’s reaction to stressful situations, triggering a “fight or flight” response. Too much cortisol over time in a small dog can be life-threatening.

The same test that is used to diagnose Cushing’s disease is repeated every two to three months to monitor ACTH levels in the blood. This is especially true if the pup is prescribed trilostane, a medication that reduces ACTH output by suppressing the adrenal glands. 

Symptoms of Cushing’s disease that you may see in your chihuahua, Yorkie or other small pup include:

  • Increase in appetite
  • Increase in water consumption
  • More urination
  • Drowsiness
  • Pot-belly appearance
  • Panting
  • Dark-colored spots on the skin
  • Persistent skin rash
  • Poor healing

Tracheal collapse

Tracheal collapse can happen in any dog, but is most common in small dogs like Chihuahuas, Pomeranians, Shih Tzus, Lhasa Apsos, Toy Poodles, and Yorkshire Terriers. The condition occurs when the rings of the breathing tube (trachea) collapse inward, partially interrupting the flow of air to the lungs. The result is often a unique cough or wheezing which may indicate that very little air is getting through. 

Tracheal collapse in small dogs can be caused or made worse by pressure on their necks with a leash or fingers, causing a “goose-honk” type of cough. This is the most common sign. The cough may increase with excitement, hot and humid weather, or after eating or drinking.

Your vet may need to monitor the progression of the collapse at least every six months. Weight loss and medications are often prescribed.

Symptoms of tracheal collapse to watch for include:

  • Coughing 
  • Wheezing
  • Fast breathing or panting
  • Lack of energy
  • Trouble eating and drinking, or little interest in them
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Blue tint to mucous membranes in mouth
  • Collapsing

Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS)

Brachycephalic dogs are defined as dogs with flat faces. Many brachycephalic dogs have breathing problems, especially when they’re excited, have exercised a little too much, or just ate a large meal. Hot and humid weather affects them as well.

If a brachycephalic dog is overweight, there is a bigger chance they will suffer from BOAS. One of the first recommendations a veterinarian might make is to change the diet and limit the amount of human food they get.

Small dogs that are brachycephalic include: 

  • Shih Tzus
  • Chihuahuas
  • Llasa Apso

Signs your small dog is suffering from this condition include:

  • Difficulty breathing (dyspnea)
  • Regurgitation or vomiting
  • Noisy breathing like snoring
  • Inability to tolerate exercise
  • Overheating - panting, collapse

Average vet care costs for small dogs

The American Kennel Club estimates that the cost of raising a small dog with a life expectancy of 15 years is more than $15,000. Before you choke on that figure, consider that it includes non-health care expenses along with veterinary care. 

Routine veterinary costs range from $700 to $1500 per year, regardless of dog size, including wellness care visits, vaccinations, and dental exams and treatment. Medications and extra visits to the veterinarian may increase that total significantly. Here are a few routine expenses you can expect:

  • Wellness checkups: $50 - $250
  • Vaccinations; $15-$28 (per shot)
  • Fecal testing: $25 - $45
  • Parasite prevention: $30 per month
  • Blood work: $80 - $200
  • Spay or neuter: $160 - $220
  • Microchipping: $30 - $50

If your small dog is at risk of developing any of the conditions listed above, check out our pet insurance comparison tool. Brought to you by Pet Insurer, Wag! Wellness lets pet parents compare insurance plans from leading companies like Figo and Healthy Paws.

Related: 10 Common Questions (and Answers) about Pet Insurance

Pet care considerations for small dogs

Because some dogs come in smaller, more compact packages means they sometimes have special needs and considerations. Below are some things to consider when you have a small pupster.

Alleviate stress from veterinary visits

Some small dog breeds have a reputation for being “high-strung” or “nervous.” All dogs can experience heightened anxiety when visiting the vet, but small pupsters seem to have extra stores of it. Trembling, peeing or pooping on the floor, or cowering in Mom’s arms waiting for the man in the white coat are all typical reactions. Some tips to make appointment time less stressful include:

  • Make an appointment to bring your fur baby into the office to just visit, accept petting and get treats. After a few of these fun visits, your pupster will associate going to the office with pleasurable things.
  • Practice standing your small pup on elevated tables or counters to get them used to being up high on a hard surface.
  • Make some trips in the car to get your mini-pup used to going somewhere besides the veterinarian’s office.
  • Bring your doggo’s favorite treats to appointments. Let the doc and staff give some to your fur ball.
  • Go to the office when it’s less busy, and quieter.
  • Try a pheromone or other calming treat. Pheromones smell like a mother nursing her pups. Very relaxing.

Train your small dog

All dogs benefit from training exercises where they learn to tolerate being touched and to follow their pet parent’s instructions, cementing the dog-human bond. Sometimes pet parents disregard training for their small dogs because they’re so cute and cuddly, but the mental and physical work the puppers engage in makes them more well-rounded companions. Small dogs are also especially good at obedience and agility. Some training to focus on include:

  • “Stand” helps position a dog.
  • “Nose targeting” involves teaching the dog to touch your finger with their nose. Where the nose goes, so does the rest of the dog. Use it to bring them around from behind you.
  • “Sit” and “Stay” are basic commands that are useful for small dogs to keep them safe when their environment has lots of people and other dogs in it
  • Agility training, such as getting through barriers and tunnels, and jumping over obstacles.

Home safety

Due to their size, small dogs can have problems at home that bigger dogs just don’t experience. Stairs, for example, can be treacherous for small dogs with short legs. Use baby gates at both the top and bottom of any open staircases to avoid a tumble.

Invest in doggie ramps or stairs to help your tiny hero to get on and off couches and beds. Taking a leap from the height of an average bed can injure a pup seriously.

Safety in public

Small pupsters, especially in crowds, may be overlooked by the people around them because they’re so low to the ground. It may be a good idea to pick them up in crowded environments to protect them from being accidentally kicked or stepped on.

People, especially children are drawn to small dogs like magnets. When the dog is on the ground, they may experience people bending over them, petting them on their heads. Any dog, large or small, may react to this with fear and lash out or even bite someone. It’s important to control the contacts your fur baby has in public to help them learn confidence and avoid nipping.

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