Ah pugs: cute little bundles of wrinkly joy! They’re so adorable with their squishy face and their little chubby bodies…When you look at your furbaby, the last thing you want to think of are pug health problems.
But, as every pug owner knows, sadly, our babies are prone to some issues. There are breed-specific pug health problems caused by their brachycephalic (flat) skull, that gives them their distinct appearance. Unfortunately, breathing issues, allergies, eye-problems and more accompany the charm of the pug breed.
Pugs have laid-back temperaments and they’re house-friendly dogs that are perfect for apartment or smaller-space living. Pugs don’t require a lot of exercise but they DO require regular walks and activities, which is where some health problems come into play. Between their appetite and penchant for laziness, in many ways pugs are their own worst enemy when it comes to fighting off pug health problems.
Fortunately, because we, their owners, love them so much, we do everything we can to keep them healthy, fit and happy. Here are 10 ways you can prevent pug health problems and keep your dog feeling great for years to come.
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1. Maintain Your Dog’s Healthy Weight
The biggest thing pug owners can do for their dog is help it maintain a healthy weight. Pugs need regular walks daily. While they will never be the dog to take on a marathon, they enjoy occasional “zoomies” in the park and are quite fast when they want to be. Pugs can do agility and some pugs accompany their owners on hikes and jogs.
Pugs don’t do so well in hot conditions, due to their breathing issues, but they can still enjoy time outdoors and need to get regular activity. Pugs should walk at least a few blocks 2-3 times per day with plenty of play on the weekends.
To tell if your pug is overweight view them from the top. You should be able to see a waist that goes in slightly. Pugs can vary in weight from 10-25 pounds (some even larger), so the waist test is a good measure.
Pugs who are overweight experience heart, breathing and joint problems. Weight issues can lead to diabetes which can lead to blindness and death. If you want to avoid pug health problems and help your pug lead a long and happy life, the most important thing you can do is keep their weight in check.
2. Feed Your Pug a Consistent Diet
Similarly, a diet of people food and scraps isn’t for a pug. Many people foods contain toxic ingredients to pugs (onions, avocado, chocolate, artificial sweeteners and more). There are many foods pugs can’t or shouldn’t eat. Don’t risk it. Your pug will try to tell you that he can eat ALL the foods. Don’t believe him.
Feed your pug regular portions 2-3 times per day. Due to pugs tendency to overeat, it’s best if they don’t free-feed. Some dogs can pick at kibble throughout the day, but if you’ve ever seen a pug eat, you know for them, this isn’t the case. You may want to invest in a slow feeding mat, or bowl to help your pug practice self control. Using a high-quality, wholistic dog food (we like Fromm’s, but there are other great brands as well) will ensure your pug gets proper, balanced nutrition.
As for treats, carrots and small high-protein “trainers” make great treats for your pug. Provide your pug with plenty of water at all times. Pugs love running water, so a fountain can be a great way to encourage your pug to drink. Pugs are prone to kidney and urinary issues, so keeping them well-hydrated is very important to their long-term health.
3. Keep a Regular Potty Schedule
Pugs generally need to go out every 4-5 hours. Some pugs can “hold it” for 6-7 hours, but any longer and you’re risking your pug’s health. Pugs are prone to UTI’s and kidney infections can be deadly. It’s important your pug goes out to pee several times per day. This will also prevent any accidents in the house.
Never ever punish your pug for potty accidents--it’s not their fault--simply take them out more often. If marking is an issue, make sure your pug is spayed or neutered, of course, and consider investing in some bellybands to keep males from marking a new space.
As far as #2 goes, many pugs go once or twice per day. Always keep your yard picked up so your pug won’t be tempted to eat gross “snacks” of poo on the ground (which can lead to illness and parasites). Walk your pug on a leash. Watch for signs of illness or poo inconsistencies. For more on pug butts, check out our post on Pug Butts: Dog Anal Gland and Poo Questions Answered.
4. Clean and Groom Your Pug
Pugs need a bath every few weeks. They also need to have their faces cleaned daily. Their cute wrinkles can become infected and harbor nasties like yeast and bacteria. Pugs noses tend to get chapped. Sometimes they need a little extra help with “wiping” after they poop, and keeping their feet clean after a walk. They’re somewhat prone to ear infections and their ears should be checked and cleaned regularly.
If this sounds like a lot of work, it’s worth it. Pugs aren’t the type of dog to camp out, or live in a backyard kennel. They’re meant to be pampered and cared for. They aren’t rugged pups but they make up for it in sweetness and personality. Your pug is more like a sidekick and companion than a pet. No one wants a stinky sidekick. That’s why it’s so important to maintain good grooming habits to care for your pug.
When you groom your pug, brush their coat and look for lumps, bumps, bald patches or scaliness. Any skin concerns should be addressed by your vet. When pugs are young they can get a little acne or an occasionally clogged pore. This can be caused by plastic toys and feeding bowls that hold bacteria. Wash toys regularly and keep their skin clean. As pugs get older they may get age spots or freckles. If these are flat, they’re typically fine, but point them out to your vet to ensure you avoid any bigger pug health problems.
5. Brush Your Pug’s Teeth
Yes, it’s true. Pugs need to have their teeth maintained regularly. Because their mouths are so small due to their shortened snout, you may notice they lose some teeth as they get older. It’s important to keep your pug’s teeth and gums healthy and clean.
To clean your dog’s teeth, a finger brush works well (found at most pet supply stores) but you can also use a baby toothbrush. Always use specially formulated dog toothpaste. Human toothpaste may contain artificial sweeteners which are toxic to dogs. Start slow and give treats often. We brush our pug’s teeth a few times per week.
Every few years, at the recommendation of your vet, your pug may need a dental cleaning. Although this is a routine procedure, there are still dangers associated with anesthesia. Prolonging the time between professional dental cleanings will help you mitigate the associated risk. Dental health problems can lead to greater issues down the road--infection, inflammation and even heart disease. It’s very important you maintain your dog’s teeth.
6. Trim Your Dog’s Nails
Pugs notoriously hate having their nails trimmed, but keeping their nails maintained is a routine part of dog care. Without a trim, pug’s nails can get long and even curl in toward their paw pads, becoming painful and infected. A painful nail may cause your pug to alter their gate, which can add strain to their joints which are prone to issues.
Trim your dog’s nails or grind them, if they prefer. Visiting a groomer or the vet every few months may make this task easier on everyone. If you do take your pug to a groomer, be certain they’re familiar with the breed and understand not to use a collar (pugs should only use harnesses due to their restricted breathing).
Long pug nails can also lead to eye injury when they scratch. More on eye injuries coming up, but this is one of the most major pug health problems that you can easily avoid.
7. Visit the Vet Regularly
There are certain genetic issues that follow the pug breed--Pug Dog Encephalitis, liver shunt issue and the aforementioned kidney issues. The best you can do as a pug owner is to simply watch for any signs of major issues, keep your as healthy as possible and visit the vet regularly for all preventative care.
Heartworm can be deadly for a pug and lead to a lifetime of problems. Keeping your pug on a heartworm preventative as well as a flea and tick preventative will stave off a myriad of issues. Pugs should be vaccinated for the standard dog concerns--rabies, distemper, parvo and any others recommended by your vet. With pug’s breathing and respiratory health is always a concern, so any steps you can take to prevent issues ahead of time are important and well worth the investment.
Most vets recommend a visit once or twice per year for vaccines and a checkup. If your pet falls in the senior category (8 and up for pugs), you should be taking them in twice per year for senior wellness exams. Your vet may recommend supplements to avoid joint issues, extra eye lubricant and other preventative measures to avoid pug health problems.
It has to be said, but goes without saying--SPAY or NEUTER your pug. Pugs that are left in-tact face many health issues as well as behavioral issues. Due to the head shape and body size of pugs, they’re notoriously tough to breed and professional breeders often have to resort to cesarean operations and stillbirths are common. We always recommend adopting and there a many great pug rescues to help you find your perfect pug. Don’t ever buy a pug from a backyard breeder or pet store. Stop the cycle by spaying or neutering your pet.
8. Watch those Big Eyes
Speaking of eyes. Pugs have big, beautiful, soulful eyes that we fall in love with. Their big eyes give them that sad puppy look that makes them so endearing. Yet, their eyes are one of their biggest vulnerabilities. Because of their prominence and location, they’re highly prone to injury. It’s not uncommon to see pirate pugs with one eye.
If your pug has particularly prominent eyes, your veterinarian or eye specialist can perform canthoplasty on the eyelid to make the opening smaller. This will protect the eye and prevent dry-eye from not closing completely. Dry eyes can lead to ulcerations and other eye issues that are costly and painful.
Should you notice any redness, blinking, watering, pawing at the eye or squinting, it’s critical you get your pug to a veterinarian immediately for examination. Eye injuries are very common and often treatable but will rarely heal on their own. They need professional treatment. Don’t wait on an eye issue. An ulceration can rupture within a matter of hours, and eye injuries require immediate medical treatment.
If your pug does suffer an eye injury, there are many procedures and methods to repair the damage. Grafting is common with pug eyes and may mean the difference between one eye or two. Unfortunately, eye problems are often very expensive. Many owners opt for enucleation (removal of the eye). Pirate pugs are just as cute and blind pugs adapt very quickly. Although eye issues are upsetting, and a big pug health problem, pugs can still lead a great quality life even with less (or no) vision.
9. Listen for Breathing Issues
Pugs will pant in the summer months. They don’t take well to heat and may love a cool place to rest, like a Cool Bed, or a spot by the air conditioner. You’ll get used to hearing your pug breathe heavy, snore, and make weird noises. Sometimes they even get reverse sneezes which sould a little scary, but subside after a few minutes.
That said, if your pug struggles to breathe regularly your vet may recommend a Stenotic Nares surgery which helps open the nostrils wider. This is especially common in younger pugs and puppies who are “growing out of” their noses.
If you notice changing in breathing--frequent panting, gasping for air, wheezing or anything that doesn’t sound right (and there are a lot of sounds, so sometimes it can be tough to tell), it’s best to get it checked out by a vet. Breathing issues can be a sign of congestive heart failure, enlarged heart or lungs, or heartworm (among many other less deadly pug health problems). Always best to have your “dogtor” take a look.
10. Notice Changes and Don’t Wait
The most important step to avoiding pug health problems is to notice any changes and don’t wait around. If you notice anything that’s a concern, get your pug to the vet right away. When it comes to keeping them healthy, prevention and early intervention can ward off many long-term issues.
Many pugs are surprisingly healthy and robust despite the odds stacked against them. Some pugs can run for miles and play for hours with boundless energy. Part of the joy of pug ownership is having a wonderful bundle of personality and fun to care for.
It’s our responsibility as owners to provide them with the best health care possible and watch out for their well-being. While pugs are a high-maintenance breed of dog, they’re also easy-going, friendly, funny and make great companions.
Take care of your pug and the two of you will enjoy many happy and healthy years together!