There’s no love like a dog’s love. No matter how badly we behave or how much we don’t deserve it, our dogs show us selfless devotion on a level that humans aren’t capable of, so it seems unfair that their lives are so short. Although there is nothing we can do to change the ratio of dog to human years, we can change our focus from living long to living large, from quantity of life to quality of life, by doing everything to make sure our dogs are as healthy as they can possibly be. But some dogs are naturally healthier than others, including the following picks for our top 10 healthiest small dog breeds.
10. Border Terrier
To put it mildly, the Border Terrier can be a handful. It is a Terrier after all, which means it’s energetic, courageous, determined, and when bored, can make some serious mischief. So it’s a good thing it’s also a sturdy breed that is typically healthy overall, but every breed is predisposed to certain health conditions.
Hip dysplasia (hip dislocation), epilepsy, heart defects, hypothyroidism, patellar luxation (misaligned leg bones), malocclusion (misaligned jaws), and cryptorchidism (undescended testicles) are medical issues common to Borders, but despite these vulnerabilities, the greatest health risk to the Border Terrier is itself.
Border Terriers need to be entertained, or they will make their own entertainment—and it will likely be at your expense or theirs. Borders can be very destructive and can seriously injure themselves when left unsupervised. They are also prone to obesity, so they need at least a half hour of exercise each day to stay physically and mentally fit, and to reach their average lifespan of 12 to 15 years.
Borders are also notorious escape artists (they were bred that way). If your pal gets a whiff of a small animal or is left alone in the yard long enough to become bored, it will burrow under the fence or climb over it in hot pursuit of prey or adventure. It is imperative that your yard is surrounded by sturdy fence that is set several feet into the ground to keep your furry friend out of harm’s way.
The Affenpinscher, or Monkey Terrier is not a true Terrier but is descended from the Brussels Griffon and Miniature Schnauzer, two robust breeds that deserve to be on this list, but there was only room for ten.
Affens that are well-cared for can live an average of 12 to 14 years or more. They are considered high-strung and require regular exercise including at least one 30 minute walk a day, but two or three 20 minute walks would be ideal. Like Terriers, Affens love to dig and have a strong prey drive for rodents, so a well-built, deeply entrenched fence is a necessity if your Affen will be playing outside. Affenpinschers should be closely supervised when socializing with other dogs because they tend to be unaware of their size in relation to much larger dogs, and will challenge them without regard to their own safety.
Common ailments among Affens include syringomelia (a neurological disease), heart murmurs, hip dysplasia, Legg-Perthes disease (which is similar to hip dysplasia), and patellar luxation.
8. Norfolk Terrier
Although it is one of the two smallest Terrier types and the smallest of the working breeds, the Norfolk Terrier is widely recognized as a “big dog in a small body.” It is playful and as cute as button, but it’s also fiery, independent and has a physical toughness that protects it from serious illnesses—a Terrier trademark.
Like virtually all small dogs, Norfolks are prone to chronic health issues such as hip dysplasia and patellar luxation, but the most serious condition affecting them is mitral valve disease. MVD is a condition in which the mitral valve does not close properly, allowing blood to flow backward into the heart. It starts with a simple heart murmur, can progress to heart failure— and eventually death.
The average life expectancy of a Norfolk is however 12 to 15 years. Remember, as with all Terriers, it is important to protect the Norfolk from itself. When in public, make sure to keep your pup close to you to avoid accidents and injuries…and make sure your fence is secured.
When you look at a Pomeranian, several “f-words” come to mind, including fox-like, fragile, and frou-frou. But there is another word that begins with the letter “f” that is not so obvious—fit.
The mind-body connection in dogs is perhaps as strong as it is in humans, because like the other dogs on our list, the Pomeranian is an active, feisty breed. Its boldness and confidence are indicative of a mental strength that apparently spills over into its physical durability.
Serious health issues sometimes seen in Poms include heart disease, epilepsy, hypoglycemia and tracheal collapse (when the rings that frame the windpipe collapse, and shut the airway).
Allergies, cryptorchidism, hypothyroidism, and Alopecia X (a condition that causes baldness and skin darkening) are chronic conditions that aren’t fatal in and of themselves, but can severely affect your furbuddy’s quality of life.
Poms need a moderate amount of exercise to help them reach or go beyond their expected 12 to 16 years of life. One or two twenty minute walks a day, and a game of fetch or a short session of free play are great ways to get your pup’s blood pumping and maintain its agility.
It’s easy to spoil a Havanese. It was first bred in the 1800s to be a lively, social, cuddly companion to Cuban aristocrats. This is a breed that loves to be close to their owners, so much so, that they have been labeled as Velcro dogs.
As aristocrats, Havanese certainly get more than their fair share of pampering and like to have their way (who doesn’t), but don’t typically become self-absorbed or tyrannical. Maybe all that attention and coddling is a reason many Havanese live long lives (13 to 15 years) and have few health problems.
Naturally, small dog disorders like hip and elbow dysplasia, and patellar luxation are more frequently seen in Havanese than more serious conditions, including heart murmur, mitral valve insufficiency, and portosystemic shunt—a condition in which blood from the digestive tract circumvents the liver allowing toxins to be released in other areas of the body.
As for exercise, Havanese only need 30 minutes of exercise daily. A short walk, session of tug of war, and a game of fetch are wonderful ways to make sure your Hav gets a sufficient amount of exercise. Don’t be surprised if your pup needs a nap after a stroll or playtime, they are a companion breed…so don’t expect them to have the energy and stamina of a Terrier.
As a scent hound the Beagle is ruled by its nose, and there aren’t enough hours in the day to follow the seemingly infinite number of trails it picks up. This breed is outgoing, inquisitive, and quite frankly, just too “doggone” busy to be sick, so it’s no surprise that the little pup that has to be in the middle of everything landed right in the middle of our list.
Beagles typically live an average of 12 to 15 years. Most suffer very few health problems, and the ones they are vulnerable may affect their quality of life, but are not life-threatening.
Epilepsy, hypothyroidism, disk diseases, ear infections (their long ears block the air flow to the ear canal), and of course, hip dysplasia are all manageable conditions. Glaucoma, corneal dystrophy (leakage of fluid into the cornea), “Cherry Eye” (a collapse of the gland of the third eyelid), and distichiasis (a condition causing eyelashes to grow into the eye) are ophthalmic conditions that Beagles are susceptible to.
Your “Snoop Dog” should get at least an hour of exercise every day. Two 30 minute walks, or a combination of walking and playing should do the trick.
4. Manchester Terrier
It’s a good thing the Manchester Terrier is one of our ten, because it is the rarest dog in the menagerie and the breed is quite literally fighting for its life. Good health is the difference between its extinction and survival.
Manchesters are a very tough breed affected by few medical issues. Glaucoma, heat rash, and Von Willebrand’s disease are the most serious conditions your Manny will face in its 14 to 16 years.
Though it resembles a small Doberman and its sleek frame suggests that it needs a great deal of exercise, your Manny will only need two or three short walks a day to stay svelte. Free play, fetch and simple outings with the family are social activities that will also stimulate your best friend both physically and mentally.
The Miniature Schnauzer is outgoing, intelligent, loyal, strong-willed, and it has a sweet stache and beard…and if those qualities aren’t enough to win you over, it’s also one of our top three healthiest small dogs.
Mini Schnauzers typically live 12 to 15 years, but as with all the breeds on our list, it’s not unusual for some to live longer.
Since we’ve mentioned dyspepsia and patellar luxation issues in the other breeds, we’ll just skip those from here on out and get down to the nitty gritty.
One of the most severe illnesses that Minis are prone to is congenital megaesophagus, a condition similar to acid reflux in humans that can cause esophageal obstruction or aspiration pneumonia, both of which can prove fatal.
Other health problems seen in Mini Schnauzers include urinary stones, Von Willebrand’s disease and myotonia congenital (a condition similar to muscular dystrophy).
Your Mini Schnauzer needs at least 30 minutes of exercise daily, depending on its energy level. Most Minis do well with two walks a day, or one walk and a session of high-intensity exercise. Frisbee toss, tug-of-war, fetch, agility training, and puzzle toys are fantastic ways for your favorite bearded boy or lady to work out.
2. Shih Tzu
What’s beauty without health? No one knows the answer to this question better than a Shih Tzu’s human.
Shih Tzus are a cute but robust breed. They’re not prone to serious diseases and disorders, but there are a few conditions that affect their vitality. Bladder infections and stones, umbilical hernias, portosystemic liver shunts and a kidney disease called juvenile renal dysplasia are among the most serious afflictions that can affect Shih Tzus.
Most Shih Tzus live from 10 to 16 years with proper diet and exercise. You should take your pup for two brisk, 30 minute walks a day and supplement with free play and mental stimulation.
For many small dogs, especially ones that pull on their leash like many of the Terriers on our list, tracheal collapse is a real concern. For that reason, we recommend that you never attach their leash to their collar.
Instead, use a harness like the Petsafe Easy Walk Dog Harness. It not only protects your small dog’s tiny trachea from collapse, but curtails the pulling on the leash. I’ve been using one on my little Border Terrier Maisy for years.And now to number one.
At the top of our list is the world’s smallest breed, and arguably the world’s feistiest dog—the Chihuahua.
Adjectives like robust, sturdy, and strong are not typically used to describe the Chihuahua. Words like tiny, fragile and delicate are more likely to be attributed to this breed that is considerably more virile than it looks.
For a dog that is often carried in a bag or under an arm, the Chihuahua breed as a whole experiences very few serious health problems.
Heart murmurs, hypoglycemia, tracheal collapse, and a congenital heart condition called pulmonic stenosis are all potentially fatal illnesses that Chi Chis may or may not get, but are predisposed to.
Other conditions include hydrocephalus (fluid on the brain), open fontanel (a soft spot in the skull), and the thorn in the side of all small dogs (and one of the conditions we said we weren’t going to mention again)—patellar luxation. Shivering is also very common in Chihuahuas, but is nothing to be alarmed about. If your teacup pup is shivering he or she is probably nervous, excited or cold.
Chi Chis need 20 to 30 minutes of activity daily which should include a walk, free play and brain games. Since they get chilly easily, you should forego walking outside on cold days and instead opt for an indoor activity or take a walk on the treadmill.
At 12 to 20 years, Chihuahuas have the longest potential lifespan of any breed. With proper care, this little dog with the big personality will be hitching rides in your tote bag for a long, long time.
*This post may have affiliate links, which means I may receive commissions if you choose to purchase through links I provide (at no extra cost to you).