A 4-year-old Chihuahua named Tampa finds his way around the bigger dogs at a dog park in Los Angeles, California. Being so little carries some big risks. (Richard Vogel/AP)

Living little carries some big risks.

The smallest dogs in the world weigh less than seven pounds and can easily slip through cracks in a fence, get stepped on or even get hugged a little too hard. The “toy” pooches that people love to tote in purses, push in strollers or carry along on errands have several drawbacks: They can be expensive if purebred, they can’t keep pace with big dogs on long walks, they shouldn’t roughhouse with kids and they are often targeted by thieves.

But pet owners say the small setbacks don’t overshadow the tiny dogs’ big personalities.

“There is vulnerability about small dogs. You have to protect them,” said Debra Beilstein, secretary of the Yorkshire Terrier Club of Los Angeles. Her Yorkie, 13-year-old Mica, weighs 3.8 pounds.

She says their stature doesn’t keep them down.

“Yorkies don’t think of themselves as small,” Beilstein said. “They have big personalities, lots of attitude.”

Many toy dogs have problems with teeth and joints, and they won’t save you money on food costs because they tend to live longer than larger dogs, experts say.

The Chihuahua, Pomeranian, Yorkshire terrier and Maltese are American Kennel Club-designated toy dogs that weigh less than seven pounds.

No one knows exactly how many of these dogs are living in the United States, but the Yorkshire terrier is the most popular toy breed in the country, ranking sixth on this year’s list of all Kennel Club-registered breeds.

Small dogs such as Yorkies still require big-time care, American Kennel Club spokeswoman Jessica Rice D’Amato said.

“Just because they are small doesn’t mean they need less exercise or mental stimulation than other breeds,” she said.

Beilstein says she has to be careful that Mica — who’s the size of a bunny — doesn’t get snatched by a predator or squeezed by an enthusiastic kid.

Perhaps a bigger problem is the tendency of small dogs to tumble from their owners’ arms and get hurt. Al Townshend, a veterinarian in Chestertown, Maryland, said that’s the most common reason he sees toy dogs.

“People tend to hold them and carry them more frequently. They lose their balance and drop the dog,” Towns­hend said.

Another issue is easy for pet owners to control: watching what treats they give to the tiny dogs.

“As lap dogs, they tend to have more access to people food, which is not always good for any dog,” said Jack Stephens, a veterinarian in Boise, Idaho, who has a two-pound, 13-year-old Chihuahua named Torrey.

It’s hard for them to eat special treats because “typically, toy breeds have misaligned teeth and difficulty chewing,” Stephens added.

Those who own toy dogs say they make up for their small stature with a large presence. Stephens said Yorkies have a reputation of being a little cocky, almost too confident, a trait shared by his Chihuahua.

“You will not find a smaller dog than Torrey, nor one more strong-willed in personality, territory or aggressive than her,” he said. “With 10 dogs in our household, she rules them all by sheer personality.”

Associated Press