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Chihuahuas: Care and Maintenance of the Smallest Dog Breed

Darla Sue Dollman, B.A., M.F.A., trained and worked with animals for many years in addition to working as a journalist for 42 years.

Chewy was abandoned on our Texas property as a pup.

Chewy was abandoned on our Texas property as a pup.

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night...

It was a dark night in Texas and the weather service warned of hail and possible tornadoes. My stepson ran through the rain to the driver's side of my truck and paused when he heard the whimper of a dog. He glanced beneath the truck and found the smallest dog he had ever seen. It was a chihuahua, and he was terrified of the thunder, begging for help with his head cocked to the side and one tiny paw raised to his chest.

We dried him off and cuddled him through the storm. The next morning we started our search for his owners, hanging fliers with photos and contacting local dog clubs, kennels and veterinarian offices. Months later, the dog was still with us. We had him neutered and vaccinated and gave him a name: Chewy, the Chewchewcabra.

For his comfort and safety, and that of my other animals, I researched chihuahuas extensively and had many chats with my vet and other experts about the chihuahua breed. I've tried to include as much of that research as possible, as well as details of my personal experiences, in this article.

A Big Dog in a Small Body

Chewy sees his shadow.

Chewy sees his shadow.

The Chihuahua Personality

Chihuahuas are dogs with attitudes. They have a sense of self-importance. They are also confident and self-reliant. I've never seen a chihuahua lacking these personality traits. I've had 90-pound Labradors who believed they were lap dogs and 5-pound chihuahuas who appear to believe they are 90-pound guard dogs. This is most likely because chihuahuas are aware that they are exceptionally small and therefore tend to be overprotective of their personal space.

When it comes to love and affection, chihuahuas require a tremendous amount of both. I walked past my stepson's door one morning and noticed he was trying to brush his hair with our chihuahua in his arms. I asked why he was holding the dog and he replied, "He wouldn't let me put him down!" The dog tilted its head backward and looked at me lovingly, upside down, then threw his head against my stepson's chest. Yes, they can be a bit dramatic.

Emma in Blue

Emma, my five pound chihuahua, snuggling in her favorite blanket.

Emma, my five pound chihuahua, snuggling in her favorite blanket.

Size and Appearance

Chihuahuas have large, round-shaped, wide-set eyes. Their eyes protrude slightly and are easily injured, which is another reason why they are not recommended for homes with small children. Their ears are tall and pointed. Their tails are long and point up or curl against their backs. They can have either short noses with round heads or long noses with elongated heads.

The shape of a chihuahua's head is important to breeders who often use the terms "Deer Head" and "Apple Head." The Apple Head is a round shape preferred by breeders and the AKC. The Dear Head (or doe head) chihuahua has a head that resembles a baby dear and often an elongated neck, as well.

Five to six pounds is an average size for chihuahuas and the judging standard set by the AKC. The average height of a chihuahua is between six to 10 inches tall. They may have short or long hair and are white, black, tan, brindle, and many other colors. Their life span is 14 to 18 years, but I have known chihuahuas who were 20.

The terms "Teacup, Pocket Size, Tiny Toy, Miniature or Standard" are sometimes used by disreputable breeders to inflate the price of puppies; chihuahuas simply vary in size.

Burrowing

Chihuahuas love to burrow beneath the blankets, which can create a safety issue for the dog.

Chihuahuas love to burrow beneath the blankets, which can create a safety issue for the dog.

Chihuahua Behaviors

Like many small dogs, chihuahuas like to burrow. They will often try to crawl beneath the covers on beds or beneath throw blankets on couches and chairs. As cute as this may be, it is dangerous for tiny chihuahua puppies to sleep beneath the covers. Someone might roll over on them during the night, or the puppy could injure itself falling or jumping from the bed.

Chihuahuas have a habit of raising one paw that sometimes confuses new owners who ask if their dog is injured. Not at all. The reason chihuahuas raise their paws is that it is part of their body language. It is a submissive gesture.

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Look closely and the submissive behavior becomes more obvious. Chihuahuas do not simply raise one paw, they also duck their heads and stare lovingly into the eyes of their owners. The chihuahua is asking for something, such as food, affection, or to be picked up and held in your arms.

Emma and the Cat

Emma adores other animals, particularly cats. She easily joined our pack and often acts and plays with my cats as if she thinks she is a cat, too!

Emma adores other animals, particularly cats. She easily joined our pack and often acts and plays with my cats as if she thinks she is a cat, too!

Training and Socialization

As with most dogs, it is easier to train chihuahuas as puppies, but dogs can indeed be taught new tricks when they're as old as nine!

Instruct family members to remain calm around the chihuahua and to treat the dog with patience and gentle care and the dog will learn to behave the same way.

It is a good idea to introduce chihuahua puppies in social settings as early and often as possible. If the dog will live with children and other animals, I believe it is best to have the children and other animals inside the home first, then bring the chihuahua into the home so the chihuahua does not try to establish dominance.

Emma

Emma weighs five pounds. Handling Emma required patience and care due to her small size. She loves children and is easily excited around them, but is always supervised.

Emma weighs five pounds. Handling Emma required patience and care due to her small size. She loves children and is easily excited around them, but is always supervised.

Health and Safety

Chihuahua puppies have high metabolisms and should always have food available so they do not become hypoglycemic. Chihuahuas younger than five months are more prone to hypoglycemia than older dogs. Adult dogs should be fed twice a day. They also like to play with their food, which is fun to watch. They might hide their food in furniture, so do a bit of searching when cleaning the house. The Chihuahua Club of America website provides additional information on puppy care.

Chihuahuas tend to be very energetic, but they can exercise in small spaces and therefore make good city dogs. With a quick run around the apartment each morning, the dog can maintain her girlish figure.

Chihuahuas are wonderful family pets, but they are small pets and households with small children should consider safety issues for the dog. When you hold a chihuahua's paw in your hand, the bones feel as tiny as the bones of a bird. Imagine what would happen if a toddler picked up a chihuahua puppy and dropped it on the hard ground? It would be a traumatic and heartbreaking experience for the entire family and the dog.

Short-haired chihuahuas do not need to be groomed. Long-haired chihuahuas need occasional brushing. (But how long does that take on a five-pound dog?)

Because chihuahuas are a small breed this leaves them susceptible to health issues, such as heart murmurs. It is important to monitor your dog's health closely, take your dog in for regular vet health checks and watch closely for signs of poor health when your dog starts to age.

Chewy traveling in style in his Pink Cadillac.

Chewy traveling in style in his Pink Cadillac.

Out in the Cold

Chihuahuas enjoy spending time with the family and like most dogs, your chihuahua may enjoy going for walks. Due to their size, they will become tired much faster than other dogs.

When walking chihuahuas in northern states or in cold weather keep in mind that they are sensitive to cold. In fact, weather extremes are deadly for small dog breeds. Sweaters or coats and even doggy boots are recommended if the dog is taken outside for walks in the snow, particularly puppies. A chihuahua puppy's paws are so small they could freeze to the ground within seconds. Two of my family friends who own chihuahuas told me their dog's paws actually froze to the sidewalk in the wintertime.

Like all small breeds and dog breeds, Chihuahuas should never be left outside in cold weather. Children, cats, dogs--no living creature should be left in a vehicle during hot or cold even with a window cracked for ventilation. According to a study conducted by Stanford University, "On an 85-degree day...the temperature inside a car with the windows cracked can reach 102 degrees within only ten minutes. After 30 minutes, the temperature will reach 120 degrees. At 110 degrees, pets are in danger of heatstroke."

I do not believe in leaving pets outside at night, but it is dangerous to do so with small breeds. They are prey for owls, hawks, eagles, coyotes. It is also best not to leave them alone outside as they are a popular breed and frequently stolen and it is highly recommended that they have microchips for identification.

Is This a Chihuahua With Its Paw in the Air?

Mayan Chihuahua Statue. This statue, found on Easter Island, resembles the dog statues in ancient Aztec ruins. Note the raised paw.

Mayan Chihuahua Statue. This statue, found on Easter Island, resembles the dog statues in ancient Aztec ruins. Note the raised paw.

A Brief History of the Breed

In addition to being the smallest dog breed, according to the American Kennel Club, the chihuahua is also one of the oldest dog breeds. Although t was first registered in 1904, its ancestry is quite extensive.

The chihuahua's ancestor is believe to be the Techichi, which was a companion dog for ancient Toltec people. It is also believed the chihuahua's ancestors existed prior to the Mayans. The American Kennel Club's history of chihuahuas states that images of the dogs were found in materials at the Pyramids of Cholula, which would have been before 1530. Images of chihuahuas can also be found at Chichen Itza.

Christopher Columbus may have returned to Europe with chihuahuas on board--a letter to the King of Spain mentions the dogs. It is also believed that another dog, the Asian Chinese Crested, was bred with the chihuahua to reduce its size even more.

Emma Posing for the Camera

My chihuahua, Emma, thinks she's a super model.

My chihuahua, Emma, thinks she's a super model.

The Adoption vs. "Rehoming" Controversy

Recent Hollywood films featuring chihuahuas as well as the use of the chihuahua as the promotional symbol for a Mexican food restaurant chain has increased the dog's popularity.

Unfortunately, when pet owners realize that chihuahuas are fragile, or require more attention than the pet owners can, or want to provide, they sometimes abandon the dogs, leaving them to fend for themselves. The frequent abandonment and abuse of chihuahuas has led to the establishment of numerous chihuahua rescue organizations.

The 2008 release of the popular children's film Beverly Hills Chihuahua inspired many animal activists to write about the possibility that families would purchase chihuahuas due to the film's appeal without researching their unique traits and requirements. There is a disclaimer at the end of the film that states: "The producers, Walt Disney Company, and American Humane Association want every pet to have a loving and permanent home. If you are adopting a pet, be sure you are ready for a lifetime commitment and research your choice carefully."

Local neighborhood websites continue to post ads for chihuahuas with "rehoming fees" averaging $300 or more. Since a chihuahua can have up to ten puppies the potential for breeding abuse is tremendous.

The talented comedian George Lopez, whose voice is the voice of Papi, one of the chihuahua stars in the film, stated that Papi was actually rescued the day before he was scheduled to be killed at a shelter. There are many beautiful chihuahuas available for adoption at shelters, which also shows that there are many abandoned chihuahuas.

Chihuahuas, like all dogs, are loyal, compassionate animals that want to be loved by their family members. Before purchasing or acquiring a chihuahua, please make sure that you are prepared to provide a safe, suitable environment for the dog.

Sources:

  • "AKC Meet the Breeds: Chihuahua." American Kennel Club. Retrieved October 3, 2011.
  • Beverly Hills Chihuahua (2008). IMDb. Trivia and Crazy Credits sections. Accessed March 16, 2018.
  • The Chihuahua Club of America. Retrieved September 20, 2011.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: Are miniature Chihuahuas expensive to care for?

Answer: Any pet can be expensive if it has health issues, and there are hereditary health concerns for purebred chihuahuas as there are with any breed. I suggest taking the dog to see a veterinarian before adoption so you can decide if you are prepared to financially support the dog's individual needs and any future issues that may arise.

© 2017 Darla Sue Dollman

Dedicated to Chewy the Chewchewcabra, 2017. I will love you forever, little Chew.

Kerri Briley on August 19, 2020:

I have a beautiful 2 year old blue her name is Zoey. I bred her successfully over the last 2 days ,well 2 1/2 days. I mean this went on and on. I bred zoey with a 3 lb chihuahua. I was wondering how many puppies she may possibly have.. Thank you,your site is amazing...

Sara Stearns on July 19, 2020:

My Chihuahua is a happy 13-year-old little boy. I agree with a lot of this article because people do get one without realizing that Chihuahuas require a lot of time and patience.

Darla Sue Dollman (author) from Coolidge, Arizona on November 05, 2019:

It's not necessarily the size of the dog that influences the vet bills as much as the potential for health issues. Chihuahuas, like other purebred dogs, have the potential for health problems, and they also live a long time, so be prepared to have those vet bills increase as your dog ages. If this is an option, try adopting through your local Humane Society. I've seen many chihuahuas there, especially in the American Southwest. I recommend this route because the dog will already be spayed or neutered, have its vaccinations, and either a free vet check or a coupon for a vet check. You have the option to have a vet check for health issues this way.

Janet Brion on November 04, 2019:

I have the opportunity to get a little tiny Chihuahua my husband says it will be too expensive ,are the vet bills for a 3 to 4 pound Chihuahua big.

Amy on August 23, 2019:

I recently resuced my baby girl Fox she was homeless at my daughter's apartment for a year and she was so flea infested i was crying when i gave her first bath now she lets you know who her mommy is i love my baby girl so much

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