Small in stature, personable and friendly, and usually rocking a trademark bearded snout, the Miniature Schnauzer is not just the smallest of the three primary Schnauzer breeds (Mini, Standard, and Giant), it is also one of the most popular worldwide. This little canine has managed to maintain a top 20 raking for quite some time according to the AKC, and the famed Mini Schnauzer is likely going to stick around with its dapper good looks, unique personality, and gentle temperament. In 2004, the dog accounted for an impressive 2.4 percent of purebred dogs that had been registered that year by the AKC (American Kennel Club). Known as 'ratters', these dogs have a penchant for chasing and watching for small vermin. As a result they can act as a small watchdog around the yard as well, despite being small animals.
Background and History of the Miniature Schnauzer
That mustached or bearded snout and bushy eyebrows give Minis this almost-human appearance, and these days, the dogs are mostly found as loyal family pets with playful personalities. Yet, the Mini Schnauzer is capable of tireless patrol if you have a lot of farmland and they are surprisingly fearless and tough in spite of their size. This paired with their eager trainability is a telltale indication of the breed's history as a good ratter and well-rounded farm dog. The breed originated in standard size in Germany in the 15th century, but farmers deliberately bred the dog down to a more compact size for apt ratting capabilities. Unique to the Mini Schnauzer is the fact that this Terrier is one of the few created beyond the boundaries of Old-World Britain, and actually has no history of British-bred bloodlines. To achieve the smaller stature, this Terrier was created from a mix of the Poodle, Affenpinscher, and Standard Schnauzer. The result is a highly intelligent Terrier mix, which made it into formal registries in 1899, with a willing-to-please personality.
- Life Expectancy: 12 to 15 years
- Weight: Between 11 and 20 pounds
- Height: Between 12 and 14 inches
- Breed Type: Terrier Group
- Personality and Temperament:Friendly, Intelligent, Well-Behaved
Miniature Schnauzer Health Problems
Terriers are often preferred because they tend to have generally healthy and long lives, and the Mini Schnauzer is no different. Miniature Schnauzers are generally a healthy, hearty breed, and they don't have a lot of major health issues to speak of, which is quite rare for a mini canine breed. The American Miniature Schnauzer Club only recommends that the dogs be examined by a vet, get their vaccinations as scheduled, and get an eye exam. Nevertheless, there are a few health conditions that all breeders and owners should know well when working with breed.
Hyperlipidemia is a condition that only affects certain dog breeds, but the Miniature Schnauzer is the most commonly affected canine. The condition is characterized by an abnormal level of fat (triglycerides) in the blood, and the exact cause of the condition is unknown even though genetic predisposition is obvious. In laymen's terms, the condition makes triglyceride levels high consistently even though they should rise after eating and then slowly drop. Some dogs show no symptoms at all, but others will have symptoms that can be hard to relate to hyperlipidemia. Roughly a third of Minis have hyperlipidemia and will develop the condition around the age of four in most cases, and this can lead to pancreatitis if it is left untreated.
Symptoms of Hyperlipidemia
- Hair loss
- Inflammation of the eyes
- Fatty deposits under the skin
- Lack of appetite
Hyperlipidemia is fairly easily diagnosed. The vet can run blood tests in specific time increments from a prior meal to accurately diagnose the condition. Treatment, in part, involves careful monitoring of the dog's nutrition; Miniature Schnauzers should always have high-quality food with a lower fat content because of their predisposition to high levels of triglycerides. However, treatment may also involve something like fish oil supplements that help the body better process fat content in food, and this form of treatment can be relatively successful when paired with a proper diet and exercise.
Tips for Mini Schnauzer Owners
- Proper diet is the biggest factor in avoiding hyperlipidemia
- The condition is most often controlled through a healthy diet and exercise
- Left untreated, hyperlipidemia can lead to acute pancreatitis, which can be fatal
2. Urinary Stones (Urolithiasis)
There are actually a few different types of urinary stones that canines can be susceptible to just like humans: Kidney and bladder stones. Thee stones develop as protein sediment in the urine collects into larger coalesces and form a stone, which can be quite large in size. Unfortunately, Mini Schnauzers can be especially prone to urinary stone development, and this condition can be incredibly painful for the dog. There may be a genetic predisposition to urolithiasis, but the condition is just as much related to what foods the dog eats as well.
Symptoms of Urinary Stones
- Difficulty urinating
- Showing obvious signs of pain while trying to urinate or just in general
- Blood in the urine
- General malaise or signs that the dog isn't feeling well
Treatment for urolithiasis tends to involve surgery to manually remove the stones since the stones don't usually dissolve readily on their own. Struvite stones, which are smaller and a bit less common, can sometimes be dissolved by implementing a strict diet that is formulated to aid in the breakdown of the solid materials. The veterinarian will properly diagnose the condition before surgery by measuring sediment particles and blood content in the urine, and they may perform either x-rays or an ultrasound to get a closer look. Bladder stone removal can vary greatly in price, but the removal of a single bladder stone may be as little as $675.
Tips for Mini Schnauzer Owners
- Always watch for symptoms of urolithiasis and contact a vet immediately if something is wrong
- Special diets may help deter the recurrence of stones after they have been removed
- Mini Schnauzers with urinary stones have a good prognosis with the proper treatment
3. Liver Shunts
Liver shunts are common in small breed dogs, including the Mini Schnauzer. The condition can be caused by an apparent birth defect that prevents blood from flowing directly through all parts of the liver as it should. There can be more than one shunt present, which is most dangerous are hardest to treat and can lead to severe damage to the organ. Symptoms of the condition can show up early on, but may not show up at all until a dog is a bit older.
Symptoms of Liver Shunts
- Lacking muscular development
- Stunted growth or low body weight
- Recurrent kidney or bladder infections
Liver shunts can be diagnosed by the apparent symptoms and a complete blood count (CBC). Urinalysis, exploratory surgery, and even ultrasounds may also be used to achieve a proper diagnosis. The typical measures recommended by the vet will be a major change in diet to reduce protein intake and include lactulose and possibly using antibiotics to reduce the overgrowth of bacteria and toxins in the blood and intestinal tract. These treatment methods are successful in about a third of cases and the dogs will go on to have a decent life. Neurological symptoms are common, however, and these can drastically affect the ability of the dog to have a good life, so surgery may be a necessity. Liver shunt treatment can grow costly due to ongoing medicinal needs and vet management.
Tips for Mini Schnauzer Owners
- The survival rate for liver shunt surgery is over 95 percent
- Protein-restricted food may be necessary beyond surgery for 6 to 8 weeks
- Dogs with liver shunts can live a long time with proper treatment
Mini Schnauzers can be prone to the development of cataracts and other eye problems, especially as they get older. Roughly five percent of breeds in one study performed in 2005 were found to have issues with cataracts. The condition can be hereditary; dogs with parents who had cataracts can be more vulnerable to cataract development. It is not uncommon for Minis as young as four months old to have some cataract formation. However, the condition may also be related to environmental issues and unavoidable genetic predisposition.
Symptoms of Cataracts
- An opaque appearance of the eye or both eyes
- Pawing at the eyes
- Obvious changes in the dog's visual capabilities
Cataracts can be treated through surgery that involves removing the affected lens and replacing it with an artificial one. Just like in humans, the surgery does have a high success rate, but the treatment is not inexpensive. You can expect cataract surgery for your Mini Schnauzer to cost somewhere from $1,500 to $5,000 per eye, but most dog owners do choose to have only one eye done. Performing surgery on just one eye does give the dog some level of vision, which tends to be the primary goal.
Tips for Mini Schnauzer Owners
- Cataract surgery may be the most expensive option, but it does have a high success rate and will improve quality of life for the dog
- Opting out of cataract surgery may mean progression of the condition causes visual problems to get worse
- Dogs can adapt rather well to poor vision or even blindness
5. Dental Problems
Terriers overall can be more prone to having dental issues than a lot of other breeds, and Miniature Schnauzers, unfortunately, have a slightly heightened risk. The most common problem is basic decay, which is more problematic than it sounds. Tartar buildup can lead to decay, which can lead to lost teeth and damage to other organs in the body as well. Dogs that have unattended dental issues can see their life spans shortened by one to three years. Gum disease is also a big problem with the Mini, which can also lead to risks of tooth loss. Dental care is really important for schnauzers, giving them Greenie's and getting their teeth brushed - or giving them treats that help with their breathe and oral hygeine, it will help keep your dog's teeth in good shape!
Symptoms of Dental Problems
- Reluctance to eat
- Pawing at the mouth and whining
- Changes in teeth appearance
- Blood on chew toys and treats
- Swelling and inflammation of the gums
- Loose teeth or losing teeth
Treatment for dental issues can grow to be really expensive, which is why preventative measures are so important. Your Mini should get a good bout of teeth brushing regularly, and it should be offered treats and toys that can help keep plaque and tartar buildup at bay. Oral radiographs to look for the extend of damage to a tooth all the way to the root can be as much as $150 to $200, and dental specialists may charge anywhere from $2,000 to $3,000 for extractions and cleanings. The latter procedures are expensive because dogs do have to be under anesthesia to aptly perform them.
Tips for Mini Schnauzer Owners
- Notify your vet as soon as you notice an issue; prolonging treatment is bad for the dog and the costs of treatment will grow larger
- Make sure your Mini is getting ample dry kibble that is high-quality as this will help deter plaque accumulation
- Periodic basic cleaning every few years can help lower the risks of gum disease drastically
6. von Willebrand's Disease (vWD)
von Willebrand's Disease (vWD) is a type of hemophilia that can affect miniature schnauzers. It has been caused by a lack of a protein known as the von Willebrand's factor protein (vWF). This is an inherited disease that causes the blood to not clot properly. Injuries often do not heal easily and continue to bleed. If left unchecked, this disease can be life threatening for the dog. Injures often bleed profusely and this disease can cause the dog to go into shock if left untreated. This makes surgery difficult and often requires transfusions. von Willebrand's Disease is hereditary, which means that Schnauzer breeders should test for von Willebrand's Disease before breeding their dog. Schnauzers who have von Willebrand's Disease should not have anti-clotting and blood thinning medications such as aspirin and sulfa-type antibiotics.
- Treatment for von Willebrand's Disease consists of blood transfusions from healthy dogs. With minor cuts, bleeding can be controlled with sutures, bandages, and surgical glue.
- Cost: Blood transfusions may cost as much as several hundred dollars to a thousand dollars, depending on the region of the country and how much blood is required.
7. Cushing's Disease
Cushing's disease is common among terriers, but miniature schnauzers may be a bit more at risk than usual. The condition stems from problems with the adrenal glands that generates a heightened level of steroidal hormones in the blood. Earlier symptoms are easily missed, but other symptoms develop as the disease progresses that are hard to miss. Cushing's disease is not necessarily a hereditary condition, but the breed does have a general genetic predisposition.
Symptoms of Cushing's Disease
- Frequent urination
- Reduced activity levels
- Bigger appetite than usual
- Hair loss
- Thin skin
- Swollen belly
Unfortunately, there is no known cure for Cushing's Disease, but the vet can help manage some of the progressive symptoms through medications to help lower hormone levels in your schnauzer. Managing the condition can be a lifelong thing, however, and that alone can add up to be quite expensive due to regular monitoring and medication adjustments by the vet. The expected costs of treatment can be anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 over the long term.
Additional Diseases and Potential Health Concerns:
We'll dive into the following concerns below.
- Heart Disease / Heart Murmur / Heartworms
- Sick Sinus Syndrome
- Ear Infections
- Mitral Valve Disease
- Kidney Stones
- Eye conditions like PRA (progressive retinal atrophy)
- Liver Disorders
Other Mini Schnauzer Health Problems to Mention
Myotonia Congenital - Congenital myotonia is a condition that causes problems with muscle contractions that won't release. The condition is painful and uncomfortable for the dog with symptoms that can lead to really low quality of life when left untreated. Dogs can show symptoms of myotonia congenita as early as two weeks of age, which can include problems swallowing or general muscle stiffness. In older dogs, you may notice the dog is slow to rise, has an awkward gait, or seems to be in general discomfort. Miniature Schnauzers are listed as one of the canines that can have the condition, but the condition is not completely specific to just the breed or just canines. Dogs diagnosed may be prescribed medications to help them stay more comfortable, but there is no cure for the disease. Breed testing to find the genetic markers in parents can be done to thwart risks for puppies.
Hip Dysplasia - Hip dysplasia is a common canine condition that affects dogs of all sizes, including the Mini Schnauzer. Hip dysplasia can have genetic links, which is why it is important to work with a good breeder. However, dogs who don't get proper nutrition and exercise can be more at risk of developing the condition as they get older. Hip dysplasia affects the hip joint; the balled bone end does not fit well into the socket. This causes unnatural erosion of the bone over time, which can lead to pain and inflammation of the hips, awkward gait, and sometimes in severe cases, a need for hip replacement surgery.
Central Hypothyroidism - Hypothyroidism is an issue that can affect all dogs, but there is some indication that Mini Schnauzers may be more at risk for central hypothyroidism than many other breeds. This condition is linked to considerable size differences due to the fact that the hormones secreted by the thyroid gland are at inappropriate levels to support proper growth. In some studies, dogs with central hypothyroidism could also be diagnosed with dwarfism because of their small stature. The condition is often underdiagnosed, but it is thought to have an underlying genetic cause.
Follicular Dermatitis - Follicular dermatitis is an inflammation of the hair follicles in the Mini Schnauzer's skin. While this alone can cause inflammation that is relatively easy to treat, bacterial dermatitis can happen as a result, which is an infection of the hair follicles that can be harder on the dog. Red spots on the skin, fever in the skin, excessive itching or biting, and even hair loss can be symptoms of the condition. Endocrine disorders like Cushing's disease can be behind the condition, so it is critical to get proper veterinary attention if your dog has symptoms.
Hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing's) - Mini Schnauzers are more at risk of Cushing's disease than a lot of other dog breeds. Cushing's disease often develops rather slowly through the years, which means it may not be easily pointed out until later in your dog's life. The condition is characterized by higher levels of steroidal hormones in the blood, which is caused by an adrenal gland malfunction that could be present at birth. Some symptoms involved can be excessive urination or thirst, swollen belly, hair loss, and lack of energy. Medication is available to help stabilize the hormones in the blood, but the treatment involves ongoing interaction with a vet.
Mitral Valve Disease (Heart Valve Disease) - Mitral valve disease is a heart condition that can lead to complete heart failure in some Mini Schnauzers. The root cause of mitral valve disease is a deformed heart valve, which happens over the course of the dog's life and puts incredible strain on the cardiovascular system. Early diagnosis of mitral valve disease is important, as it allows the vet to prescribe a medication regimen that can help prolong the dog's life.
Megaesophagus - Megaesophagus is an idiopathic condition, which means there is actually no known cause for the condition, but it is also a hereditary problem that may have genetic links. The ailment causes problems for the dog when they eat or drink because the esophagus will not contract as it should to pass food and water through to the stomach. Dogs that have megaesophagus may regurgitate their food on a regular basis, have difficulties with gaining weight, and develop a host of other issues. Feeding the dog in an elevated position in a chair known as a Bailey Chair may help encourage food to move easier through the esophagus and into the stomach.
Thrombocytopenia - Thrombocytopenia is a rare blood disease that seems to affect schnauzer breed types more than others. This dangerous condition involves problems with the dog's immune system that can cause it to actually attack healthy red blood cells or blood platelets in the body. Treatment in the most severe situations will involve a blood transfusion to get the dog's blood levels up to where they should be. Some symptoms can include wounds that won't stop bleeding because of lacking clotting capabilities, lethargy, white gums or tongue, and changes in the appearance of the dog's eyes. When discovered early through testing at the vet, thrombocytopenia can be treated with a combination of steroids and immune-suppressive drugs.
Miniature Schnauzers Are a Hardy Breed with a Lot to Offer
Some would say a Mini Schnauzer is downright comical and fun-loving. Others may claim their Mini is all business and a serious companion regardless of what activity they're doing. No matter what, this bearded canine is all about people-pleasing with gentle obedience and a relatively calm demeanor. With just enough vet care and a good diet, this Terrier will stride right by you through your life for a lot of years.