Miniature Schnauzers

The Miniature Schnauzer was once a scrappy German farm dog kept for killing rats and other vermin. Today, he earns his keep primarily as a companion. Compact, lively and personable, the Miniature Schnauzer has long been one of America's most popular dog breeds. No doubt their distinguished appearance -- most are "salt and pepper," trimmed to maintain a smart-looking beard -- contributed to their longstanding popularity. For example, although Asta was played by a Wirehared Fox Terrier in the classic "Thin Man" movies, in Dashiell Hammett's novel the stylish pet was a Miniature Schnauzer.

Traits, Personality and Behavior

The Miniature Schnauzer's small size -- generally under 20 pounds -- makes him appealing to people looking for a lap dog, and that's unfortunate because he's an active, alert dog who loves to play, run, dig and socialize. They also like to bark, a lot, sometimes to alert you, sometimes seemingly just to annoy. Deny the Schnauzer the chance to blow off steam every day and he'll work it off himself by excavating your houseplants or disemboweling the sofa. On the plus side, they're not big shedders, although they do require regular professional grooming.

Although many small dogs are too fragile for most families with young children, that's not the case with the sturdy Miniature Schnauzer. A dog from a reputable breeder who has been properly trained and socialized will know when to romp and when to be gentle. The Miniature Schnauzer learns quickly and can excel in obedience, although many prefer to make their own decisions rather than follow your precise directions. A naturally outgoing breed, the Schnauzer is great at learning and performing tricks.

Unlike many other terriers which are known to be scrappy with other dogs, Miniature Schnauzers are usually friendly with other dogs. It's a different story, though, with cats, pet birds and other small animals. Many Miniature Schnauzers regard them as vermin and act as ancestry dictates. Early socialization may mitigate this tendency but never fully eradicate it. If you're determined to live with a houseful of hamsters, the Miniature Schnauzer is not your best choice for a harmonious life.

The alert look of the Miniature Schnauzer is the result of painful ear-cropping in puppyhood. More people are choosing to have ears left as they are, folded slightly forward and framing the face. Tails are docked when the puppies are less than a few days old, and so you may not have a choice on that controversial issue. (Cropped ears and docked tails were traditionally thought to have benefits to a working dog; veterinary organizations disagree and assert that the procedures are strictly cosmetic and offer no health benefits for the dogs.)

Although a Miniature Schnauzer is sturdy enough for an outdoor life with proper shelter, make yours an indoor dog if you value your relationship with your neighbors. This alert, noisy dog is a bad choice for backyard living, and isn't happy when ostracized from his human "pack."

Health Issues Common to Miniature Schnauzers

Miniature Schnauzers can suffer from health problems that include allergies, epilepsy, diabetes and pancreatitis. The most common genetic problem in the breed is a strong tendency to form different types of bladder stones, usually struvite or calcium oxalate stones. In a study published it the American Journal of Veterinary Research in 1998 and 1999, it was reported that Miniature Schnauzers account for 47% of stone-forming small-type dogs, with small-type dogs accounting for 58% of all stones.

Struvite stones are usually caused by bladder infections, and it's believed they occur so frequently in the Miniature Schnauzer because of a breed-related weakness of the urinary tract. The stones usually resolve after the bladder infection is treated with antibiotics, but can sometimes require surgery.

Calcium oxalate stones occur when the body doesn't handle calcium correctly. The problem can be managed to a certain extent by diet, but that's fairly difficult. Oxalate stones usually require surgery to remove.

Miniature Schnauzers have a high incidence of a liver defect known as "portosystemic shunts," which can only be treated with expensive surgery. According to a study published in JAVMA in 2003, with a 1% prevalence rate, Miniature Schanuzers are 19.8 times more likely than all other breeds to be at risk for portosystemic shunts.

Miniature Schnauzers can carry a genetic disorder called "myotonia." Puppies with this condition have "hyper-excitable" muscles that contract easily. As the disease progresses, their muscles start to bulge, and the dogs have problems getting up and walking. Their tongues enlarge, their jaws change shape, and they have trouble swallowing.

Fortunately, a simple DNA test can tell you if a puppy's parents carry the gene for myotonia, and whether or not your puppy is affected or a carrier himself. In a survey conducted by the American Miniature Schnauzer Club at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, it was found that 20% of the dogs were carriers and 2% were affected. Do not purchase a puppy without seeing written documentation of this testing on the parents.

To protect yourself from the expensive vet bills associated with these conditions, you'll want to purchase pet insurance for your Miniature Schnauzer before they show symptoms or are diagnosed.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Portosystemic Shunts High $2,000-$6,000
Myotonia Low $500-$1,500
Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease Medium $1,000-$3,000
Mitral Valve Disease Medium $500-$2,000
Atopic Dermatitis High $100-$1,000
Hypothyroidism High $200-$1,000

6 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Miniature Schnauzer Puppy

Don't ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store. You're more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to house-train puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills. Puppy mills also advertise through Internet sites, so never deal with a breeder who'll ship anywhere to anyone with a credit card.

Start your search for a good breeder on the website of the American Miniature Schnauzer Club, which maintains a referral list for breeders who have agreed to be bound by the club's Code of Ethics, which prohibits its members from selling puppies to pet stores.

Ask your breeder to see the results of health testing in her dogs. The American Miniature Schnauzer Club recommends all breeders test their dogs for hereditary eye diseases seen in the breed and that all puppies are checked for breed-related eye problems that can be discovered as early as 8 weeks of age. All dogs used in breeding should be tested once a year by a certified veterinary ophthalmologist. Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder who has not done the recommended tests, no matter what excuse he gives you -- because that's what it will be, an excuse.

Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health and behavior problems in Miniature Schnauzers aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an older dog, most of them can be ruled out.

Whether you get your Miniature Schnauzer from a breeder, shelter or rescue group, work with your veterinarian to design a program to monitor your dog's urinary tract health so you can catch and treat bladder stones before they become a problem.

Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with "puppy lemon laws," be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Pet Insurance for Miniature Schnauzers

Pet insurance for Miniature Schnauzers costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Miniature Schnauzers are more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.

Embrace dog insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Miniature Schnauzers are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Miniature Schnauzer is when he's a healthy puppy. You can't predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can't get when you need it the most.