Morkie

Stuart Fitzgerald
Dr Stuart Fitzgerald (MVB MANZCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Morkie

The tiny Morkie (also sometimes called a Morkshire Terrier) is a fluffy, affectionate dog that can also have the stubbornness of mule. Despite the fact that most could comfortably hitch a ride in a handbag, these little dogs can be brash and full of confidence, and certainly should not be mistaken for the teddy bears they often resemble. As a hybrid mixture of Yorkshire Terrier and Maltese parents, the Morkie can inherit more of the characteristics of one breed than the other, but tends to be a very affectionate and playful dog that needs a lot of attention from its owners. It will get along very well with older children, but is a delicate little dog that can easily be injured by careless younger hands. Likewise, larger dogs can prove too boisterous, and can accidently inflict injury, and the Morkie’s disproportionate assertiveness and fearlessness can sometimes land it in trouble in canine company.

One of the reasons that the Maltese is a popular foundation breed for many hybrids is its low-shedding coat, and this carries through quite strongly in the Morkie. However, this does not mean that the coat is easy to care for; in fact, it requires daily brushing, and regular washing and clipping. This pocket-sized hybrid is extremely adaptable, and very much at home in an apartment or other small dwelling, needing only a couple of short daily walks to stretch its legs. Because hybrids can inherit some of the health problems of their pedigree forebears, it is important that prospective owners research the parents’ health carefully, and insist on certificates of health being produced by the breeder. It can sometimes be the case that an unscrupulous breeder will elect to produce hybrid puppies as a way of finding a use for their less-than-perfect pedigree breeding stock, so buyer beware! Largely thanks to the longevity of the Yorkshire Terrier, the Morkie enjoys a life expectancy of 13–15 years.

About & History

It is unclear who first coined the name “Morkie”, but this hybrid has emerged from the United States in the past 20 years, becoming more popular in the UK and Ireland over the last decade. In some circles, the name “Morkshire Terrier” is more popular, but being much more of a mouthful, it seems unlikely this will ever be the more commonly used of the two. The Morkie was bred for its low-shedding coat, which appeals to owners who are either allergic to pets or particularly house-proud, and also gives this hybrid its irresistible cuteness.

However, combining the fire of the Yorkshire Terrier with the wilfulness of the Maltese was never going to produce a shrinking violet, and the teddy bear-like appearance of the Morkie belies its supreme confidence and potential for stubbornness. This rather unique combination of attributes has made the “breed” extremely popular, though this popularity in turn has led to the emergence of lines of Morkies that have been ill-bred and are susceptible to long-term health problems.

Appearance

Morkie Large Photo

The Morkie’s appearance can vary depending on which attributes it inherits from each parent. Compounding this variation is the growing popularity of “teacup” Yorkshire Terriers, which are sometimes used in the breeding of Morkies. These teacup dogs are much smaller than the breed standard, and suffer a range of health issues, and so the perpetuation of these problems through continued and deliberate breeding is an immoral and irresponsible practice. These tiny specimens aside, the average Morkie weighs around 2.5–4.5 kg (6–10 lb), and stands 20–25 cm (8–10 in) tall at the withers. They are fine-boned dogs with a soft, wavy coat that is usually either black and white, black and tan, or apricot in colour, though other colour combinations are common.

While the typical grooming style gives the face a round appearance, the Morkie should have reasonable length in its muzzle, and has striking, dark eyes. The jaw and muzzle can be quite fine, making it prone to dental disease in later life. The back and neck are typically lean and sinewy, and the tail is generally held in a half curl to one side. The limbs should be straight when viewed from the front or back, though often deviate, causing joint problems.

Character & Temperament

To understand a Morkie, it is essential to realise that these little dogs have no idea just how small and fragile they are. Most are absolutely fearless, and will stand their ground (or even be the aggressor!) when faced with a larger dog, a visitor to the home, or a vet approaching with a needle. In the home, they are devoted lapdogs, and will accompany their owners everywhere, needing, and demanding, constant attention. Though they may be at their happiest when snoozing on a lap, they are also very playful, and can spend hours running around a room chasing and retrieving a ball.

They are vigilant watchdogs – sometimes too vigilant – and will raise the alarm at the sound of approaching footsteps, closing car doors or birds chirping in the garden. For this reason, many owners complain of nuisance barking. Though Morkies are generally sociable with other dogs, they are easily injured, and should only be left in the company of similarly diminutive companions. For the same reason, they are not really suitable pets for young children.

Trainability

Photo of Morkie puppy

The Morkie is a clever, but stubborn, dog and training takes time and patience. Socialisation training is important in puppyhood to ensure it learns to accept and welcome attention from other people and dogs, and this can begin as soon as the Morkie pup has completed its course of primary vaccinations. Training must be approached in a positive light, with the focus always on positive reinforcement rather than criticism and correction, for this small breed tends to become sullen and uncooperative if treated harshly. It is also prone to separation anxiety, and efforts should be made from a young age to allow it become accustomed to spending short periods alone, lest it become a true handbag accessory later in life.

Health

Bearing in mind my earlier advice to avoid miniaturised Morkies, the following conditions can be inherited from the parent breeds, but are generally more common in the teacup varieties.

  • Collapsing Trachea – Particularly prevalent in the Yorkshire Terrier, this malformation of the main airway results in a dramatic, harsh cough that is often brought on by exercise or exertion. The condition is exacerbated by obesity.
  • Cryptorchidism – Failure of one or both testicles to complete the descent from their embryonic position beside the kidney to just beneath the skin of the scrotum. The right testes is more commonly retained than the left.
  • Dental Disease – The small jaws and teeth of the Morkie are not conducive to strong chewing, and so they are prone to tartar build-up and periodontal disease. Regular dental check-ups and daily tooth brushing are recommended for all dogs, but especially those of toy stature.
  • Glaucoma – Morkies can inherit goniodysgenesis from their Maltese parent, a condition in which inadequate drainage within the eye leads to a build-up of fluid pressure, discomfort, and sight loss.
  • Hernias – Incomplete development of the muscles of the abdominal wall can allow fat and other structures to protrude and sit just below the skin. This is must commonly around either the umbilicus or the inguinal canal, in the groin, and is usually detected in young puppies.
  • Hypoglycaemia – A problem of toy breed dogs due to lack of sufficient body reserves of sugar. The high metabolic rate in these tiny puppies means that they can struggle to eat enough to keep up with their body’s demands in the period after weaning, leading to periods of profound weakness and further failure to feed. Affected pups need frequent force-feeding of small meals and the administration of oral glucose for several weeks until they eventually outgrow the disorder.
  • Portosystemic Shunt – In health, the blood returning to the heart from the gastrointestinal tract must pass through the liver for detoxification and removal of bacteria. Some Morkies are born with an accessory blood vessel that bypasses this normal circulation, allowing foreign materials and waste products to impair brain and other functions. Affected pups are small and sluggish in comparison to their litter mates.

Exercise and Activity Levels

The Morkie’s tiny legs do not need to cover much distance to get warmed up, and thirty minutes daily walking should be sufficient for most individuals. Apart from this exercise, this very playful hybrid will certainly enjoy games around the house and garden for much longer if given the opportunity.

Grooming

The low-shedding coat is very fluffy and fine, and will quickly develop knots if left unattended. Daily brushing is essential to keep it free-flowing, and as it tends to gather dirt, it should be washed around once a month with a mild dog shampoo. Products developed for human hair have a far higher lower pH, meaning they are much more acidic, and will quickly dry and damage the dog’s coat if used.

The Morkie’s hair can grow to several inches in length, and so trimming should be done every six to eight weeks to keep it relatively short and more easily managed. As mentioned above, dental hygiene is extremely important for small breeds, and daily brushing with a finger brush and dog toothpaste should begin when the Morkie is just a few weeks old in order to establish this healthy habit for life.

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