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Life span

Life Span of the Yorkshire Terrier


The life expectancy of the Yorkshire Terrier is between is between 12 to 15 years with a median age of 13.5 years. Female Yorkies live - on average - 1.5 years longer than males. While this is not considered an exceptionally long life expectancy, it is slightly longer how long domesticated canines live in general which is 12.67 in the United States and 11.08 in the UK.  

It should be noted that the figure of 12.67 years is death by natural causes. When death by trauma and other means is factored in the number goes down to 11.1 years
There are 2 main reasons why this breed does have a life span that is longer than the national average:

1) Toy breeds life longer than medium and large breed dogs

2) The Yorkshire Terrier is a rather healthy breed. The majority of health issues that Yorkies contend with are not fatal.

In this section, we are going to cover:
  • The leading causes of death for the Yorkshire Terrier breed
  • Specific steps that you can take to help your dog reach his or her optimal life expectancy
Yorkshire Terrier in bike basket
Pokey, 18 month old medical alert dog
Photo courtesy of Lizette Mierisch

Yorkshire Terrier Leading Causes of Death

A very helpful study was conducted by the University of Georgia that lasted over two decades to record the top causes of death of dogs. 

They documented 82 purebred dogs along with mixed breeds. There were 74,556 dogs in all and within this study group several hundred were of the Yorkshire Terrier breed.

Their goal during this 20 year study was to find mortality patterns that would lead to better health-maintenance practices that may allow dogs to live longer lives.

The findings give us a good understanding of what Yorkshire Terriers die of and surprisingly some of the causes of death are preventable.

Results are divided into two groups: Puppies - which were dogs under the age of 1 year old and Adults, which were 1 year and older.

The Top Leading Cause of Death for Yorkie Puppies

With Yorkie puppies - those under the age of 1 year old- the 2 leading causes of death are:

1) Infection - Sadly, the top cause of death seen in Yorkshire Terrier puppies is infection. This includes a variety of diseases including:

Parvovirus - This is also known simply as 'Parvo' and it is a scary disease that attacks the gastrointestinal tract and immune system of a puppy. At that point, there is intense vomiting and diarrhea that can quickly cause fatal dehydration. It is very contagious for any Yorkie that is not properly vaccinated.  

Some pups catch this during a 'window of vulnerability' when antibodies from the dam's milk have waned off but the vaccine has not yet had time to completely offer appropriate protection.   

This virus lives on infected dogs and also in the feces from those dogs; it can travel among a litter or a group of dogs in a kennel extremely fast. Keeping puppies vaccinated on schedule and also applying proper cleaning methods to all areas of a kennel are vital to stop the spread of Parvo.

Distemper - There is a vaccine for this deadly disease as well. This is a highly contagious infection of the respiratory and/or gastrointestinal tract. Early signs are coughing and weakness. It progresses into bouts of diarrhea that drain a dog of electrolytes and hydration. The fatal phase occurs when it spreads to the spinal cord and brain of the puppy.
Being diligent with immunizations and refraining from bringing a puppy out in public until the entire rounds of puppy shots are complete can prevent a puppy from catching this.

Leptospirosis - Despite this being a deadly canine disease, in many areas the inoculation for this is voluntary. While there are many forms of leptospirosis, the lethal strain causes liver and kidney damage. It is contracted via the infected urine of wild life. For this reason, only dogs deemed at risk will receive protection. This would include any Yorkies that live on property that abuts wildlife habitats. Wildlife includes small woodland creatures such as skunks and raccoons.  

2) Trauma - This is a top cause of death for adult Yorkies as well. Many cases of trauma are preventable - see below for details.

The 4 top Causes of Death for Adult Yorkshire Terriers

For those 1 year and older, the top causes of death are:

1) Respiratory disease - 16.1% of Yorkies died due to respiratory disease. There are only two breeds that die of this at a higher rate than the Yorkie: the Bulldog (18.2%) and the Borzoi (16.3 %).

The types of respiratory illness that was fatal to this breed included:

• Brachycephalic airway syndrome
• Collapsed trachea
• Pulmonary fibrosis

With senior dogs, gradual degenerative changes that disrupt normal lung function can cause the lungs to be more vulnerable to airborne pathogens and toxins.

Note the tracheal collapse is listed here and is not uncommon with toy breed dogs. For some, it can be fatal when moderate to severe cases lead to chronic bronchitis and other issues. One of the causes of this is injury to the neck due to a leash being connected to a collar. This is one reason why it is always recommended to only walk your Yorkie while he/she wears a harness.

2) Cancer - 11.2% of Yorkshire Terriers succumb to cancer. Even though cancer is not even among the leading causes of death for many toys breeds (Chihuahua is only 7.5 % and Pekingese is only 7.8%), it is the 2nd cause of death for the Yorkie.

A Yorkie's life can be cut short due to a variety of cancers including lymphoma (a tumor of the lymph nodes), mast cell tumors (a form of skin cancer), mammary gland tumors, soft tissue sarcomas (these occur on the surface of the body and within body organs, then slowly grow and metastasize in the lungs and liver) and bone cancer.

It is important to note that 50% of all cancers are curable if caught early and that the risk of developing mammary cancer can be decreased dramatically if a female is spayed. Therefore, in regard to this cause of death some cases are preventable.

3) Trauma- This is the 2nd leading cause of death for Yorkie puppies and the 3rd top cause of death for adult Yorkshire Terriers. A dreadful 10.7% of Yorkies died due to trauma and in almost every case, this reason for dying can be prevented.  

With almost 11% of Yorkies dying due to trauma this is a number that all owners should be acutely aware of. Death by trauma included fatal injury to the head, body or both. This included completely avertable injury including:
  • Being stepped on
  • Being tripped over
  • Being accidentally knocked down a staircase
  • Being dropped
  • Being hit by a car
  • Fatal injury received as a passenger in a car
As you can see from the above list, this cause of death for both Yorkie puppies and adult dogs can be avoided. The average life span of this breed would increase dramatically if fatal injury were taken out of the equation.
4) Congenital Disease- With 10.5% of Yorkies dying due to congenital disease, this is the 4th leading cause of death for Yorkies 1 year old and older. This category includes all disease and conditions that are present at birth. Notably are liver shunts which the Yorkshire Terrier is prone to. This is also referred to as portosystemic shunt (PPS). 
In the US, Yorkshire Terriers have a 36 time greater chance of developing liver shunts than all other purebred dogs put together.

With this sometimes fatal condition, there is not adequate blood flow to the dog's liver. There are varying degrees to which the blood vessel can be 'shunted'.   

While puppies are born with this defect ,the dog may not show any signs until the age of 1 or a bit older. Symptoms include:
  • Poor growth rates
  • Weakness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Excessive drooling
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Behavioral changes (Staring, methodically spinning in circles)
  • Seizures
With many Yorkies, clinical signs appear 1 to 3 hours after eating a meal as toxins normally filtered by a healthy liver reach the dog's brain instead.

It is diagnosed via x-rays, dye studies, ultrasound and blood testing to check blood ammonia concentration. 

Treatment for minor cases involved a change to the diet (low protein) and medications including neomycin, lactulose or metronidazole to help prevent the buildup of toxins that develop due to a malfunctioning liver. Unfortunately, while some dogs can live with this condition while being on non-invasive treatment options, life span is dramatically shortened.

Since this is such a threat to the life span of the Yorkshire Terrier, moderate to severe cases are treated with surgery. Over 50% of dogs that have shunts severe enough to cause clinical signs and changes to behavior will die in one year without this surgical procedure. 

For larger breeds, the shunt is complete closed off; however with toy breeds - and in particular the Yorkie- a different method of partially closing the shunt or using constrictor rings that gradually close over a period of 5 weeks sees better results.

The survival rate after surgery is an impressive 95%. Afterward 33% of Yorkies will still have some blood flow issues though only approximately 15% will show clinical signs. 

Extending the Life Expectancy of Your Yorkshire Terrier

There are many things that you can do to help your Yorkie live as long as possible. Care that you give from the day you bring home your puppy, through adulthood and into the senior years will have a great impact on your dog's health and his or her life span.

1) Vaccinations - With infection being a top cause of death for Yorkie puppies and a concern for older dogs as well, keeping up with vaccinations is important. Puppies should not be taken outside beyond the boundaries of the home's property until 2 weeks after all puppy shots have been given. If other animals have access to the yard, the pup should be closely watched and not allowed to sniff at urine or feces of other pets or animals.  

Speak to your vet regarding the possible need for the Leptospirosis if you live in a high risk area.

2) Preventing Trauma - With trauma being such a huge reason for the death of so many Yorkshire Terriers (2nd leading cause for puppies and 3rd leading cause- 10.7%- for those over 1 year old) attention must be put on creating a safe environment for this breed.

- Everyone in the household and anyone who visits must be keenly aware that this is an 'under-the-foot' dog. Attention must be put on knowing that this little toy breed can quietly appear under your feet without warning. Household members must always look before walking, take care when walking in darkened rooms, look before taking a step backward and always look before sitting down. When a Yorkie sleeps, this should be in a safe, secure area so that if people wake up at night, in the dark, the dog cannot be under foot.

- Being dropped and receiving fatal injuries is such as sad death statistic, yet it happens to this breed quite often. This can happen if a child is not taught proper handling techniques or if an owner is trying to multi-task and the Yorkie wiggles out from her arms. A Yorkie can also be harmed by being swung around or bounced and slipping free from your hands. Great care must be taken to securely pick up and hold a Yorkie. When you are holding this dog all attention should be focused on this without any distractions.

- At no time when outside should a Yorkshire Terrier be off leash unless in a safe, enclosed yard. The biggest risk of being off leash is being hit by a car when running out into the street, as trauma via automobile impact is among the top causes of fatal trauma.

- Never leave your puppy or dog outside alone, even if the yard in enclosed, since this breed is quite capable of digging under a fence or finding a weak spot. Un-spayed female and intact males will have a tendency to escape more often than those that are fixed.

- Be careful when you or others open a door; an unsecure Yorkie can squeak right passed you and out onto the road in the blink of an eye. If your puppy or dog tends to run for the exit when the door opens, it can help to have a rule in placed that everyone will knock first - even if the door is unlocked - to allow someone to secure the dog to prevent him from darting out.

- Teach your Yorkshire Terrier all basic commands including "Sit" and "Come". If the dog is running into danger and one of these commands is shouted in an authoritative tone, it may just save his or her life.
3) Provide proper dental care. When a tooth becomes infected and there is decay in the mouth, infection can travel into the body reaching the heart and/or brain. Dogs with decayed teeth suffer in pain which puts stress on the entire body and older, senior Yorkies with missing teeth have trouble eating. For all these reason, proper cleaning of the teeth is so important and can be a step that you can take to increase the life span of your Yorkshire Terrier.

A good 4 to 5 minute brushing each day along with once a year professional checkups can keep a Yorkie's teeth healthy and strong. Use a quality paste and supplement this with dental treats that promote good oral hygiene. 
4) Spay/neuter - For both males and females, while there is some conflicting studies, in general most vets agree that spaying and neutering does increase life span. Males that are neutered before the age of 6 months old live 20% longer than their unfixed counterparts. Females that are spayed before the age of 6 months old (it should be done before her first heat cycle) live 25% longer lives than their un-spayed counterparts.

When a female is correctly spayed, it eliminates the odds of developing ovarian cancer. This type of canine cancer is fatal in 50% of all cases. Spaying also reduces her risks of mammary cancer. With males, it eliminates the chances of having testicular cancer (when done before the 6 month mark) and decreases the odds of developing prostate cancer. 
5) Keep your Yorkie on a healthy diet - What your dog eats day after day, month after month and year after year has a huge impact on his/her overall health and therefore their lifespan. Only offer high quality commercial brands or home cooked food. Avoid brightly colored manufactured treats. Use a filtering device on your kitchen tap to avoid giving straight tap water to your puppy or dog and be sure that your dog is meeting water requirements to stay properly hydrated.
6) Be diligent about exercise- In conjunction with a healthy diet, regular exercise throughout your Yorkie's life will help to extend his or her life expectancy. It keeps the heart healthy, keeps muscles toned and contributes to the emotional health of a dog.

Many owners find themselves doing well during the spring and summer; however exercise is cutback in the colder autumn and winter months. It is important to allow your Yorkie to receive the benefits of activity all year round. While you can take a day off during blizzard or sub-zero days, if you properly clothe your Yorkshire Terrier (and yourself so that you don't want to run right back inside) your dog will do just find in the cold and snow if kept to 20 minutes twice per day.
7) Do not delay Vet visits - Many serious conditions have favorable prognosis if caught early. This is particularly relevant in regard to both liver shunts and cancer.

Be sure to budget for unexpected medical issues; it is such a shame when owners hesitate to bring their dog to the vet due to the financial burden of a visit. The expense would be factored into an owner's monthly budget. You may also want to consider pet insurance; though most do not cover congenital defects and pre-existing conditions.

Many plans do cover: infections, eye problems, allergies, stomach ailments, ulcers, arthritis, skin problems including skin cancer, bladder problems, nail issues, abrasions, thyroid conditions, kidney disease, tooth removal, trauma care, lung infections, diabetes and more.

The bottom line is if you have to wonder if your Yorkie needs to see a vet, chances are that he does. Catching problems early is important for successful recovery and receiving proper treatment can stop small issues from turning into larger, more serious issues that can be life threatening. 
8) Accept the age of your dog. Time slips by quickly and many owners do not want to admit that their Yorkie is becoming a senior and is in his or her last stage of life. However being keenly aware of this breed's typical life span and making changes to care as the Yorkie ages will aid in quality of life. 

Older dogs should be given proper orthopedic beds for age related arthritis. Exercise and food may need to be adjusted. Supplements for the coat and more focused grooming techniques can help with problems of aging such as dry coat and skin. Seniors are often seen by the veterinarian twice per year as opposed to once for regular checkups. 

Making a Decision Regarding an Ailing Yorkie

Sadly, the majority of dog owners will need to make an 'end of life' decision. Only roughly 25% of dogs die of natural causes peacefully during sleep. For the remaining 75% of dogs, owners will need to extremely difficult decision to allow their dog to be euthanized to end suffering.

In cases like this, it is not a matter of 'if' but of 'when'. This is such a personal matter that will undoubtedly weigh on the hearts of those who need decide if intervention is what is best for the dog. Many owners wonder at what point do you allow a dog to die and how do you know if a dog wants to be euthanized. These are difficult questions.  

It is at times like this that one must look at the dog's quality of life. If a Yorkie is struggling to breath or is in near constant pain and all measures of treatment have been exhausted, it is usually in the best interest of the dog to allow him or her to escape to a better place. In many instances, owners must take on the pain of loss in order to give the gift of pain relief.
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