Breed breakdown: An in-depth look at the Chihuahua
The vet’s office
By Dr. Beth Engelbert, DVM
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC
“Dogs are like potato chips. You can’t have just one.” As the smallest dog breed, multiple Chihuahuas may easily fit in a household. These little dogs have big personalities and are described as “charming,” “sassy,” and “independent.” The breed standard calls for a “terrier-like” attitude. Chihuahuas tend to gravitate towards one person or family, however.
The history of the Chihuahua is speculative. The modern Chihuahua originated in Mexico and is named after one of the country’s states. The ancestor of the Chihuahua is thought to be a dog called a Techichi. Based on drawings, effigies, and pottery, little Chihuahua-like dogs have been around since 300 B.C., predating the Aztecs and Mayans.
Techichis played many roles over time. They were used as living hot water bottles with the sick, burned with deceased people to purify their souls, and considered food by some. While the Techichi was important, today’s Chihuahua was relatively uncommon until the 20th century.
Chihuahuas have a weight limit in their standards rather than a height standard. Most standards state Chihuahuas should be less than 6 pounds, but sizes vary.
The large soft eyes and the domed, apple-shaped head are hallmarks of the breed. Some Chihuahuas do not have the domed skull and are called deer-headed.
Chihuahuas come in any color but only have two coat types: long and short. Long-haired dogs have feathering on the ears and legs with a chest ruff and a plumed tail. The short-haired dogs have thicker hair on the chest and tail but thinner hair on the ears and head.
While Chihuahuas can live over 15 years, they are susceptible to certain conditions. Apple-headed Chihuahuas are prone to having a molera, or soft spot, on the top of the head. Care must be taken to avoid trauma to the area and underlying brain. Unrelated to head shape, Chihuahuas can develop hydrocephalus or epilepsy. Chiari malformation and syringomyelia — affecting the spinal cord — have also been seen.
Heart disease is not uncommon. Chihuahuas can have a patent ductus arteriosus from birth or develop valve disease leading to heart failure. Coughing in Chihuahuas can indicate heart disease, bronchitis, or collapsing trachea.
Chihuahuas can develop orthopedic conditions such as luxating patellas and Leggs-Calve-Perthes disease, where the head of the femur does not form correctly.
Many Chihuahuas like to eat and are good at begging, leading to obesity. Obesity can complicate joint, heart, and breathing problems.
Chihuahuas have developed a reputation of being snippy or aggressive. Temperaments of the parent dogs are important. Not only do they contribute genetically, but they also teach the puppies how to act. Like many small breeds, Chihuahuas are not always trained and socialized properly. This is definitely a breed in which meeting the parents will help you find a wonderful companion.
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC is located at 210 Airpark Road in Marshfield and online at wildwoodanimalhospital.net.