Small dogs have been yapping it up in domestic digs for around 12,000 years, starting in the Middle East, according to research reported in a 2010 issue of the journal BMC Biology. Tipping the scales at about 20 pounds or less, small dogs are similar in many ways to their larger and leggier relations. But when it comes to veterinary visits, there are a number of additional questions you may want to ask.
If you're the proud owner of a new puppy who promises to end up on the small side -- or if you're already the owner of a diminutive dog -- keep in mind the follow questions that should come up when you visit your vet.
10: When will my small dog reach sexual maturity?
Small dogs tend to reach sexual maturity faster than larger dogs, so this is something you'll want to ask your vet about right off the bat. (Especially if you own two or more small dogs as many people do to keep their little pups from lacking companionship during the day.)
Your vet can advise you on how soon spaying or neutering is an option, which is helpful since it can be hard to tell when small female dogs are about to go into heat for the first time. It's dangerous for small dogs to become pregnant too young, and all sorts of other problems can arise if your little pooches are too closely -- or too distantly -- related.
9: Have you had prior experience treating small dogs?
Some vets try to handle small dogs just as they would large dogs, but that can lead to trouble. There are proper ways to hold and examine small dogs, and not all vets have had much experience with pint-sized pups. Find out whether a potential vet has worked with smaller breeds before you're in a situation where your pet needs medical treatment.
This is also important because many experts recommend increased caution when anesthesia is administered to small dogs. Smaller dogs also tend to fall ill more rapidly, so your vet must be prepared to act fast to try to halt your little dog's health from going into a serious tailspin.
8: Is my small dog displaying unacceptably dominant behaviors?
Small dogs often get away with more than big dogs do, and a lot of that simply has to do with their size. Whether it's jumping, growling, yapping or pulling hard on their leashes, because they're small, canine obedience that would be trained and enforced in large dogs often goes overlooked in little dogs. But when small dogs exhibit these behaviors, it's not a sign that they love you, are protective of you, or are offering up any other endearing sentiment. It's because they now consider themselves the alphas of the pack, and that's generally not a good thing.
Your vet should be able to help you determine what is acceptable behavior (allowing an eager dog onto your lap -- on your terms -- for example) versus what behavior is unacceptable (that same small dog just hopping up onto your lap like he owns the place). Asking the right questions at the vet will help ensure you're the alpha of your household.
7: How should I train and discipline my small dog?
If your small dog does have the run of the roost, it's past time to give her some proper training (and for you to learn suitable correction techniques). Your vet can help: Ask him or her about appropriate training methods for small dogs, what behavior is considered acceptable versus unacceptable, and what you should do when your pup misbehaves.
If the idea of training your small dog -- and getting a handle on effective correction techniques for when she still occasionally acts naughty -- seems overwhelming to you, consider getting lessons from a specialist, either in your home or in a group setting. Here too, vets can give you recommendations of dog trainers they've seen good results from.
6: How can I find safe ways to socialize my small dog with other dogs?
The local dog park might seem a bit daunting if every dog you see looks like a great Dane in comparison to your little pooch, but it's still important for small dogs to get exercise and spend time socializing with other canines.
After your doggie has been properly vaccinated, you can ask your vet to help you locate nearby playgroups and other get-togethers for small pups, so your little dog will be properly socialized but not lost in the scuffle when bigger canines start to rough and tumble. This is also a good time to discuss preventive care with your vet, to see if he or she recommends any additional measures -- such as heartworm medication or tick repellent -- based on your small dog's typical activities and specific living situation.
5: How delicate is my small dog?
Small dogs tend to appear more delicate than big dogs, and that's usually because they are. So it's important to figure out just how fragile your small dog is by asking your vet. Your dog's size as well as his age and play style can help guide your decision when it comes to choosing an appropriate playgroup.
Knowing the fragility of your small dog is also critical if you plan on keeping it in the company of kids. Children -- even toddlers and babies -- are strong enough to do serious damage to some of the smallest dogs. If there will be any contact between the two, supervise them to make sure no one gets hurt.
4: Do I need to protect my small dog from cold weather?
When the weather turns cold, ask your vet whether he or she recommends taking any special precautions to protect your small pooch. What the vet proposes will probably vary breed by breed (small dogs that are very furry might warrant less concern), but there are definitely some precautions your vet is likely to suggest. That's because small dogs aren't able to retain as much body heat as big dogs, and their typically fast metabolisms can burn through energy reserves quickly.
Your vet might advise strategies ranging from limiting outdoor time to short potty breaks and exercising your small dog inside, to bedecking your little pup in a doggie sweater and doggie boots if the two of you do need to brave the elements. Also, be sure to wipe down and dry off your small dog when you return inside, paying special attention to the condition of its paws.
3: When should my small dog start getting routine blood work done?
In order to screen for certain congenital diseases, vets sometimes like to do baseline blood work to establish an individual dog's basic physiology, and then follow up with additional blood work as the animal gets older. Small dogs are no exception, so ask your vet when he or she feels it's an appropriate time to order routine blood work and other diagnostic tests. For smaller dogs, you can expect this regular screening regime to begin around the time your pooch turns 8 years old.
2: Should I expect any health problems based on the breed of my small dog?
Certain dog breeds can be more prone to suffer specific physical ailments than others, and it's a good idea to find out from your vet what the future might have in store for your small dog. Ask about major and minor concerns inherent in the breed, as well as your pup's specific pedigree if you know it, and any preventive measures you can take early on. Make sure you understand which symptoms to look for, too. For example, if you own a bichon frise, a toy poodle, a Lhasa apso, a Pomeranian or one of many other breeds of small dogs, you'll want to be on the lookout for the signs of lameness and pain which can be caused by progressive knee problems. If you know what might be looming in your pet's future, you'll be better armed to recognize early signs and act fast if problems arise.
1: How long should I reasonably expect my small dog to live?
It's important to find out how long you can reasonably expect your small dog to live, because properly caring for an animal is a big responsibility and you should be prepared for the long haul. Knowing your small dog's expected lifespan will help motivate you to make the most of the time you'll spend together, and it can also help guide decision making during critical illnesses and end-of-life proceedings.
That being said, the average lifespan of a small dog tends to be between about 12 to 14 years. You should consult your vet in order to get a customized estimate depending on the breed and health of your particular small dog. Once you've had all these questions answered by your vet and you know the best ways to keep your small dog healthy and happy, it's time for you and your little doggie to get out there and have a good time. Your pooch might be petite, but she's still an excellent canine companion and the two of you should enjoy a happy life together.