Chihuahuas are a lot of fun! They make excellent watchdogs as they have very finely-tuned hearing and like to alert their owners when someone is near. They can be good with other dogs and children, preferably older children. They are loyal and confident, playful and energetic, sweet and affectionate.
In here we will discuss the basics of Chihuahua care and general facts about the breed. Let’s begin by analyzing some of the positives and negatives of owning a Chi.
Here are a few positives:
- They are adventurous
- They love attention
- They are affectionate
- A reasonably healthy breed
- Smart and well balanced if properly trained
- Good watchdog
- Doesn’t require a tremendous amount of exercise
- Low effort grooming
- Don’t need as much exercise as larger dogs
- Here are a few negatives:
- Can be aggressive if not properly socialized
- Fiercely protective of owner
- Strong willed
- More difficult to train than some breeds
- Tendency to bark at strangers/noises
- Can become hypoglycemic
- Being so small comes with its own set of risks
- May not be good with other dog breeds
- May not be good with young children
- Have a tendency to gain weight
Chihuahuas have notoriously long life-spans, making them a great choice for a long-term companion. With proper care, an owner can expect a Chihuahua to live from 14 to 18 years. They are the oldest known breed of dog and also the world’s smallest dog breed. They tend to love interaction with other dogs of the same breed, so if you are inclined to have more than one dog, a Chi may be the dog for you.
The breed standard for the Chihuahua states that they are a member of the toy category and are expected to be less than six pounds when full maturity is reached, for both males and females. The height for both males and females is listed as six to ten inches, or fifteen to twenty-three centimeters. This is the standard; however Chihuahuas may come in a variety of other heights and weights due to improper breeding and environmental causes like over-feeding.
The AKC recognizes two types of Chihuahua, the smooth coat or the long coat. They can have multiple head shapes as well; which is where we get the terms deerhead, and applehead, although they are not technically a different classification or breed, but rather terms used to describe the look of the head. Appleheads refer to Chi’s with shorter noses and more rounded heads and deerheads refer to a more elongated snout and head. One is not more valuable than the other, they are just marketing ploys.
There are many different colors of Chihuahua coats. These colors can include, but are not limited to, black and tan, black and white, fawn, sable, blue, or multiple varieties of each of these colors or just one solid color. No one coat color is any more desirable than another. The Merle coat is not typically recognized as a part of the breed standard.
The long-haired Chi tends to have a softer coat and shed a little less than the short-haired. The coat of the long-hair is easy to maintain and does not require much in the way of grooming, so as far as whether it is easier to own a long hair or a short hair, the ultimate answer is: it’s about the same. It can take upwards of two years for a long-haired Chihuahua’s coat to come in all the way.
They tend to get cold very easily and you will often find them hiding under blankets, in laundry baskets and anywhere they feel they can burrow for warmth and security. This can be a danger to the Chi if you unknowingly sit on the sofa and find out there is a dog under your butt!
Chi’s can be picky eaters, or overeaters, and either way it can be dangerous for the dog. Not getting adequate nutrition can mean low blood sugar or iron deficiency and can cause further problems down the road. A small amount of a healthy soft food can sometimes encourage the picky eater to try new things. Not moderating the Chi’s diet and encouraging open-feeding and too many snacks can also be bad, leading to weight gain and diabetes, as well as joint stress and injury and various other maladies. Offering your Chi too many people snacks can not only lead to weight gain but also tooth rot.
Because of the soft spot on the top of a Chihuahua puppy’s head, one must take extra care not to drop them or allow anything to fall on their head. The soft spot is much like the fontanel on the head of a baby, where the skull has not fused together yet. Usually the spot is solid and closed by the time the Chi puppy reaches a year old; although some will have a more pronounced soft spot and some will have a less distinct one. You should always take caution to watch where you step when your Chihuahua is loose in the house. Even accidentally stepping on the leg of one of these small dogs can be enough to fracture one of their delicate leg bones.
The Chihuahua also may be prone to joint issues, especially in the knees. Be careful that the furniture they are allowed on is not too far from the floor to avoid slipping of the kneecaps when the Chi jumps down. You should have your vet check for Patella luxation at every check-up. This is slipping of the knee-cap and can be genetic as well as environmentally caused.
Chihuahuas can be afflicted with retained puppy teeth as well, which is when the puppy teeth do not fall out as expected when the adult teeth come in. This can cause painful overcrowding of the mouth and stop the ability to eat properly. They can also have premature tooth decay and loss as well as tartar and plaque buildup. You should clean your Chihuahua’s teeth regularly using a good brand of dog toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush. Toothbrushes intended for young children work well for the small mouth of a Chihuahua. Ensuring that you feed them a diet of mostly crunchy food is also a good way to help prevent buildup and ensure that you can keep those teeth looking healthy into late adulthood.
Heart problems including valve malfunctions may afflict Chihuahuas mainly as they age. Proper exercise regimen and a good diet can help stave off heart issues, unless the malfunction is genetic rather than environmental.
As Chihuahua’s age, they may develop seizure disorders. It does not happen to all of them, but it is a more common problem with the Chi breed than some others. There are different treatments and medications which can be administered to control the disorder, most often phenobarbital. Some dogs respond very well to treatment with this drug and never have a reoccurrence of seizures again.
Hydrocephalus is another concern in Chihuahua puppies. This is when there is excessive fluid on the brain. It is a genetic disorder and in characterized by an abnormally large head and deformed skull with one or more abnormally large moleras. Usually Chihuahuas with this disease either are stillborn or will die shortly after birth, but there have been cases where they survived and grew to adult hood, usually not without health issues.
Chihuahua females are prone to difficult births and many times have to go in for a C-section. This is in part due to the relatively large heads the puppies have in comparison to their bodies. Please! Do not breed your Chihuahua without learning all you can about the process first.
With a good diet and proper amounts of exercise, Chihuahuas can avoid many of the common ailments people tend to deal with in their Chi’s as they age. Behavior will depend greatly on the atmosphere they were raised in and the temperament of the mother and father. There are exceptions to this rule. A very calm mother and father may still breed a quirky and temperamental pup. There is no substitute for proper training of your dog. Many people make the crucial mistake of allowing “little-dog-syndrome” to overwhelm them. This is described as when an owner lets their little dog get away with things that a bigger dog would get in trouble for just because the dog is so cute doing the unwanted behavior.
A Chihuahua is no different than any other dog when it comes to learning right from wrong. They learn through repetition and reaction. If you allow them to get away with unwanted behavior or if you make the mistake of rewarding that behavior, then they will continue to do it.
Toys can be a fun way to keep a Chihuahua from getting bored and barking or displaying destructive behavior. Stuffed animals can be great toys for Chi’s but please make sure they were intended for dogs. The eyes and noses on the animals that are intended for children can pop out when the Chihuahua is chewing on them and pose a health risk. The puppy could potentially choke on them or swallow them and lacerate an organ. If you have ever looked at the back side of these plastic parts, they have a barbed, sharp end intended to hold them into the toy more securely. Ouch!
Petsmart® and Petco® both carry an excellent assortment of smaller toys meant for tiny dogs. Please do not give your dog bean bag style toys as they can eat the pellets if they manage to rip through the toy.
There is somewhat of a debate over whether rawhide is good or bad for small dogs. I have always offered my dogs rawhide chews and have never had an issue. I always make sure the pieces aren’t small enough for them to choke on and when they get down to where it makes me uncomfortable I throw them away. I also particularly like the small rubber Kong® toys that you can fill with stuffing. This is a surefire way to keep your Chi busy if you cannot attend to him or her for a few minutes. Toys that can keep your dog stimulated with rewards are an excellent way to make them use their intelligence and powers of reasoning to keep them happy. Always make sure that the toy is durable and chew resistant.
Shaking, shivering and quivering- Chihuahuas do this for a number of reasons. Sometimes they are cold. Sometimes they are nervous and something as small and seemingly unobtrusive as a sound they hear in their environment may be distressing them. Sometimes they shake due to pent up energy. They may be overly excited. This behavior is nothing to worry about as long as the trembling does not seem to be getting more serious and looking more like tremors. If you know that some sound or environmental change within the house in bothering your Chi, do your best to remove the cause. You may relocate the dog’s area of the house to another location, or remove whatever is setting the dog off to another spot within the home. Sometimes a few simple minutes of playtime, cuddle-time or a swift walk will stop the shaking as the pent up energy is released.
While all puppies require care and love in full supply, Chihuahua puppies–due to their small size, can require more than most. You will get out what you put in. If you have the time and patience to turn your puppy into the perfect little buddy, you will not be let down. All dogs behave slightly differently and each has a different rate of learning and comprehension. You may find that some of the things in this blog seem as if they were tailor-made for your dog and other things don’t seem the slightest bit like him or her.
While it is unfortunate that Chihuahuas have gotten a bad rep as little snarling ‘ankle-biters,’ this is not the case. A dog will more than likely learn from what it is taught at an early age and act accordingly. Whereas one dog may be snippy and bark incessantly, another dog may be quiet and well behaved. It is unfair to judge all dogs by the actions of one. If you notice that your dog is beginning to do something you don’t like, try to stop the behavior before it becomes a set frame of mind that the dog relies on. We will discuss training methods in a later chapter.