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The Papillon Information Center       
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Papillon Health Problems

Disease and Health Ailments

As discussed in our general health section, every dog breed has certain health issues that the breed, in general, is prone to.  Reputable breeders will work hard to test sires and dam for any known genetic issues to eliminate any potential pairings that would result in certain health problems being passed down to resulting litters. However, this cannot eradicate serious medical conditions that are found within any certain dog breed.

Here we will discuss each of the more serious health problems found with the Papillon, since knowledge is power and if owners know what signs to look for, this gives the Pap the best chance of successful treatment.


This is most common with young puppies and in particular, with toy breeds.  In fact, for owners of new Papillon puppies, this should be the one health concern to keep an eye out for.   This is a rapid drop in blood sugar levels and it can be fatal if not treated.  

The risk for this decrease as the pup matures and after the age of 4 months old, this becomes less of a concern.

This can be brought on by stress, which can be the result of being in a new environment, too much excitement, etc.   Bringing home a new puppy is a fun, exciting time, however for a little Papillon it can be too overwhelming. Sometimes it can develop if a puppy is not eating enough food.

Since very young Papillon puppies can sleep a lot, it can be a bit difficult to notice very early warning signs. However, one will notice a marked drowsiness, difficultly standing and/or walking (the Pap may bump his head into the wall, have a hard time correctly maneuvering corners, etc.), shaking, dizziness and/or confusion.  Eating will be affected, either an increase or a decrease in appetite.

This can be a very serious health problem if not treated, a puppy can slip further and further down, ultimately into a coma and then it can be fatal.  For this reason, owners of Papillon puppies should keep honey on hand. Some sources will claim that Karo syrup should be used, however it can act as a laxative, which will bring about more problems.

This should be immediately treated at home by rubbing a dab of honey directly into the puppy’s gums and then treatment must be sought at an animal medical facility, since the use of IV fluids is often needed to establish correct sugar levels.

Collapsed Trachea

What This Is – It is a weakening or collapsing of the dog’s tracheal rings (the cartilage that surrounds the dog’s windpipe). It can be progressive (it becomes worse over time) or it can come on suddenly. 

Signs and Symptoms-
The most common symptoms of this is a deep, hacking cough, since the damaged rings create a blockage.  The dog may also have trouble breathing. This is most apparent when exercising (walking or running around).

How this is Diagnosed – While a veterinarian may run a urinalysis or other tests, it is an x-ray that will show if this health problem is present.

Treatment – Non-invasive treatment is first given unless the problem is quite severe. To help with swelling, a course of steroid based medications may be given. Cough suppressants and the use of a bronchodilator can help.   During this time of healing, the use of a dog collar is prohibited and a harness must be worn at all times that the Papillon is on leash. Exercise and exposure to hot weather will be limited.

Over the course of 2 to 3 months, examinations and x-rays will determine if there is improvement. If there is not, surgery is often recommended.

This procedure involves attaching plastic rings to weakened areas of the trachea to offer support and to clear blockage.  Prognosis is quite good with the majority of dogs doing well afterward.  Pressure to the neck will always need to be avoided and therefore a harness will be used instead of a collar.

Patellar Luxation

What This Is - This is a health concern for many toy breeds, as they are susceptible to this condition in which the knee cap slips out of place.  This can be genetic or it can happen due to injury.  It the knee cap can slip out of place while running, however with Papillons, it also tends to happen if the dog jumps from too high of a height such as a big leap from the sofa or other high object onto a hard surface.

This can be a bit tricky, as sometimes it only causes a very brief sharp pain when it slips out of place and then the dog does not show signs of distress.  In these cases, it is only later when there is interior swelling that pain increases enough for owners to notice that something is wrong.

Signs and Symptoms – When this happens, most dogs let out a loud “yelp” type bark as the initial pain can be quite severe.  Afterwards, the Papillon may only yelp or whimper when being lifted into the arms of his owner or being moved in a certain way.  The dog may show discomfort when climbing up onto the sofa or into his doggie bed.   A limp is often a telltale sign, and a dog may have a noticeable skip when trotting or running.

Diagnosis – This can be diagnosed by manipulating the leg and x-rays will confine if there is indeed patellar luxation.

Treatment – In all but very severe cases, non-surgical treatments will begin.  Medications to control swelling and pain will be given. A big part of treatment will involve bed rest.  This can be stressful for both owner and Papillon. It will be important to set up a very comfortable, yet unfortunately, confining space, and the use of a crate is the most frequently used method.  It’s hard on all involved to have a sudden halt to normal activities and many dogs become extremely restless.

Placing an orthopedic dog mat into the crate will be helpful, as will obtaining new and interesting toys to help keep the Papillon busy while he or she is resting.   Sitting beside your Papillon and just talking away can help fight off the isolation that bed rest can bring to dogs recovering from this health problem.

The degree of separation is graded from 1 to 4, depending on its severity.  A grade 1 calls out for medications and bed rest. Grades 3 or 4 often call out for surgery and a grade 2 is the most tricky, as it is borderline.  

In many cases, one will not want to delay surgery if it is recommended, since a delay can result in the development of arthritis and other health problems such as degenerative joint disease. In addition, if moderate to severe swelling become chronic, additional damage can develop in the cartilage and tissues of the knee.   

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (an eye disease)

What This is – This is a progressive eye disease that causes a dog to lose vision. It is caused by a recessive gene.

Signs and Symptoms - The first noticeable signs of this health issue is a perceptible glow and shine to the eyes that is not normal.  In addition, the pupils will be dilated (become larger than normal).

When these physical signs are noticed, the Papillon is often night blind at this point.  It should be noted that dogs with this serious health issue do not feel any pain.

Treatment – This is a progressive disease and currently there is no cure for this. Most canines will eventually become blind and this can happen in as little as one year. However, there is a promising treatment involving an  antioxidant supplementation which may slow this down, allowing a dog many more year of vision than he would have otherwise.

If PRA is suspected, your Papillon’s veterinarian should refer you to a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist.

Papillon Liver Shunts

What This is- The liver filters out toxins, distributes proteins and stores sugar (in the form of glycogen). A constant blood flow through the liver is needed for it to function properly.  While a puppy is still a fetus, growing in the dam’s uterus,  it is the dam’s liver that performs all of these functions and this happens via a shunt (blood vessel) that connects fetus and dam.

When a dam approaches the point of labor, the shunt closes, allowing the pup’s own liver to take over this work.  However, with this health problem, this does not happen (referred to as an open shunt) or there is a genetic abnormality that causes the puppy’s blood vessel to grow outside of the liver (extra-hepatic).

Signs and Symptoms- Signs of this serious health issue are: chronic vomiting, chronic diarrhea, chronic weakness, seizures and/or  underdevelopment (the Papillon will not grow as expected and will be underweight with poor muscle tone) which results in a lethargic dog that does not have the energy to run around, play and be socially involved as he would otherwise.

Diagnosis –
A blood test which checks bile acid levels will show if a Papillon has this condition.  A higher than normal level indicates the presence of a liver shunt (an elevation higher than 100). An MRI, CT scan, or ultrasound will confirm this.

Treatment -  Surgery is not always necessary. One of the first steps is to change the diet. Papillon dogs with liver shunts need to have a lower protein diet, to avoid over-straining the liver. A sugary solution called Lactulose is usually given to allow for a softening of bowel movements.  Antibiotic medication is sometimes given to reduce bacteria in the intestines.   Roughly 50% of canines with this condition will need surgery to close off the shunt and this should be performed by a board certified veterinarian surgeon.

Sensitivity to Anesthesia

It is not uncommon for toy breeds to have a sensitivity to anesthesia. For the Papillon, this is most relevant in regard to dental care.   Without proper care of the teeth, tooth loss can and often does occur.  Generally, a veterinarian will sedate a dog to preform examination and scrapings, however since this can be a health concern for the Papillon dog, extra care must be given at home to main good oral hygiene and keep the teeth in good health.

A Final Word

It is not uncommon for canines to feel vulnerable when in pain, either due to injury or illness.

If your Papillon is uncharacteristically nippy or moody, retreats more often or barks when others approach, this can be a sign of a health problem. 

When in doubt, always bring your Papillon for a veterinarian checkup, since, of course, our dogs cannot vocalize what is troubling them and for many health conditions, only an examination and testing will let us know what is wrong.  

Hesitating to bring your Pap for a vet visit may prolong the illness or injury and delay treatment that will allow your Papillon to live a happy, healthy life.