The Chihuahua dog breed is proof positive that big things can come in small packages. These little terrier-like dogs can rule the roost with their sassy, charming Chihuahua personalities. They’re so smart they quickly learn that being cute can help them get away with all sorts of funny business, but being firm and loving can help your pint-sized pup become the confident, well-balanced dog they long to be.
Chihuahuas frequently top the Guinness World Records lists for shortest dog (that would be Milly, at 3.8 inches tall) and smallest dog (that was Heaven Sent Brandy, who was 6 inches from the tip of her tail to her nose). Also worthy of note, the Chihuahua life span can reach 16 years.
- Breed Group: Toy
- Height: 5-8 inches
- Weight: Up to 6 pounds
- Life Span: 14-16 years
- Coat: Smooth or long coat
- Color: About 30 varieties including black, white, tan, fawn and white, and blue brindled fawn
Chihuahua History: Proud Mexicans
Maybe you’ve wondered where do Chihuahuas come from? These little dogs have a long history in the New World, dating back at least 1,000 years. Their ancestors, the Techichis, were slightly bigger and heavier than the modern-day Chihuahua dog breed, and they were a favorite of the Toltecs and the Aztecs. Pictures of these dogs appear in ancient clay pots and paintings dug up in Mexico.
Americans discovered these little dogs in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, which is how they got their name. Though the first Chihuahua was registered at the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1908, the breed became more popular in the 1940s and 1950s, thanks to the bandleader Xavier Cugat. Since then, these dogs have appeared on the big screen (“Legally Blonde”) and the TV screen, when a Chi named Gidget appeared in Taco Bell commercials in the late 90s.
It’s no surprise that Chihuahuas are still beloved by pet parents today—the AKC ranks the Chihuahua dog breed 33rd in popularity. These little dogs can go just about anywhere (just ask Paris Hilton)—in your arms or in a bag—and they make great companions for apartment- and city-dwellers, thanks to their ability to get their energy out in a small space.
If Chihuahua puppies are in your future, check out the breeders in the AKC’s marketplace (or a reputable one anywhere). Breeders frequently ask more than $1,000 for Chihuahua puppies, and some can set you back as much as $3,000, but for that money you’ll get a puppy who’s been screened for breed-related health issues, like epilepsy and heart problems. You can also adopt from a Chihuahua rescue group, or keep an eye out for the breed at your local animal shelter.
What does a Chihuahua look like?
There are two types of Chihuahuas—the long-haired Chihuahua and the smooth coat Chihuahua, which has glossy hair that lies close to the body. Both types of Chihuahuas are recognized by the AKC, and their fur comes in a variety of colors. There are black Chihuahuas, white Chihuahuas, and nearly every other color in between, including tan, fawn and white, and blue brindled fawn. In fact, the AKC recognizes about 30 colors and 11 different types of markings.
Chis’ heads are round—an “apple dome” is the AKC’s term for it—and their round eyes are full and should not be bugging out. They frequently have what people describe as a saucy expression, and it’s true that they seem to be smiling always. Their eyes typically are dark or ruby-colored, though white Chihuahuas might have lighter colored eyes. And those ears! A Chi’s ears are large and pointed, and they stand straight up when the dog is alert.
If you’re giving your Chi enough exercise time, their compact little body will be muscular. And a Chihuahua’s tail is either shaped like a sickle or looped, so the tip almost touches their back.
Chihuahua Temperament: Charmingly Sassy
Fans of the Chihuahua dog breed describe the ideal Chihuahua personality as being like that of a terrier—alert, self-reliant, confident and self-important. In other words, a Chi is a big dog trapped in a tiny pup’s body!
The Chihuahua personality can be summed up as a charming companion, devoted to their favorite person. These petite pups are known for alert, intelligent and cheerful demeanors. They’re the ultimate companion dogs, with equal parts of charming sassiness and snuggles.
Chihuahuas are happiest when they’re close to their favorite person, preferably nestled on a lap. This strong bonding can lead to a mistrust of strangers as well as the mistaken impression that Chihuahuas are mean. Make sure your Chihuahua is well-socialized to prevent them from becoming wary of people they don’t know.
Chihuahuas pack a ton of personality into a tiny package, and often they’re filled with the confidence and swagger of a much bigger dog. This confident Chihuahua personality can be challenging, as Chihuahuas don’t realize when they’re outmatched and might antagonize bigger dogs. Some Chihuahuas, however, might skew more nervous and respond to unfamiliar circumstances with retreat and trembling.
While Chihuahuas are a popular breed because of their size, good health and ease of care, they’re not a great fit for all households. Because they’re small and delicate, families with small children probably aren’t appropriate; this breed is not suited for rough play or handling.
Keeping Chihuahua Dogs Healthy: 5 Issues to Watch Out For
While these dogs are known to be relatively healthy, there are a few specific Chihuahua health issues of which pet parents should be aware. When choosing a breeder or meeting with a Chihuahua rescue group, be sure to ask about these issues.
Chihuahuas are predisposed to luxating patella problems, where their kneecap pops in and out of place. Luxating patella can lead to osteoarthritis, and surgical treatment is available.
Chihuahuas have big, exposed eyes, which puts them at higher risk for eye trauma, eye disorders and infections. Any Chihuahuas with red eyes or squinting should be evaluated by your veterinarian immediately.
Because of their small size, Chihuahuas do not have much body mass to store fat. Therefore, if they don’t eat regularly, Chihuahua puppies and adults are subject to hypoglycemia, which is low blood sugar. Hypoglycemia can manifest as excessive tiredness or loss of balance. To help avoid your Chi developing hypoglycemia, make sure they’re eating the proper amount of a complete and balanced diet every day.
Chihuahuas have tiny teeth, but that doesn’t mean they need dental care any less than bigger dogs. Dental disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in Chihuahuas, but you can greatly reduce the chances of your Chi developing it with regular dental care.
Chihuahuas are predisposed to hydrocephalus, or water on the brain, which can cause neurological disorders including seizures. Symptoms include lack of coordination, soft spot on the head, erratic or restless behavior and difficulty drinking or eating. When caught early, medications can be used to treat the condition. In some instances, surgery is needed.
Caring for Your Chihuahua Dog
Chihuahuas are fairly low maintenance dogs and easy to care for. Here are a few tips.
Do Chihuahuas shed? Chis shed a small amount and, just like any dog, need grooming. Both Chihuahua varieties benefit from weekly brushing and occasional baths.
One grooming concern with all dogs, including Chihuahuas, is anal gland issues. If you notice your dog scooting or excessively licking back there, then it could be an anal gland problem that needs attention from your veterinarian.
As mentioned above, an important concern with Chihuahuas is dental care because this dog breed is known for periodontal disease. While brushing their teeth daily can help reduce the risk of periodontal disease, it can be hard to get regular-sized brushes inside tiny Chihuahua mouths. Instead, try using a Pet Republique Finger Toothbrush or a pet-safe mouth rinse.
Because Chihuahuas are so small, they only need a few hundred calories each day, so their biggest nutritional concern is overeating. How much should a Chihuahua eat? Use the feeding chart on the back of your dog food label as a guide and check with your veterinarian. You can tell if your Chihuahua is at a healthy weight when you can feel his ribs with your hands but not see them.
What do Chihuahuas eat? While this breed can eat most any complete and balanced dog food, a dry diet with smaller kibbles is easier for them to chew. Chihuahuas might benefit from a breed-specific dog food like Royal Canin Chihuahua Adult Dry Dog Food since they are specifically formulated for the Chihuahua’s nutritional needs. Otherwise, look for foods with smaller kibbles that easily fit in their tiny mouths, like Hill’s Science Adult Small Bites Dry Dog Food. For puppies from 8 weeks to 8 months old, stick with a puppy formula like Royal Canin Chihuahua Puppy Dry Dog Food.
If you choose to cook at home for your dog or feed raw, consult with a veterinary nutritionist to formulate a complete and balanced diet for your dog.
Chihuahuas need exercise just like any other dog, and they usually enjoy a daily leash walk. Some even like to play fetch!
Because some Chihuahuas develop collapsing trachea, a condition where the windpipe becomes flattened and easily irritated, a harness is recommended instead of a collar. Chihuahuas also do not fare well in very hot or very cold temperatures, so minimize their exposure to both during walks and exercise.
People often ask, can Chihuahuas swim? The answer is yes. However Chis easily get overwhelmed and may not enjoy swimming. Always supervise your dog closely in the water, and consider getting a Frisco Dog Life Vest for your pet.
It’s easy to break a Chihuahua’s fragile bones, so do not allow them to jump down from any height greater than 2 feet in most scenarios.
Training Your Chihuahua Dog
Are Chihuahuas smart and easy to train? Despite the Chi’s terrier-like reputation, the clever Chihuahua dog breed is willing to learn and should start positive-reinforcement training at an early age to keep the brain engaged. Chihuahua puppies are eager students and can learn the full suite of basic manners, from sit to down to come when called. Even though they’re purse-sized and perfect for carrying, Chihuahuas need to learn to walk politely on the leash and always should have the opportunity to do so, as well as engage in regular dog behaviors like sniffing and exploring during strolls.
The most pertinent issue that most new pet parents worry about is how to potty train a Chihuahua. Toy breeds have the reputation of being tougher to potty train, but supervision and consistency will help speed up the process. Get potty training tips.
Even though Chihuahuas are little dogs, they can have a big voice. Pet parents are cautioned to avoid encouraging barking during puppyhood to prevent lifelong yappy responses.
Most Chihuahuas respond well to using treats during training, but take care to use small treats or even part of meal rations to prevent weight gain.
If you want a big dog without the expense (or mess), consider the Chihuahua. These little dogs are fierce yet sassy, confident yet charming, and ready for an adventure, whether you leash them up or carry them in a chic dog tote. They’re always up for cuddles and will curl up on your lap as soon as you take a seat on the sofa.