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Tiny Dog with a Giant's Heart

Home »  Dog Breeds »  Chihuahua

This Mexican member of the canine world is the smallest dog going, but either it doesn't know that, or just doesn't care. The Chihuahua is ready to take on anybody or anything, any time.

Here is the Chihuahua at a Glance
Name Chihuahua
Other Names None
Nicknames Chichi
Origin Mexico
Average size Toy
Average weight Sixpounds or less
Average height 6-10 inches at the shoulder
Life span 10-18 years
Coat type Velvety or whiskery
Hypoallergenic No
Color Many different colors
Popularity High
Intelligence High
Tolerance to heat Average
Tolerance to cold Low
Shedding Very little
Drooling Non a drooler
Obesity Some tendency
Grooming/brushing Very minimal
Barking A barker
Exercise needs Average
Trainability Hard to train
Friendliness Average
Good first dog Yes
Good family pet Yes
Good with children Not the best
Good with other dogs With other Chihuahuas
Good with other pets Not great
Good with strangers Not great
Good apartment dog Yes
Handles alone time well No
Health issues Moleras, collapsed trachea, patellar luxation, pulmonic stenosis, keratoconjunctivitis
Medical expenses $280 average annual
Food expenses $55 average annual
Miscellaneous expenses $70 average annual
Average annual expense $625 not counting insurance
Cost to purchase $500-$800
Biting Statistics Human attacks: 3 Maimings: 2 Deaths: 1 Child victims: 2

The Chihuahua's Beginning

The origins of the Chihuahua are not totally certain, but it is believed that the little dogs, or their forebears, have been around at least since the ninth century, and probably for several hundred years before that. A pot in the shape of the Chihuahua, found in TresZapotes, in the coastal state of Veracruz, dates back to 100 A.D. Other pots and statues showing dogs like Chihuahuas have been found at sites throughout Mexico and Central America. The Toltecs, who dominated central Mexico for centuries, had a companion dog called the Techichi, and it is widely believed that it was the forerunner of the Chihuahua. The Techichi was a little bigger than the Chihuahua, but otherwise looked pretty much the same. The Toltec Empire faded away, and by the early fifteenth century Mexico's central valley was ruled by a triple alliance of city states-Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, andTlacopan. Gradually, the warriors of Tenochtitlan took over, and that was the beginning of the Aztec empire.

New Lease on Life

Wherever they came from originally, life was not easy for those early Chihuahuas. According to Fray Bernardo de Sahagun, a priest who chronicled the lives and habits of the Aztecs after Hernan Cortez and his Spaniards conquered them, Chihuahuas were sacred to the Aztecs, but not in the best way. According to Sahagun, when Aztecs died, they needed companions to accompany their souls to the other side, and that job fell to Chihuahuas, which were sacrificed by the hundreds and thousands-Aztecs were big on sacrifice-in order to get the job done.

Cortez had a simpler version of the Chihuahuas' fate. He said the Aztecs fattened them up on corn and ate them for supper-not the ideal fate for a tiny dog, and probably not what you would wish for your puppy, no matter how hard it was to housebreak, or how often it chewed up your favorite slippers.

At any rate, Cortez' arrival changed the picture. There was no more sacrificing, and the Spaniards brought their own livestock, so they didn't need to eat puppies.

Although they survived, and even thrived, in Mexico, Chihuahuas were not particularly popular in the United States, which was still primarily an agricultural country in its early years, and where people needed big dogs for herding and driving livestock to market, and doing guard duty. There was not a big demand for tiny pets, although Chihuahuas had some popularity in southwest border states like Arizona and New Mexico. That began to change in the twentieth century, as more people left the country's farms and ranches and went to work in the city. At that point, people became more interested in pets that could share houses and apartments with them, and began discovering the charms of small dogs like Chihuahuas. In 1904 the first Chihuahua, a dog named Midget, was recognized by the American Kennnel Club, which itself was only twenty years old at the time, and Chihuahuas began to experience an increase in popularity, getting into the top twenty by the nineteen sixties.

The Dog You See Today

Chihuahuas are generally acknowledged to be the world's smallest dogs. They stand only about six to nine inches high at the shoulder, and typically weigh from three and a half to six and a half pounds. Some are bigger and heavier, but this is not usual, and is seen as a genetic throwback, possibly to the days of the Toltec Techichi.

There are two recognized varieties of Chihuahua, the smooth coat and the long coat. The smooth coat variety has short hair, although the other variety's coat isn't much longer. In both cases the coat is smooth. The American Kennel Club considers them two separate breeds, but both are Chihuahuas. Neither one needs its coat trimmed, and grooming needs are minimal to nonexistent. Coat color can be almost anything

The Chihuahua's body is a little longer than it is tall, with a very straight back. The ears are quite large relative to body size, and floppy at birth, but will become erect at anywhere from one to four months.

A Chihuahua's eyes are typically very large and round, with a quizzical, alert look to them.

The Inner Chihuahua



It isn't easy to type cast a Chihuahua; they are all different. Some are very lively and some are pretty quiet and placid. Some are shy and timid and will hide under your feet when strangers appear; others are bold and feisty and ready to bark at anyone who comes to the door. Some are affectionate and eager to please, and others are stubborn and want to do their own thing. An important thing to understand is that this is a dog where the genes rule. The dog you get is the dog you will have, and you will not be able to do much to change its attitude, no matter how much obedience training you give it. They do not handle time alone very well.

Once a Chihuahua decide you belong to it-and it is definitely that, not the other way around-it will attach to you completely. Chihuahuas usually bond most strongly to one member of their family, but they will be close to everyone else, too. Their family is their world, and they want to be involved in everything. They are curious, and need to know what is going on at all times. They want to go everywhere the family goes, as well, and fortunately is not that hard, because they are small enough to tuck and carry.

Living with A Chihuahua

Training requirements

Chihuahuas have a reputation for being difficult to train. The fact is, some are and some are not. That probably goes back to genetics again. They are quite intelligent, and will learn things easily-as long as they want to. If they don't want to, they can be very resistant to training. This includes housebreaking, which typically takes a long time with Chihuahuas.

How active is it?

Because of their size, Chihuahuas can be good dogs for apartment dwellers, although because they are barkers, they can cause problems in some places. On the other side, they are not really outdoor dogs. They prefer being inside, and with their people. In addition, because they are so small, the outdoors can actually be hazardous for them. It is not unheard of for larger critters to consider them prey.

As noted, Chihuahuas are not outdoor dogs. Whether you live in an apartment or a house, they want and need walls around them. They'll be happy to take walks with you, but not because they have a great need to romp or explore; they are simply glad to be wherever you are.

Caring for the Chihuahua

Grooming the Chihuahua

The Chihuahua can be short haired or long haired so shedding can be minimal to moderate. As it is a small dog it is easy to groom and to keep up with loose hair around the home. Give them a bath just if it is needed to protect the important natural oils in his skin.

Give the nails a trim when needed taking care not to cut too low through the quick. There are live vessels and nerves in that part of the nail and should you cut there it will hurt the dog and bleed. Give the ears a wipe clean and check once a week for signs of infection. Teeth should also be cared for with a good brush twice a week.

Feeding Time

The Chihuahua will need about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of high quality dry dog food a day. There is specialized food for smaller dogs, the quality of which is important because they contain more nutrients. Give it in one or two meals depending on the dog's health. The size, health and how active the dog is will decide exactly how much food it will need.

Getting on with other animals and children

Chihuahuas are charming, can be really affectionate, and have huge personalities. They usually don't like strangers, and will bark. They are also not the greatest with other dogs and pets, although there is an exception to that rule-they do very well with other Chihuahuas. For that reason, many people wind up getting a second pup. They are not perfect pets to have around small children, not because they will hurt the kids, but the kids may hurt them accidentally. Some breeders won't let a Chihuahua got to a home that has kids under eight living in it.

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

A truth about Chihuahuas is this: There are a lot of medical things that can go wrong with a Chihuahua, but almost none of them do. For all their small size and apparent fragility, most Chihuahuas stay perfectly healthy over their long lives. However, here is a list of things that might happen.

Moleras. This is the name given for something many Chihuahuas are born with-a soft spot in the top center of the skull. This is not actually a defect; it is something that helps the tiny dog's relatively big head pass through the birth canal. The skull hardens with age, but leaves the pup vulnerable to injury for the first few months of its life. After that, no problem. In rare cases the hardening does not occur. Inthosecases seek a veterinarians advice.

Patellar luxation is a dislocated kneecap. It is not uncommon in many breeds of dog. The signs are usually limping and favoring the leg. Surgery may be needed in some, but not all, cases.

Pulmonic stenosis. This is a narrowing and constriction of the pulmonary valve, which is the valve that allows blood to pass through the pulmonary artery into the right ventricle of the heart. It is a congenital, genetically caused disorder. The symptoms are a swollen abdomen and difficulty breathing. The usual treatment is insertion of a balloon catheter into the valve, which opens it up and allows normal functioning.

Collapsed trachea. In this case the trachea did not form fully, or else the rings of cartilage that protect the windpipe are weak. It reveals itself with a sort of "honking" cough. It can be treated with medicine in some case. In others, a stent can be inserted to keep the trachea open.

Keratoconjunctivitis sicca. Otherwise known as dry eye syndrome, where the normal tears don't keep the eye surface moist enough. This leads to redness and inflammation, and sometimes ulceration. It shows by excessive blinking and bloodshot eyes, and is easy to treat with artificial tears and other ocular lubricants.

Biting Statistics


The Chihuahua has been involved in at least 3 attacks on people over the last three decades. Two of those victims were children. 1 attack did bodily harm that needed immediate medical attention and 1 was a maiming, meaning that disfigurement, scarring or loss of limb was the result. There is also one death attributed to an attack that involved Chihuahuas and other dogs.

When not trained and socialized the Chihuahua is nippy and can have problems with biting. Its size usually means injuries received are minor and therefore not recorded. Whatever the size of the dog it is important it is properly raised, trained and socialized to prevent attacks and to have a better behaved and more well rounded dog.

Your Pup's Price Tag

As purebred canines go, a Chihuahua falls into the midrange of purchase cost. The price for a new registered pup will run between $500 and $800. If you can find one at a shelter, and are happy with a slightly older dog-which can be a plus in many cases-it will cost you considerably less, maybe from $100 to $200. There are also many rescue organizations around the country that deal with Chihuahuas. One of them is Chihuahua Rescue and Transport.

The next step is having your new puppy neutered, if it is male, or spayed, if it is female. This will cost about $190 at most veterinarians. Along with that your dog will need a first round of shots and other minor medical work such as deworming. Look to spend about $70 there. Beyond that, the annual cost for medical work where Chihuahuas are concerned is around $210. Many owners purchase veterinary insurance, which will run $200 or more a year.

Obedience training is probably a good idea, given that Chihuahuas can be difficult to work with on you own. Setting up at least a starter series of basic lessons may save you headaches down the road. Those initial classes will usually cost around $110.

Other small purchases include a collar and leash, a pet license, and in many cases a carrier bag, although you can pretty much tuck a Chihuahua into anything. Look at maybe another $70 there.

Then, of course, your puppy needs to eat. You get a break there. A year's supply of good-quality dog food for this little tyke is only about $55.

In all, after the initial expenses, and not counting veterinary insurance, owning a Chihuahua and treating it in the manner it expects will cost in the neighborhood of $625 a year.


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  • Chihuahuas began their existence in the hills and valleys of central Mexico. They were sometimes pets, sometimes sacrificial animals, sometimes food, and always dogs. They are old as a breed, but relative newcomers to popularity in the modern world. They were first registered as a breed by the American Kennel Club in 1904, but did not have any great popularity with pet owners until the 1950's and 1960's.

    It is hard for most people who have known Chihuahuas to be neutral about them. You either like them a lot or don't like them much at all, and that may depend on the particular Chihuahuas you have known, because no two of them are quite alike. Some are fun and affectionate. Some are shy. Some are feisty. The one thing you can be sure of is that none of them will be boring.

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