The charismatic Chihuahua is a popular and well known dog breed. With ever more celebrities being captivated by the delicate charms and portable size of this tiny pet.
Britney Spears, Demi Moore, Paris Hilton and Madonna have all been photographed with their pet Chihuahuas.
Members of the ‘toy group’ of dog breeds, these tiny dogs are not decorative items or fashion accessories.
The Chihuahua is as much a dog as any other breed, enjoy doing doggy activities, and have a long history of human companionship.
They also have some special needs and are subject to certain health conditions that you will benefit from understanding before you add a Chihuahua to your family.
We’ll be talking about how to find a puppy, Chihuahua health, and how to care for your tiny friend.
Let’s start by finding out where Chihuahuas come from
Where do Chihuahuas come from?
Interestingly, there is some fairly heated debate about the origins of the Chihuahua.
Most people assume they come from Mexico, the land who gave the Chihuahua dog their name in the late 1800s. It’s possible they were introduced at this point from another country.
It’s also theorised that they might descend from more native pet dogs. The techichi dogs of the Toltec civilization are thought to bear striking similarities.
This would mean their ancestors have been in Mexico for a very long time. Possibly thousands of years!
Some people believe they can trace the Chihuahua’s ancestors back as far as the 1500s.
Regardless of their origins, these tiny dogs have been lovingly bred for generations to become the highly desirable Toy breed we know today.
What do Chihuahuas look like?
The Chihuahua is a very small and dainty dog, with a balanced body shape and long arched neck
Both the USA and UK Chihuahua breed clubs put a weight limit of 6 lbs on the breed, though many pet Chihuahuas weigh more than this.
The breed standard describes a dog that has an apple-shaped dome, moderately short muzzle and round but not protruding eyes.
There are some Chihuahuas with flatter, less domed heads, known as Deer head Chihuahuas. And we’ll take closer look at those in a moment
Large upright ears complete the look and add to the Chihuahua dog’s appeal
Especially small dogs of this breed are sometimes referred to as a teacup chihuahua. The teacup Chihuahua is not a separate breed, just a way of describing smaller individuals.
And there are problems with teacup Chihuahuas, just as there are problems with teacup varieties of our other tiny breeds. We’ll look at those in a moment too
Chihuahua coats – long and short haired
Chihuahuas are split into two categories, short-haired and long-haired. It is thought that the short-haired variety were the original type.
A short-haired Chihuahua’s coat will be smooth, soft, close and glossy. Coming in a wonderful variety of colours.
The Long Haired Chihuahua
The long-haired Chihuahua has the same size and stature as her short haired cousins. But instead of a short coat, they have longer fur over their whole body.
This should have a soft texture and be flat or slightly wavy.
You can expect the long haired chihuahua to have feathered hair on their ears, legs and hindquarters too.
Other than that, there is really no difference between the long haired and short haired varieties
Are Chihuahuas snappy?
Chihuahuas are described as having a terrier like temperament by the Chihuahua Club of America
Most of us interpret that to mean that Chihuahuas can be a little ‘feisty.’
With their long history as companion dogs, Chihuahuas are expected to have loving and devoted temperaments.
This devotion can however lead to demonstrations of guarding, which have been known to turn into growling, and even snapping.
They also seem more capable than some other breeds of turning on their owners. A 2008 study found that chihuahuas were one of the most aggression prone breeds.
This included numerous attacks on both strangers and their own families.
For this reason, and because they are so vulnerable to injury, Chihuahuas are generally not recommend for families with small children resident or regularly visiting.
Although small in size, Chihuahuas have quite a loud bark and are excellent intruder alarms. In this respect they are certainly similar to many terriers. Something to consider if your neighbours are sensitive to noise!
Socialising your Chihuahua
As with all dog breeds, the parents of your puppy will help to give you a good indication to the puppy’s future nature.
It is a good idea to go the extra mile and request access to both parents before you choose your puppy, not just the mother.
But temperament is only partly inherited. It’s also influenced by experience.
In breeds where temperament issues are not a rarity, being especially thorough with the whole puppy socialization process is the key to a friendly dog.
If you buy a Chihuahua puppy you’ll need to consider some special needs when it comes to socialization and potty training.
Socialization is all about meeting and greeting lots of different people, and going into lot’s of different enviroments, so that your puppy learns to take new experiences in their stride.
You need to take your puppy everywhere for the first four weeks after your bring them home. In your arms of course, so that pup doesn’t pick up germs from the floor or other dogs before vaccinations are complete.
Fortunately you won’t have the puppy weight problems that the average Labrador owner has to contend with during socialization. You are not going to get backache carrying this little pup around.
You can improve your chances of your little dog having a good temperament with extreme care over proper socialisation at a young age.
Potty training very tiny dogs can be a little more challenging, so you will need to be patient. Very tiny dogs have very tiny bladders and need to empty them more often. Added to the fact the most people expect puppies to be able to last longer without a pee than is reasonable for their age, it is easy to feel annoyed.
Be patient and persistent. Follow good potty training guidelines, and you’ll succeed.
TIP: If you bring home a rescue Chihuahua, to avoid ‘accidents’ on the carpets, treat them like a puppy for the first few weeks and assume they don’t yet understand where you want them to pee.
Chihuahua daily care
Due to their small stature, Chihuahuas don’t require a huge amount of exercise.
This doesn’t mean that they can go without being walked or having some yard time. Regular but light exercise will help keep this dog in top condition.
We’ll go into more depth on dental issues later. It’s worth pointing out though that daily toothbrushing is a must. This breed needs all the help it can get against oral disease.
Short haired Chihuahuas are very low maintenance in regards to grooming. Whilst it’s good to get any dog used to having a brush run through it’s coat, the short haired Chihuahua will be quite happy with a brief going over once a week.
Keeping your Chihuahua safe
In addition to the usual care you should take of a dog, you will need to be aware that your Chihuahua is not just small but correspondingly fragile.
Not only are Chihuahuas at risk of injury from being knocked or jostled by their human family, but they are vulnerable to attacks from other dogs.
Sadly, on occasion, Chihuahuas have been killed when out for a walk with their family by a strange dog.
A boisterous larger dog could pick a chihuahua up and shake him. This can have devastating consequences.
It’s really worth keeping this frailty in mind. You can’t be as off-hand as you might be with larger dogs. This is especially true with Chihuahua puppies, they’ll be even tinier!
You will also need to be even more careful when out walking, who you allow them to approach or interact with.
Health problems in Chihuahuas
We’ve seen many claims for great longevity in Chihuahuas. But a study published in 2010 looked at 407 Chihuahuas including 71 death reports. And found that Chihuahuas have an average lifespan of about 12.4 years.
Though this isn’t fantastic for a small breed of dog. The miniature Poodle for did much better at just a shade under 14 years.
It is by no means the worst either. And is similar to that of many popular dogs – the Labrador breed, for example.
Longevity isn’t the only marker of health of course. Some conditions, while not fatal, are not nice to live with.
The main issues that chihuahuas suffer from, health-wise, are due to their size. Being on the small size of medium is definitely a health advantage when it comes to dogs, but being very tiny indeed, is not.
Tiny dogs share a range of sometimes serious health problems which we’ll look at below. And many have severe dental problems too. Let’s look at those first
Dental care is a major problem, as the size of their mouths cannot accommodate a ‘dogs worth’ of teeth.
This crowding makes tooth decay inevitable. Regular teeth cleaning helps, but it isn’t a guarantee of good dental health.
Diet can be an important ally in defending against tooth decay. So steer clear of sweet treats for your little pet.
High sugar and carbohydrate foods could make dental issues more likely.
Your chihuahua will need to be regularly checked by your vet. You’ll want to ensure their mouth is healthy, and spot early on if it isn’t. This way dental work can be carried out before serious issues develop.
Chihuahuas also suffer like other toy breeds from difficulty giving birth, and often need assistance.
This is due to a high incidence of a condition called dystocia. In simple terms, the dogs have real trouble successfully pushing puppies out of the womb.
Why this happens exactly isn’t incredibly clear. But it is likely the extreme features of the Chihuahua including the bulging head shape, are responsible. Selective breeding for appearance, sadly, may have caused real damage.
This is very important to keep in mind if you intend on breeding from your chihuahua. Extra care by a vet may be required during birth. This will inevitably incur additional costs.
Other common Chihuahua health issues
As with many other Toy breeds, the Chihuahua is also more prone to stress injuries like patellar dislocation where the kneecap pops out of place
Other health concerns that Chihuahua owners need to be aware of concern epilepsy, hypoglycaemia and an elevated risk of tracheal collapse, a shocking condition that can result in death.
You can help to avoid hypoglycemia (very low blood sugar) which can be fatal, by feeding your Chihuahua little and often, rather than expecting your dog to eat one or two larger meals each day.
There is also the danger of necrotizing meningoencephalitis. In this condition brain tissue swells and dies off. This results in random and strange movements. It can also bring about severe pain.
Chihuahuas have this condition in common with some other toy breeds. It’s likely also a result of their small heads.
Because of their tiny size, Chihuahuas are vulnerable to poisoning from quite small amounts of chocolate and other substances that are dangerous to dogs is eaten in sufficient quantity
Be very careful to avoid your Chihuahua eating chewing gum as this often contains xylitol. It only takes a small amount of these substances to overwhelm a tiny dog
If you don’t have young children, and are looking for a very small companion dog that will show lots of love and devotion to you, then you could consider adopting a Chihuahua from an animal shelter or rescuing a Chihuahua puppy.
If you decide to buy a puppy, make sure to pick a breeder who is open about health testing and the health of both parents’ lines. And be prepared to be patient with potty training and to protect your tiny friend from accidental injury.
Ask to meet your puppy’s parents and make sure that you are totally comfortable with their temperament.
Socialization is hugely important and is often neglected with tiny dogs. Make sure your Chihuahua puppy meets plenty of adults and children, supervised of course, to avoid them growing into a snappy or grumpy adult
Don’t be sucked into buying a puppy from especially tiny parents.
Breed clubs might like to see Chihuahuas weighing 5 lbs but a 7 or 8 lb dog is likely to have a bit more space in the skull and mouth that will help ensure a better quality of life.
Avoid any breeder that is advertising their puppies as ‘teacup’ Chihuahuas. A slightly larger dog will have a better chance of a long and healthy life.
More Chihuahua Information
- Best Food For Chihuahua Puppies
- Pomchi: The Chihuahua Pomeranian Mix
- Chorki: A Chihuahua Yorkshire Terrier Mix
- Chiweenie: The Chihuahua Dachshund Mix
References and further reading
- Adams V et al 2010 Methods and mortality results of a health survey of purebred dogs in the UK.Journal of Small Animal Practice
- Capik I 2010. Periodontal Health vs. Various Preventive Means in Toy Dog Breeds. Acta Veterinaria
- Priester W A 1972. Sex, Size, and Breed as Risk Factors in Canine Patellar Dislocation . JAVMA
- Higgins R J et al 2008 Necrotizing Meningoencephalitis in Five Chihuahua Dogs. Veterinary Pathology
- The Chihuahua Club Of America
- The British Chihuahua Club
- The American Kennel Club
- Gendler A 2007 Canine dystocia: Medical and surgical management Vet Folio
- Crossley D 2005 Periodontal Disease in Carnivores Dentistry For Small Animal Practitioners