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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 39 years.

Chewy was an abandoned puppy when he joined our family, but he loved to cuddle.

Chewy was an abandoned puppy when he joined our family, but he loved to cuddle.

Our family was lucky enough to have a chihuahua—our precious Chewy—as a member of the family for many years. In that time, we learned a lot about how to care for this sweet breed. If you want to read more about Chewy, scroll to the bottom for the harrowing story of how he became a cherished part of our family.

Temperament: Chihuahuas as Pets

According to the American Kennel Club, chihuahuas should have attitudes of self-importance, confidence, and self-reliance. I've never seen a chihuahua lacking these personality traits. I have a 90-pound Labrador who believes he's a lap dog and a 5-pound chihuahua who believes he's a 90-pound guard dog.

One of the first things I learned as the pet of a chihuahua is they can be temperamental if not trained properly. Keep in mind that their bodies are exceptionally small, so they also tend to be overly cautious of fast movements and protective of their bodies.

Start Training and Socializing Your Chihuahua Early

This can be tricky if the chihuahua is a family dog. It is best to work with chihuahuas as puppies (and on a regular basis thereafter) to teach them that they must stay calm. 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.

They Need Lots of Love and Affection

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! Look at him! He needs me!" The dog tilted his head backward and looked at me lovingly upside down, then threw his head dramatically against my stepson's chest.

Loyalty can lead to jealousy with chihuahuas and this can also be overcome through training. When our dog, Chewy, was young, the older child of our neighbor would play with him each afternoon in an attempt to train him to adjust to strangers, particularly children.

They Can Be Aggressive With Children

Chihuahuas are wonderful family pets if the children are older, and gentle. Because of their small size, they do not do well in homes with small children as they can be aggressive--a recent study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania found that chihuahuas are the second most aggressive dog breed!

They Are Easily Injured

Chihuahuas are also easily injured. 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 family and the dog.

When Chewy sleeps he loves to burrow beneath the covers.

When Chewy sleeps he loves to burrow beneath the covers.

Habits Unique to Small Dogs

Like many small dogs, chihuahuas also like to burrow. They can jump onto tall beds and will often try to crawl beneath the covers. 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 do have a rather unique 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.

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.

Chewy refused to get out of bed when it was cold. His first introduction to snow was a shock and he had to be carried outside to potty. He spent three days hiding in bed.

Chewy refused to get out of bed when it was cold. His first introduction to snow was a shock and he had to be carried outside to potty. He spent three days hiding in bed.

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.

Five to six pounds is an average size for chihuahuas. If the dog weighs more than six pounds, it may be overeating, or require more exercise. 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, though I have known chihuahuas who were 20.

According to The Chihuahua Club of America, 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.

Emma is three months old and weighs three pounds. Handling Emma requires patience and gentle care due to her small size and because she loves children so much that she is easily excited around them and wiggles when they try to hold her.

Emma is three months old and weighs three pounds. Handling Emma requires patience and gentle care due to her small size and because she loves children so much that she is easily excited around them and wiggles when they try to hold her.

Health Care for Chihuahuas

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. The Chihuahua Club of America provides additional information on puppy care.

Chihuahuas sometimes like to play with their food, which is fun to watch. Like other small breeds, they also hide their food in furniture, so you may need to do a bit of searching when cleaning the house.

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.

Emma, shown above, chases lights from flashlights like a cat. She would run herself into a faint--sometimes the owner has to say "when" to chihuahua puppies when it comes to ending playtime.

Chewy traveling in style in his Pink Cadillac. Again, even though he was in New Mexico the weather was too cold for him to go outside without a jacket.

Chewy traveling in style in his Pink Cadillac. Again, even though he was in New Mexico the weather was too cold for him to go outside without a jacket.

More Health Care Tips

However, my chihuahua also enjoys spending time with the rest of the family pets and going on long walks. Unfortunately he tires more quickly than the large dogs, so I started placing him in my granddaughter's old stroller and he enjoys this tremendously. He also likes to be held at shoulder height when walking so he can see further. He lets me know that he wants to be held by raising his paw.

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.

Short-haired chihuahuas do not need to be groomed. Long-haired chihuahuas need an 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.

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.

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. It was first registered in 1904.

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 and Pixie Dust

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!

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, often in the way that we believe our dog was abandoned, by leaving them at the end of a cul de sac or in fields in rural areas. The frequent abandonment and abuse of chihuahuas has led to the establishment of many 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.

Some expressed the need for a disclaimer at the end of the film, and there is now 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." This disclaimer is listed on the IMDb under "crazy credits," but it doesn't sound crazy when you consider the many animal activists who wrote about their concerns for chihuahuas when the film was released.

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, a "rehoming fee" of $300 with a profit of $3000 is a profitable business.

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.

Owning Small Dogs

Chewy in his Chewhoodie. He is a bold, confident dog in spite of his small size.

Chewy in his Chewhoodie. He is a bold, confident dog in spite of his small size.

Our Chihuahua's Story

It was a stormy 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, unlocked the door and prepared to climb inside, then he heard a whimper at his feet. 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 and begging for help with his head cocked to the side and one tiny paw raised to his chest.

We dried him off, cuddled him through the storm, and the next morning began our search for his owners. We searched diligently for months, hanging fliers with photos on posts and store windows, posting newspaper advertisements, and contacting local dog clubs, kennels and veterinarian offices. A few months later, our veterinarian said he suspected the dog was abandoned and recommended that we take steps to care for him properly. We paid to have the dog neutered and vaccinated and gave him a name: Chewy, the Chewchewcabra.

The name is appropriate. Chewy is cuddly, loving...and fiercely protective. After sharing my home with large breeds most of my life, I was surprised to discover this wonderful little creature is also the most efficient guard dogs I've ever known. This is "the look" you get when you stop petting!

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 article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

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 Greeley, Colorado 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