"Papillon dog hereditary health and health testing

"Papillon dog hereditary health and health testing

Health & Safety

The Papillon dog is a small dog of the spaniel type, which is also sometimes called the continental toy spaniel. Petite and lightweight, the Papillon is one of the oldest known toy spaniel breeds, whose name means “butterfly” in French, and is given due to the delicate, wing-like feathering on the hair of the dog’s ears.

The Papillon can stand up to 11” tall at the withers and weigh up to 4.5kg, with males of the breed tending to be slightly larger than females. They have fairly long coats that are single layered and very fine, and which can be seen in a wide range of colours with a white base and patches of pretty much any other conceivable shade.

While they are small and undeniably cute and very much fit the category of toy dog, the Papillon is also plucky, playful and generally confident, and they are outgoing and entertaining little dogs. They are among the most popular of toy dog breeds all across the world, including within the UK, and they are reasonably widely distributed and not difficult to be found offered for sale.

If you are considering buying or adopting a Papillon and are wondering if they are the right choice of dog for you, it is important first of all to find out about the breed in detail, including the hereditary health of the breed, and if they are predisposed to any health problems. We will cover these points in more detail within this article.

Papillon longevity

The average lifespan of the Papillon is around 12 years, which is firmly in the middle of the average rankings across the board for dog breeds of a similar size. However, many Papillons live well beyond this figure, and it is not particularly unusual to hear of dogs of the breed living into their mid-teens and beyond.

Papillon genetic diversity

The coefficient of inbreeding statistic for the Papillon is 5.3%, which indicates that inbreeding is undertaken to a small extent within the breed to keep the breed lines viable. However, the statistic for the Papillon is well within the accepted normal range for a pedigree dog breed, which is 6.25% or lower.


The height and build of the Papillon is considered to be in proportion and well balanced, but as a small and finely boned little dog, their limbs are rather delicate and care should be taken to ensure that the dog does not become hurt or injured with rough play.

Health testing

The British Veterinary Association and The Kennel Club recommend that potential parent dogs of the breed be tested or screened for certain hereditary health conditions that are known to occur with an elevated incidence rate across the breed as a whole. This is in order to permit breeders to make an informed decision on whether or not to breed their dogs.

Currently, the following tests and screening programmes are in place for the Papillon:

  • Testing for progressive retinal atrophy, an eye condition that causes blindness.
  • DNA testing for Von Willebrand’s factor, a condition that can lead to a blood clotting disorder.
  • Papillon breed organisations also run a health scheme to collate statistics on patellar luxation across the breed, a condition in which the muscles and ligaments of the knees do not hold the kneecap in place properly, leading to slipping and dislocation.

Other health issues

As well as the hereditary conditions that are listed above and for which the breed as a whole is monitored, potential buyers of dogs of the breed are also advised that the breed has a slightly elevated predisposition to various other health issues with varying degrees of regularity.

Currently, there are no health schemes in place to monitor these conditions or test for them prior to breeding, but potential buyers should appraise themselves of the following possible health conditions:

  • Deafness, which may have a hereditary factor to it, and is particularly prevalent in dogs with a significant amount of white on their bodies. While deaf dogs can usually live relatively normal lives with some allowances made, known deaf dogs should not be used for breeding.
  • Black hair folliculitis, a condition that affects the black areas of the coat on Papillons that are black and white. This can lead to an infection of the follicles and shedding of the hair in the black areas of the coat.
  • Cataracts of the eyes, although these are usually operable.
  • Mitral valve disease of the heart, a degenerative condition of the mitral valve that can ultimately lead to heart failure.
  • Micropapilla, a condition in which the optic discs of the eyes are much smaller than normal.
  • Neuroaxonal dystrophy or NAD, a neurological condition that causes tremors of the head and weakness of the back legs. This condition usually becomes apparent in dogs below the age of six months, and is sadly fatal.
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