Yorkie (Yorkshire) Dog Breed History, Nutrition and Common Health Problems

  • Pedigree: Pure breed
  • Other Names: Yorkie
  • Height: 8 to 9 inches
  • Weight: 4 to 7 pounds
  • Breed Group: Toy
  • Lifespan: 12 to 16 years
  • Intelligence: High
  • Trainability: Moderate
  • Exercise Needs: Low
  • Shedding: Moderate
  • Temperament: Smart, Spunky, Inquisitive, Curious, Boisterous, Active
  • Good with Kids: No
  • Good with Dogs: No
  • Good with Pets: Yes (cats), No (small animals)

Known for their spirit and spunk, the Yorkshire terrier is a fiery little dog. Originally bred to hunt rats, the modern Yorkie is more of a companion pet, though these dogs do excel in dog sports like rally and agility. Though this breed has low exercise requirements and is adaptable to living in small spaces, they are not a low-maintenance breed when it comes to grooming. Yorkies have long, silky coats that need daily brushing and frequent trimming. If you’re looking for an apartment-friendly breed and you don’t plan to keep the dog around children or other dogs, this may be the breed for you.

Fun Facts About the Yorkshire Terrier

  • Puppies are born black and their coats turn blue-and-tan as they mature.
  • The breed was originally developed to hunt rats and they continue to excel in various dog sports including rally and agility.
  • Dogs bred for show typically weigh 4 to 7 pounds but Yorkies kept as pets may grow as large as 12 to 15 pounds.

Coat and Appearance

Not only is the Yorkshire terrier easy to identify by his small size, but he also has a very distinctive appearance. These little dogs have long, silky coats of blue-gray and tan hair. In terms of its texture, the coat should be fine, straight, and glossy – it should also be parted down the back, falling all the way to the floor. Most specimens of the breed have tan fur on their head, chest, and legs with dark gray, blue-gray, or black hair running down the back of their neck to the base of the tail and down either side of the body.

As a toy breed, the Yorkie is very small – he reaches an average height of 8 to 9 inches and generally weighs no more than 7 pounds. The dogs have small heads that are flat on top with a moderate muzzle and a scissors bite. Their eyes are medium-sized and dark with an intelligent expression and the ears are small, v-shaped, and carried erect. The body is small and compact but well-proportioned with straight legs and a docked tail. According to the breed standard, any solid color or combination of colors other than blue-and-tan is considered a disqualification from show.

History of the Breed

As you can probably guess, the Yorkshire terrier originated in Yorkshire county in northern England during the 19th century. Around the middle of the 19th century, Scottish workers came to the area in search of work and they brought with them various small terrier breeds. Though the exact origins of the Yorkie are unknown, these early Scottish terriers are thought to have played a role in the breed’s development. Some of the breeds that may have played a role in the Yorkie’s development include the Skye Terrier, Paisley Terrier, and the Maltese.

The Yorkie was introduced in the United States in 1872 and the first specimen of the breed was registered with the AKC in 1885. The popularity of the breed dipped during the first and second World War but he has reclaimed his rank as the 6th most popular breed according to AKC registration statistics.

Temperament and Personality

As is true for many toy breeds, this dog has a personality that is much bigger than his physical size. These little dogs are full of spunk and spirit, unafraid to stand up to dogs much larger than them. Though he may not make much of a guard dog, his watchdog abilities are strong – he won’t hesitate to sound the alarm if a stranger intrudes upon his territory. Not only are Yorkies tough on strangers, but they don’t typically get along well with children either. Their small size means that they can easily be injured and they tend to be a little nippy and impatient with kids.

Although these dogs can sometimes be stubborn during training and aggressive with strangers, they are a very affectionate breed that bonds closely with family. These little dogs delight in pleasing their owners, but only if your interests suit his own. This breed is often a mix of loving and mischievous, sometimes being content to cuddle with you on the couch and other times preferring to explore the yard on his own. Some dog owners claim that males are more easygoing and cuddly than females of the breed, though every dog is unique when it comes to personality.

Training Tips

The Yorkshire terrier is a very intelligent breed but, like many small dogs, he can be a challenge to housetrain. This breed is known to be a little obstinate, so you’ll need to maintain a firm and consistent hand in training. Positive reinforcement training is generally effective, just be sure to discipline your dog when needed so he doesn’t develop bad habits. Problem behaviors should be curbed early and make an effort to establish and maintain a routine for feeding, exercise, and training.

Exercise Requirements

Despite his small size, the Yorkshire terrier is an active little dog. This breed has low requirements for exercise, but they have been known to enjoy active play sessions and some dogs of this breed are more active than others. Most Yorkies are able to get their daily dose of exercise around the house but a daily walk never hurts.

Grooming Tips

Many fans of the breed call the Yorkshire terrier hypoallergenic but this term is not technically accurate. Yorkshire terriers shed less than many breeds, but they still produce dander and hair which could trigger an allergic reaction. Although this breed only sheds to a moderate degree, their long silky coats require a certain degree of care. You should brush your dog’s coat at least once a day to control shedding and to prevent mats and tangles. Keeping your dog’s topknot tied up will help to keep the hair out of his eyes and you might consider trimming his coat into a “puppy clip” to keep it more manageable.

In addition to grooming your dog’s coat, you should also trim his nails every week or two and keep an eye on his ears to ensure that they are clean and dry. It is also recommended that you brush your Yorkie’s teeth as often as he will let you because toy breeds have a high risk for dental problems including periodontitis.

Nutrition and Feeding

Because they are a toy breed, these dogs have very fast metabolisms and may require as many as 40 calories per pound of bodyweight. Considering the fact that these little dogs weigh about 7 pounds at maturity, however, that only adds up to about 280 calories a day or so. More important than the number of calories your dog consumes per day is the quality of his diet. This breed will benefit from a high-quality dog food formulated specifically for toy and small breeds. These dog foods are typically high in protein to maintain lean muscle mass with plenty of fat to provide a concentrated source of energy. Stick to digestible whole grains like brown rice and oatmeal or grain-free carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, tapioca, and peas. Once you’ve chosen a diet for your yorkie, follow the feeding instructions carefully to prevent him from gaining too much weight.

Common Health Problems

Small and toy breeds like the Yorkie tend to live several years longer than larger dogs. Unfortunately, this breed is prone to a number of serious health problems which may prevent your dog from living as long as other small breeds. Some of the health problems to which the breed is prone include cataracts, bronchitis, portosystemic shunt, keratitis sicca, and various genetic defects. These dogs also have very delicate digestive systems so they need an easily digestible diet. Here is an overview of some of the most common health problems known to affect the breed:

  • Cataracts – A cataract is simply an opacity in the lens of the eye that may obstruct your dog’s vision. Cataracts generally aren’t painful unless they separate from the tissue holding them in place and settle somewhere else in the eye, causing painful inflammation. In many cases, cataracts develop as a result of old age but they can also be caused by trauma to the eye or various inherited eye conditions. Treatment for cataracts may require surgery, though many dogs adjust well to a loss of vision.
  • Bronchitis – Also known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), bronchitis is caused by inflammation in the upper airway, often triggered by some kind of bacterial or viral infection. Symptoms may include a dry hacking cough, fever, retching or gagging, wheezing, lethargy, and difficulty breathing. Treatment for bronchitis usually involves medication to reduce inflammation and continued protection from environmental irritants like smoke, perfumes, and dust.
  • Portosystemic Shunt – This condition affects the portal vein, the vein that carries blood to the liver where it can be filtered to remove toxins. A shunt develops when there is an abnormality in the connection, allowing blood to bypass the liver – this is usually due to a congenital defect. Portosystemic shunt may cause stunted growth, abnormal behavior, and seizures. Treatment usually involves dietary changes to reduce toxin intake, though some cases may require surgical correction.
  • Keratitis Sicca – This condition is also known as “dry eye” and it normally develops when the cornea and the surrounding tissues become inflamed due to dryness. Dry eye can be caused by various immune-mediated diseases that damage the tear glands as well as infections, certain medications, or conditions like hypothyroidism. Treatment usually involves ophthalmic medication to stimulate tear production.
  • Genetic Defects – In addition to the conditions already mentioned, this breed is prone to a number of genetic disorders such as hydrocephalus, Legg-Calve-Perthes syndrome, patellar luxation, retinal dysplasia, and bladder stones. Yorkie puppies may also be at risk for hypoglycemia.

In addition to these health problems, Yorkies are also highly sensitive to anesthesia because they are so small. Dogs of this breed that weigh less than 4 pounds are more susceptible to health problems as well which could limit their lifespan. The breed’s small size also predisposes it to dental problems.

Kate Barrington

Kate Barrington holds a Bachelor’s degree in English and is the published author of several self-help books and nutrition guides. Also an avid dog lover and adoring owner of three cats, Kate’s love for animals has led her to a successful career as a freelance writer specializing in pet care and nutrition. Kate holds a certificate in fitness nutrition and enjoys writing about health and wellness trends — she also enjoys crafting original recipes. In addition to her work as a ghostwriter and author, Kate is also a blogger for a number of organic and natural food companies as well as a columnist for several pet magazines.

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