I’ve never been much of a small dog person. Even as a veterinarian, I prefer larger dogs because of their hardiness and size. However, six months ago I rescued a small Yorkshire Terrier and I am now deeply in love. Between her sassiness and overall clownish behavior, I see what others love in Yorkshire Terriers. My conversations with Yorkie owners have taken on a new bent altogether.
One of the most common questions I get from these owners are “How Long Will My Yorkie Live?” The answer to that question, based on information from the AKC (American Kennel Club) is 11-15 years.
I believe that Yorkies can live to the upper end of this range and longer. In this article I will explain how to keep your Yorkie healthier so it lives to a very, very old age.
How To Pick The Healthiest Yorkshire Terrier Puppy
Having a healthy Yorkie starts first and foremost with picking the right breeder. There are two ways you can go about finding a quality breeder:
- Use the AKC site to find one
- Go through the Yorkshire Terrier Club Of America to find a reputable breeder
- If you’re not wanting an adult, check out a local Rescue!
- If you’re lucky enough to already know and love a Yorkie, find out who the breeder of the litter was. That’s a great start.
If you’re getting a Yorkie from a rescue organization, try to find out the medical history of the dog as completely as possible. Understand that, while problems can emerge at any time, chronic health conditions that have been dealt with (successfully or unsuccessfully) for years are going to be your responsibility going forward.
What Are The Most Common Diseases That Yorkshire Terriers Can Suffer From?
The most common diseases that can affect any Yorkie include:
- Dental Disease
- Luxating Patellas
- Collapsing Trachea
Yorkies are pretty hardy little breed. I find them to be pretty healthy in my area.
Dental disease is the most common problem I see in my Yorkshire Terrier patients. Some of it isn’t their fault. It’s a small mouth area and there’s a lot of teeth that have to fit in there. Do you own a Yorkie? Look in their mouth right now and see the pre-molars that are actually situated almost perpendicular to the rest of the teeth.
Yorkies have a hard time chewing due to the small size of their mouth so it’s hard for them to keep the plaque and tartar off manually. They also seem to be more genetically predisposed to acquiring more plaque and tartar than many other dogs.
Over time the tartar will work its way up the root of the tooth, pushing the gum away and causing the tooth to begin to loosen in the mouth. It’s highly unusual for a Yorkie in my practice to not lose teeth as they get older for this reason. Sadly when I acquired my own Yorkie, she was 12 years old and no longer had any teeth due to the chronic infection that had been present in her mouth when she was rescued.
The best way to prevent tartar in your Yorkie will be to “brush” their teeth daily. By brushing, all I mean is to put a bit of dog-specific toothpaste on your finger and then rub that toothpaste along the outside part of your dog’s teeth. You don’t need to force the mouth open. In fact, it’s easier and faster if they hold it closed.
You’ll likely need to start getting your Yorkie used to this as soon as you bring their home the first time as they are quite stubborn and will be difficult later in life to train for brushing. In any case, in a perfect world, do this daily and it’ll only take you about 15 seconds total. Get as close to perfect as you can.
Yorkshire Terriers are prone to obesity because they are already so small to begin with. When you’re only 8 lbs, an extra half-pound can be too much. Too much weight can make orthopedic issues (such as patella luxations) can be more apparent.
Getting Yorkies to lose weight starts and ends with diet. Due to their lack of desire to exercise as they get older, you’re likely not going to be able to exercise them enough to make a different in their weight. In many cases, you need to start by reducing the volume of calories that your dog eats per day.
Note that I didn’t say volume of dog food. C’mon, we all love to give our dogs a little something extra at times. I’m not saying don’t treat your dog occasionally. What I am saying is that you’ll need to cut their overall caloric intake per day so, if you feed them a few treats, you’ll need to cut back on the regular diet instead. Consult with your veterinarian on how much you’ll need to cut back on your Yorkie’s daily intake if they are obese.
If your Yorkie loves to eat, you’ll likely need to put them on a low-calorie diet. For some Yorkies, that means an OTC (over the counter) diet. I will usually tell clients just to use the low-calorie version of the dog food brand their dog is already on. That will minimize any problems changing their diet might cause.
For the most problematic obese dogs, a prescription diet such as Purina OM (Obesity Management) or Hill’s R/D (Reduction Diet) may be the only thing that can get your dog to lose weight. These high-fiber diets should only be used while your dog is trying to lose weight.
The unfortunate nature of dog foods on the market today is that the vast majority don’t put calorie totals on their labels. If you could compare one dog food’s caloric content per cup versus another, it would make it so much easier for pet owners to keep their dogs at optimal weight.
This is a condition in which the kneecap (it can be just one knee or both of them) doesn’t sit properly in the groove of the femur. Yorkies are prone to this condition because their leg bones are frequently very curvy.
That curve in the leg puts a lot of stress on the side of the knee and, over time, there’s pressure for that kneecap to move medially (towards the other leg). In some dogs the kneecap will freely move from a very young age (as early as 4-6 months) whereas in other dogs it comes on over time as they age.
The luxation can freely move in and out of position or it can move out (luxate) and then get stuck. The more problems this luxation causes, the more likely that only surgery will fix it.
Collapsing trachea is just what it sounds like. The trachea is the windpipe and it’s made up of cartilage. I like to think of it as a straw in relation to the mouth and the lungs. When it’s harder to suck air through the straw (trachea) due to an inability to get into either the top end (brachycephalic disease) or the bottom end (lung disease such as bronchitis or pulmonary edema), the straw (trachea) collapses.
I’m not always sure why some of my Yorkie patients develop this disease when others don’t. I wonder if the chronic use of a collar instead of a harness may cause some to develop weakness in their trachea. For some, their obesity will predispose them.
Collapsing trachea is usually diagnosed with xrays. While there is a (very expensive) surgical correction for this condition involving a stent, you really want to mitigate all the pre-existing conditions that can lead to this problem.
How Can I Get My Yorkshire TerrierTo Live Longer?
There is no “magical weight range” for a Yorkie. Each dog is different and their optimal weight will vary based on their height and the amount of muscularity. Typically you should see an hourglass shape when looking at your Yorkie from above. Big chest, narrow waist.
Yorkies that are overweight will be less likely to exercise and more likely to develop arthritis. The longer this is allowed to go on, the more likely that the muscles will weaken and your dog will struggle later in life with getting up and simply walking around.
If your Yorkie is overweight, and you can’t get the weight off with reducing their diet, have a thyroid screen done. A hypothyroid dog can not lose weight unless they get proper thyroid supplementation.
Good Dental Health
This is where you can make the most difference in your Yorkie’s health. It’s going to be difficult at first to introduce your dog/puppy to having their teeth brushed. However, with patience and time, any dog can learn to adjust to having their teeth brushed.
If, after all else has failed, you simply can’t apply toothpaste to your Yorkie’s teeth, then at least make sure they are getting a professional teeth cleaning at your veterinarian’s office when they need it.
Preventative Medicine/Wellness Exams
I’m a veterinarian so of course I’m going to tell you that regular wellness exams at the vet is extremely important. A good vet can spot conditions sometimes earlier than even the most dedicated owner can.
When your Yorkie reaches 5-6 years of age, there are two things that you should consider doing:
- If you haven’t already had it done, have the vet run some bloodwork to check out all the internal organs. Primarily we are screening for kidney and liver disease, but there are literally hundreds of disease conditions that can be picked up by basic lab tests. Start doing this every year to catch issues early.
- If there’s any level of dental disease and you haven’t already had a dental cleaning done, do one now. It will hopefully get ahead of more chronic issues down the road.
In The End
I think every Yorkie should have a good chance to live a good, long life. 13-15 years should be doable for just about any dog. Hopefully yours will be this fortunate.