Silky Terrier

Your Silky Terrier

Caring for Your Faithful Companion

Silky Terriers: What a Unique Breed!

Your dog is special! She’s your best friend, companion, and a source of unconditional love. Chances are that you chose her because you like Silkys and you expected her to have certain traits that would fit your lifestyle:

  • Alert, curious, and busy
  • Loves to play games, especially fetch
  • Good with children
  • Lively, with a friendly personality
  • Intelligent and easy to train
  • Bouncy, cheerful, loyal, and enthusiastic

However, no dog is perfect! You may have also noticed these characteristics:

  • May have a tendency to bark excessively
  • Needs a lot of activity and mental stimulation to avoid boredom vices
  • Can be difficult to housetrain
  • Can be possessive of toys and food, tending to show dominance
  • Likes to dig
  • Suspicious of and aggressive toward strangers and other dogs if not socialized properly

Is it all worth it? Of course! She’s full of personality, and you love her for it! Looking for a side kick? With her clever and adventurous personality, she’s a jovial family pet eager to spend all her time with you!

The Silky Terrier originated in Australia in the late 1800’s from a cross between the Yorkshire Terrier and Australian Terrier. They were initially bred for small vermin control but became companion pets because of their personality. Silky Terriers are very social and do not like to be ignored or excluded from family activities. They are typical terriers: proud, opinionated, and feisty. Silky Terriers make excellent watchdogs due to their attentive and protective nature. When off guard duty, the spunky Silky Terrier makes for a wonderfully cuddly companion. The Silky Terrier is a generally healthy breed with an average lifespan of 11-14 years.

Your Silky Terrier’s Health

We know that because you care so much about your dog, you want to take good care of her. That is why we have summarized the health concerns we will be discussing with you over the life of your Silky. By knowing about health concerns specific to Silky Terriers, we can tailor a preventive health plan to watch for and hopefully prevent some predictable risks.

Many diseases and health conditions are genetic, meaning they are related to your pet’s breed. There is a general consensus among canine genetic researchers and veterinary practitioners that the conditions we’ve described herein have a significant rate of incidence and/or impact in this breed.That does not mean your dog will have these problems; it just means that she is more at risk than other dogs. We will describe the most common issues seen inSilky Terriersto give you an idea of what may come up in her future. Of course, we can’t cover every possibility here, so always check with us if you notice any unusual signs or symptoms.

This guide contains general health information important to all canines as well as the most important genetic predispositions for Silky Terriers. This information helps you and us together plan for your pet’s unique medical needs. At the end of the booklet, we have also included a description of what you can do at home to keep your Silky looking and feeling her best. You will know what to watch for, and we will all feel better knowing that we’re taking the best possible care of your pal.

General Health Information for your Silky Terrier

Brushing your dog’s teeth daily will prevent periodontal disease.

Brushing your dog’s teeth daily will prevent periodontal disease.

Dental Disease

Dental disease is the most common chronic problem in pets, affecting 80% of all dogs by age two. And unfortunately, your Silky Terrier is more likely than other dogs to have problems with her teeth. It starts with tartar build-up on the teeth and progresses to infection of the gums and roots of the teeth. If we don’t prevent or treat dental disease, your buddy will lose her teeth and be in danger of damaging her kidneys, liver, heart, and joints. In fact, your Silky’s life span may be cut short by one to three years! We’ll clean your dog’s teeth regularly and let you know what you can do at home to keep those pearly whites clean.


Silky Terriers are susceptible to bacterial and viral infections—the same ones that all dogs can get—such as parvo, rabies, and distemper. Many of these infections are preventable through vaccination, which we will recommend based on the diseases we see in our area, herage, and other factors.


Obesity can be a significant health problem in Silky Terriers. It is a serious disease that may causeor worsen joint problems, metabolic and digestive disorders, back pain and heart disease. Though it’s tempting to give your pal food when she looks at you with those soulful eyes, you can “love her to death” with leftover people food and doggie treats. Instead, give her a hug, brush her fur or teeth, play a game with her, or perhaps take her for a walk. She’ll feel better, and so will you!

Roundworm egg as seen under the microscope.

Roundworm egg as seen under the microscope.


All kinds of worms and bugs can invade your Silky’s body, inside and out. Everything from fleas and ticks to ear mites can infest herskin and ears. Hookworms, roundworms, heartworms, and whipworms can get into hersystem in a number of ways: drinking unclean water, walking on contaminated soil, or being bitten by an infected mosquito. Some of these parasites can be transmitted to you or a family member and are a serious concern for everyone. For your canine friend, these parasites can cause pain, discomfort, and even death, so it’s important that we test for them on a regular basis. We’ll also recommend preventive medication as necessary to keep her healthy.

Spay or Neuter

One of the best things you can do for your Silky is to have her spayed (neutered for males). In females, this means we surgically remove the ovaries and usually the uterus, and in males, it means we surgically remove the testicles. Spaying or neutering decreases the likelihood of certain types of cancers and eliminates the possibility of your pet becoming pregnant or fathering unwanted puppies. Performing this surgery also gives us a chance, while your pet is under anesthesia, to identify and address some of the diseases your dog is likely to develop. For example, if your pet needs hip X-rays or a puppy tooth extracted, this would be a good time. This is convenient for you and easy for your friend. Routine blood testing prior to surgery also helps us to identify and take precautions for common problems that increase anesthetic or surgical risk. Don’t worry; we’ll discuss the specific problems we will be looking for when the time arrives.

Genetic Predispositions for Silky Terriers




Cataracts are a common cause of blindness in older Silkys. We’ll watch for the lenses of his eyes to become more opaque—meaning they look cloudy instead of clear—when we examine him. Many dogs adjust well to losing their vision and get along just fine. Surgery to remove cataracts and restore sight may also be an option.

The adrenal glands are situated along the vena cava (the large vein in the abdominal cavity) near each kidney. These small glands release many important hormones in the body.

The adrenal glands are situated along the vena cava (the large vein in the abdominal cavity) near each kidney. These small glands release many important hormones in the body.

Hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s )

Cushing’s Disease is a malfunction of the adrenal glands causing them to produce too much steroid hormone. This is a common problem in dogs, and your Silky is more likely than other dogs to be affected. The condition usually develops slowly, and the early signs are easily missed. Symptoms include drinking and urinating more than normal, increased appetite and reduced activity level. Later, a potbelly, thin skin, and hair loss are characteristic. Treatment usually includes oral medications, and requires close coordination with us to ensure correct dosing.

Liver Problems

Your Silky is more likely than other dogs to have a liver disorder called portosystemic shunt (PSS). Some of the blood supply that should go to the liver goes around it instead, depriving the liver of the blood flow it needs to grow and function properly. If your friend has PSS, his liver cannot remove toxins from his bloodstream effectively. To check for this problem, we’ll conduct a liver function test in addition to a standard pre-anesthetic panel every time he undergoes anesthesia. If he develops symptoms such as stunted growth or seizures, we’ll test his blood and possibly conduct an ultrasound scan of his liver. Surgery may be needed, but in some cases, we can treat with a special diet and medication.

Normal Knee

Normal Knee

Illustration of patellar luxation. Notice how the knee cap has moved out of the groove it normally resides in.

Illustration of patellar luxation. Notice how the knee cap has moved out of the groove it normally resides in.

Knee Problems

Sometimes your Silky’s kneecap (patella ) may slip out of place (called patellar luxation). You might notice that he runs along and suddenly picks up a back leg and skips or hops for a few strides. Then he kicks his leg out sideways to pop the kneecap back in place, and he’s fine again. If the problem is mild and involves only one leg, your friend may not require much treatment beyond arthritis medication. When symptoms are severe, surgery may be needed to realign the kneecap to keep it from popping out of place.

The cranial cruciate ligament is one of the four tough bands of tissue that hold each knee together. A torn cranial cruciate ligament is a common injury in active dogs, which includes your Silky. Usually surgical correction is done to stabilize the knee and help prevent crippling arthritis. Physical therapy and multimodal pain management are necessary to get the best outcome. Keeping him at the right weight, feeding a high-quality diet, and avoiding too much twisting of the knees (like playing Frisbee) are key in avoiding this painful injury.

Hip Necrosis

Young Silky Terriers may be prone to a painful degenerative hip condition called Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease. The exact cause of this condition is still not completely understood, but it is thought to be a problem with blood supply to the hip, which causes the femoral head (the top of the thigh bone) to become brittle and easily fracture. Ouch! Usually occurring between six and nine months of age, it causes pain and lameness in one or both rear legs, and often requires surgery.


Each time a female goes through her heat cycle, her hormones cause a growth of nourishing cells to line the walls of the uterus. This becomes a lush environment for the development of a raging bacterial infection that can progress rapidly into a critical emergency that may require surgery. Pyometra can happen to any female dog, but it seems to be more common in Silkys. If you don’t plan to use your friend as a breeding animal, a spay/neuter procedure is best for health!


Diabetes mellitus is a fairly common disease in dogs. Any breed can be affected, but Silkys have an above average incidence. Dogs with diabetes are unable to regulate the metabolism of sugars and require daily insulin injections. It is a serious condition and one that is important to diagnose and treat as early as possible. Symptoms include increased eating, drinking, and urination, along with weight loss. If he shows signs, we will conduct lab tests to determine if he has this condition and discuss treatment options with you. Treatment requires a serious commitment of time and resources. Well regulated diabetic dogs today have the same life expectancy as other canines.

Stones can form in the urinary bladder resulting in irritation and potentially obstruction.

Stones can form in the urinary bladder resulting in irritation and potentially obstruction.

Bladder or Kidney Stones

There are a few different types of stones that can form in the kidney or in the bladder, and Silky Terriers are more likely to develop them than other breeds. We’ll periodically test his urine for telltale signs indicating the presence of kidney and bladder stones; they are painful! If your buddy has blood in his urine, can’t urinate, or is straining to urinate, it is a medical emergency. Call us immediately!

Dental Abnormalities

Teeth abnormalities are often genetically induced and are relatively common in dogs, especially in purebred dogs like your Silky. An overbite or underbite is called a malocclusion, or a bad bite. Oligodontia is a condition where only a few teeth are present. Misaligned teeth can also occur and cause lots of problems, but can usually be corrected with braces or extractions. (Yes, dogs can get braces!) We want to keep your buddy’s teeth healthy so we will be watching his developing teeth closely.


There are three types of seizures in dogs: reactive, secondary, and primary. Reactive seizures are caused by the brain’s reaction to a metabolic problem like low blood sugar, organ failure, or a toxin. Secondary seizures are the result of a brain tumor, stroke, or trauma. If no other cause can be found, the disease is called primary, or idiopathic epilepsy. This problem is often an inherited condition, with Silky Terriers commonly afflicted. If your friend is prone to seizures, they will usually begin between six months and three years of age. An initial diagnostic workup may help find the cause. Lifelong medication is usually necessary to help keep seizures under control, with periodic blood testing required to monitor side effects and effectiveness. If your dog has a seizure: Carefully prevent him from injuring himself, but don’t try to control his mouth or tongue. It won’t help him, and he may bite you accidentally! Note the length of the seizure, and call us or an emergency hospital.

Tumors, both benign and cancerous, can look like anything. This red swelling on the skin surface is a cancer known as a Mast Cell Tumor. Be sure to have all lumps and bumps checked out.

Tumors, both benign and cancerous, can look like anything. This red swelling on the skin surface is a cancer known as a Mast Cell Tumor. Be sure to have all lumps and bumps checked out.

Mast Cell Tumor

Mast cell tumors are a particularly nasty type of skin cancer found more often in Silky Terriers, and the sooner they are surgically removed the better. Trouble is, they often look just like other kinds of skin lumps and lesions, some of which are harmful, and others not. All suspicious lumps should be tested and any questionable lump should be surgically removed as soon as possible. Many cancers are cured by surgically removing them, so early detection and removal is critical.


In humans, an allergy to pollen, mold, or dust makes people sneeze and their eyes itch. In dogs, rather than sneeze, allergies make their skin itchy. We call this skin allergy “atopy”, and Silkys often have it. Commonly, the feet, belly, folds of the skin, and ears are most affected. Symptoms typically start between the ages of one and three and can get worse every year. Licking the paws, rubbing the face, and frequent ear infections are the most common signs. The good news is that there are many treatment options available for this condition.

Skin Infections

Your Silky is susceptible to different kinds of skin infections and diseases. One of them is caused by yeast (Malassezia dermatitis). When it infects the ears, it causes itching, redness, and brown waxy discharge. On the skin, it leads to greasy, hairless areas, especially on the neck and throat, with a characteristic odor. Underlying causes such as allergies together with this infection increase his itchiness and discomfort. The earlier you call to have skin problems checked out, the less likely it is that you will end up caring for an itchy, bald, smelly dog. You don’t want that, and neither does he!

Hair Loss

Color Dilution Alopecia is a form of hair loss seen more frequently in Silky Terriers than in other breeds. It is not painful or itchy itself but can sometimes lead to secondary bacterial infections that are bothersome. Other forms of hair loss, such as those caused by low thyroid level, Demodex mites, or poor nutrition, should be ruled out. There is no treatment available for color dilution alopecia.

Retained Testicle

Some male Silkys have a condition present at birth in which one or both testicles do not descend into the scrotum (a condition called cryptorchidism). Instead, the testicle stays in the abdomen, which can cause problems later in life, including high cancer risk. We’ll check for this problem when your pet is a puppy; we recommend removal of both testicles if he has this condition.

Thyroid Problems

Silkys are prone to a common condition called hypothyroidism in which the body doesn’t make enough thyroid hormone. Signs can include dry skin and coat, hair loss, susceptibility to other skin diseases, weight gain, fearfulness, aggression, or other behavioral changes. We’ll conduct a blood screening test annually to screen for the disease. Treatment is usually simple: replacement hormones given in the form of a pill.

Water on the Brain

Hydrocephalus occurs when fluid builds up inside the skull and puts pressure on the brain. This condition is most common in breeds with dome-shaped heads, like your Silky Terrier. It is often present when the skull bones don’t fuse properly. Signs include seizures, difficulty training the puppy, dulled mental function, circling, and a spastic gait. It is usually diagnosed early in life, but occasionally we diagnose it in adult dogs. We’ll keep this risk in mind during her visits and recommend early testing and discuss effective treatment options if symptoms develop.

Tracheal Collapse

The trachea, or windpipe, is made up of rings of cartilage, making it look something like a vacuum cleaner’s ridged hose. Just as in the hose, this structure provides flexibility and strength. In Silky Terriers, the cartilage rings are sometimes weak or have formed incorrectly. The trachea can collapse and become too narrow, which leads to coughing and difficulty breathing. Most cases of tracheal collapse are mild and are treated symptomatically with medication. When symptoms are severe, surgery may be an option.

SilkyTerrier2of2Taking Care of Your Silky Terrier at Home

Much of what you can do to keep your dog happy and healthy is common sense, just like it is for people. Watch her diet, make sure she gets plenty of exercise, regularly brush her teeth and coat, and call us or a pet emergency hospital when something seems unusual (see “What to Watch For” below). Be sure to adhere to the schedule of examinations and vaccinations that we recommend for her. This is when we’ll give her the necessary “check-ups” and test for diseases and conditions that are common in Silkys. Another very important step in caring for your pet is signing up for pet health insurance. There will certainly be medical tests and procedures she will need throughout her life and pet health insurance will help you cover those costs.

Routine Care, Diet, and Exercise

Build her routine care into your schedule to help your Silky live longer, stay healthier, and be happier during her lifetime. We cannot overemphasize the importance of a proper diet and exercise routine.

  • Supervise your pet as you would a toddler. Keep doors closed, pick up after yourself, and block off rooms as necessary. This will keep her out of trouble and away from objects she shouldn’t put in her mouth.
  • Daily brushing and regular trimming is recommended to prevent mats and keep her long coat beautiful.
  • Silky Terriers often have serious problems with their teeth, so you’ll need to brush them at least three times a week!
  • Clean her ears weekly, even as a puppy. Don’t worry—we’ll show you how!
  • Highly active indoors, she is well suited to apartment living and traveling.
  • She has a tendency to chase small animals; always leash walk your Silky. A harness is recommended!
  • Keep your dog’s diet consistent and don’t give her people food.
  • Feed a high-quality diet appropriate for her age.
  • Exercise your dog regularly, but don’t overdo it at first.

What to Watch For

Any abnormal symptom could be a sign of serious disease, or it could just be a minor or temporary problem. The important thing is to be able to tell when to seek veterinary help, and how urgently. Many diseases cause dogs to have a characteristic combination of symptoms, which together can be a clear signal that your Silky Terrier needs help.

Office calls

Give us a call for an appointment if you notice any of these types of signs:

  • Change in appetite or water consumption
  • Tartar build-up, bad breath, red gums, or broken teeth
  • Itchy skin (scratching, chewing, or licking), hair loss
  • Lethargy, mental dullness, or excessive sleeping
  • Fearfulness, aggression, or other behavioral changes
  • Dull coat, hair loss, sluggish, weight gain
  • Lumps or bumps – regardless of size


Seek medical care immediately if you notice any of these types of signs:

  • Scratching or shaking the head, tender ears, or ear discharge
  • Inability or straining to urinate; discolored urine
  • Cloudiness, redness, itching, or any other abnormality involving the eyes
  • Drinks and urinates more, eats more, potbelly, poor haircoat
  • Slow or stunted growth; sometimes seizures after eating
  • Increasing hip pain at less than a year old
  • Leg stiffness, reluctance to rise, sit, use stairs, run, jump, or “bunny hopping”
  • Increased hunger and thirst, weight loss
  • Any abnormal shaking, trembling, or excessive involuntary tremors
  • Seizures, dull demeanor, spastic gait

Partners in Health Care

DNA testing is a rapidly advancing field with new tests constantly emerging to help in the diagnosis of inherited diseases before they can become a problem for your friend. For the most up-to-date information on DNA and other screening tests available for your pal, visit

Your Silky counts on you to take good care of her, and we look forward to working with you to ensure that she lives a long and healthy life. Our goal is to provide the best health care possible: health care that’s based on her breed, lifestyle, and age. Please contact us when you have questions or concerns.


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  • Bell JS, Cavanagh KE, Tilley LP, Smith FW. Veterinary medical guide to dog and cat breeds. Jackson, Wyoming. Teton New Media; 2012.
  • Gough A, Thomas A. Breed Predispositions to Disease in Dogs and Cats. 2nd Edition. Wiley-Blackwell; 2010.
  • Crook A, Dawson S, Cote E, MacDonald S, Berry J. Canine Inherited Disorders Database [Internet]. University of Prince Edward Island. 2011. [cited 2013 Apr 11]. Available from:
  • Breed Specific Health Concerns [Internet]. American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, Inc. [cited 2013 Apr 11]. Available from:

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