Friday, October 17, 2014

5 problems unique to small dogs

Sinead the boston terrier in her bed

Sinead is an extraordinarily small dog. Instead of weighing in the 24-pound range, like a lot of other Boston terriers, she only packs about 8 pounds on her wee little frame. In the nearly two years that I've had her, I've noticed that there are some very specific hazards that she faces, that much larger Liam does not. Here are just a few of them.


Liam the pug and Sinead the Boston terrier

When I worked in the veterinary field, we used the shorthand term "BDLD" to stand in for traumatic injuries inflicted by a big dog on the body of a small dog. It was a way to process paperwork just a little bit quicker, so these ill animals could get the care they needed ASAP.

Unfortunately, injuries like this are pretty common. When little dogs interact with dogs that are much heavier and stronger, quick moves the bigger animal might make can do an incredible amount of damage. Here's a case in point.

A few weeks ago, I was watching similarly matched dogs playing together in an open play group. The larger of the two was a touch aggressive, and was therefore wearing a muzzle. But the smaller dog didn't have great manners, and kept pestering the big girl. Her response? To lie down on him until he submitted.

Now, this is excellent dog-to-dog communication, and both of these guys walked away with no injuries. But if this big gal busted this move on Sinead, I'm not sure she would have been so lucky. An 85-pound body pressing on hers might have just smashed her. And if that big dog hadn't worn a muzzle, a correction with teeth might have killed her.

Liam is a bit larger, and I often don't worry about him interacting with other dogs. He can handle himself. But Sinead? Not so much. I think we both feel more comfortable when her interactions take place with dogs that are roughly her size.

Heavy toys

Sinead the Boston terrier and her keys

Like most dogs, Sinead is ball-and-chew-toy obsessed. (Note the blurriness of the photo above, for example, as I couldn't get her to sit still for a shot when the toy was available.) She loves to get her own toys out of the toy box and carry them around.

But many dog toys are really heavy. Some weigh a pound or two, and I worry about the health of her neck when she's pulling these things from place to place. She has to point her chin skyward to heave them off of the ground, and I can hear her grunting with effort as she moves around. That also can't be great for her neck.

Also, heavy toys could simply knock her out if I throw them and she runs to catch them before they hit the ground. When they weigh quite a bit and momentum is in play, they can do a lot of damage. That's not something one must worry about with larger dogs.

Big snack bites 

Sinead asking for a dog cookie
"What do you mean, I can't have big bites?"
 Many dog treats come in bites that are roughly an inch long and an inch wide. That's the perfect size for dogs like Liam, as he can get both sides of his teeth working on each morsel. But treats that are this size, and that are a little hard to chew, can be choking hazards for Sinead.

I discovered this last night, when I gave her a jerky treat. She tried to chew it, and somehow, she got the thing wedged to the top of her mouth, trapped there between her teeth. She couldn't move it with her tongue, and the length of it was sparking her gag reflex. I had to pry the thing out (and sneaky Liam ate it--Ew).

Most treats must be either cut up or torn up for her wee little mouth, and that's something I'll have to be much more cautious about.

Underfoot injuries 

Sinead the Boston terrier sleeping

Loafing around is a big part of what Sinead does all day, and often, she does that work in the middle of the room. That allows her to keep an eye on any food prep that might be going on, and it allows her to head out the door with anyone who is leaving. She likes to be in the middle of the action.

But a quick and misplaced step could be really dangerous for her, as her body is just not that big. I could crack her ribs, break her leg or otherwise really screw her up if I'm not paying attention. That's (again) not a hazard associated with big dogs. They just have more mass, so they're more likely to cause an out-and-out tripping, rather than sitting beneath a descending shoe.

Toxic reactions

Sinead the Boston terrier in the sunshine

Any dog could become ill when exposed to a toxin like chocolate or coffee. Dogs like Liam can also struggle with allergic reactions to common things like bug bites and fabric softener. It's something that happens.

But since Sinead is so small, she's at a higher risk of developing life-threatening reactions. The amount of exposure required is just so much smaller, because she has a much smaller body mass. That means keeping her environment safe is of vital importance. I can't afford even the tiniest slip.

Now, I think that all of this hard work is well worth it. She's a unique dog, and I wouldn't change a single thing about her. But, I do think it's important to cognizant of the challenges faced by little dogs like her. And if you're considering a little dog, you'll need to be aware of the issues, too.

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