This small dog breed has the most famous owners across the globe and one of the highest life expectancies. The Chihuahua is a dog of superlatives that feels at home in the handbags of Madonna, Britney Spears or Paris Hilton. These Mexican pedigree dogs are far more than just luxury lapdogs.
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These little Mexican dogs have a huge ego compared to their physical size. The Chihuahua likes to be the protagonist and demands the attention of its owner by barking or even feigning injury if necessary. It is self-confident and courageous faced with its counterparts, even much bigger dogs. It's not uncommon for this breed to overestimate itself, although nor should we underestimate these intelligent and temperamental toy dogs. Although Chihuahuas like to be indulged, outside of handbags they make wholesome dogs that effortlessly cover large distances and even cut a good figure doing dog sport. Especially in the US, their intelligence, empathy and not least their size make them respected therapy dogs too. They make quite suitable watchdogs as well thanks to their constant attention. Unlike their image as a cosseted lapdog suggests, they are robust and resistant towards diseases with the right breeding. It's not uncommon for them to reach 16 years in age or more. They don't need to be carried constantly and actually wish to discover their surroundings under their own steam. Although they prefer to stay indoors during bad weather, they don't need a jacket as soon as they go out into the snow or cold temperatures to play or frolic around. Chihuahuas are very playful and love close contact with their human family, not enjoying leaving their caregiver's side. These little dogs wouldn't hesitate to defend their owner in dangerous situations – even if they put themselves in danger by doing do. Chihuahuas are generally open and outgoing with people and other dogs, although they don't like small children much, as they also demand plenty of attention from their family. However, they are very happy in families with older children above six years of age.
Professional socialisation and consistent training are definitely important in order to live in harmony with these little bundles of energy. This can prevent irritating yapping or excessive stubbornness from the beginning.
Characteristic features of the temperamental Chihuahua are its small size, large bat ears and disproportional eyes, along with the apple-shaped head and short pointy nose.
These toy dogs are just as diverse in terms of colour as of character. According to the FCI breed standard in which the Chihuahua is listed under number 218, group 9 (Companion and Toy Dogs not subject to a working trial), all colours, combinations and hues are permitted.
The following two types of Chihuahua can be distinguished by their fur length:
- Long-haired Chihuahua: the long, soft hair is either smooth or slightly wavy. The fringed ears, prominent neck collar and very furry tail are also typical features.
- Short-haired Chihuahua: short thick hair that lies smooth and shiny against the head and body.
Interestingly, the breed standard doesn't indicate an exact shoulder height for the world's smallest dog. The small size in fact results from the weight specifications, with a Chihuahua's ideal weight listed as between 1.5kg and 3kg. However, dogs between 500g and 1.5kg are also accepted, with smaller Chihuahuas fundamentally preferred. Dogs weighing over 3kg are excluded in most associations. The preference for smaller dogs has led to extremely lightweight dogs in the breeding process, with some weighing just 500g. Animal-rights activists criticise the aim to breed smaller and smaller Chihuahuas as torture breeding, since dogs that are so small and fragile suffer increasingly from health problems.
Despite a wide range of theories on the origin of the Chihuahua, it is relatively certain that the breed comes from Mexico. To this day, there are still many small wild dogs that look very similar to the pedigree Chihuahua in the northern Mexican province of the same name. According to this theory, Chihuahuas are the sacrificial dogs of ancient Mexico, the Techichis. In religion, the Chihuahua assumed the role of leading dead souls into the beyond, though this calling unfortunately led to Chihuahuas being sacrificed at many burials.
Another theory claims that Chihuahuas were already sacrificial dogs for ritual acts by the Aztecs. Some go even further back and believe that their ancestors were kept by the Toltecs, which would therefore make the Chihuahua breed more than 1,000 years old. According to another legend, the dogs didn't enter Mexico until they were brought by the Spaniards upon conquering the country in the 15th century. To this day, none of these theories has yet been fully confirmed or refuted.
The history of the Chihuahua doesn't enter more certain terrain until the middle of the 19th century, when farmers from the Mexican province of Chihuahua increasingly began to sell these little dogs to travellers from the US. This was the start of the Chihuahua's triumphant progress around the world. Tourists were so enamoured with the “smallest dogs in the world” and their big eyes and ears that they were soon spread all over America, then made their way to Europe too.
Health and breeding
Although the Chihuahua's unusual appearance – its small size and interesting head – have made it famous all over the world, breeding has also contributed to health problems. With incorrect breeding that favours appearance over health, the ideal of the overly large eyes and short snout leads to very sensitive eyes, as well as dental and respiratory problems. Further health complications have emerged due to the goal to breed smaller and smaller Chihuahuas. Sometimes weighing barely more than 500g, it is extremely difficult for these dogs to combat infections and other illnesses. Whilst normal-sized Chihuahuas are innately robust and live very long lives – not least demonstrated by their survival on the streets of Mexico – excessively small dogs often get sick and die at an early age. Even seemingly harmless viral illnesses that can lead to diarrhoea and vomiting can soon be life-threatening for these tiny dogs. In such cases, it is definitely recommended to see your vet immediately. Since many still consider the Chihuahua a fashion dog found in the handbags of high-profile celebrities, they are unfortunately still many unscrupulous breeders hoping to make a quick profit from these little dogs. Disregard for breeding recommendations and not performing thorough health examinations to determine the suitability of breeding animals has led to an increase of hereditary diseases within the Chihuahua breed. These include, for instance, malpositioned teeth or early tooth loss, gaps in the mouth, reverse sneezing, mitral valve insufficiency, hydrocephalus and luxating patella.
In order to minimise the danger of such ailments as much as possible, buyers interested in pedigree dogs should only purchase from serious breeders, who can be recognised by having all necessary paperwork and pedigree certificates at hand, as well as having carried out all recommended examinations and vaccinations. Most breeders who work with these requirements are members of a registered Chihuahua association that breeds according to the FCI standard. In particular, fans who wish to imitate their role models like Britney Spears or Paris Hilton and get their hands on a Chihuahua as a sweet accessory may be surprised by the rather high prices for puppies from this recognised pedigree breed. A Chihuahua puppy costs around 1,000 euros – after all, responsible breed selection is an expensive business for the breeder and the size of the dog plays no role in this. In most cases though, investing in a healthy dog from a professional source proves worthwhile. This doesn't just allow you to save on high veterinary bills, but also usually gives you plenty of years of joy with your little companion. A professional and serious breeder with plenty of experience with Chihuahuas will also be on hand for you with helpful advice – after the purchase too.
The breeder's tips on the right diet for small dogs are often very helpful, since the extremely large selection of pet food can be confusing for many dog owners. Along with numerous different manufacturers, foods are also split into wet and dry, puppy, adult and senior, organic and conventional foods. It isn't easy to see the wood for the trees and find the right food amongst so many options. Another complicating factor is that there isn't a generic answer when it comes to the right food for each and every Chihuahua. After all, the right food depends on many different individual factors, therefore age, weight, activity and the dog's state of health should be taken into account when choosing a food.
However, the ingredients listed on the packaging can give an initial indication of a high-quality food. A good food contains a high proportion of animal protein. Meat remains the most important source of protein for Chihuahuas. Even such small dogs are primarily carnivores, therefore their digestive system is set up to deal with meat and bones. Even raw meat, which can be served with the new feeding method known as BARF, can be as easily digested by the Chihuahua as bones and cartilage thanks to its strong gastric acid. In contrast, dogs have less need for grain, especially because wheat often triggers allergies. Sugar also has no place in dog food. However, a significant amount of vegetables in the food is recommended and ensures a sufficient supply of vitamins. Nevertheless, make sure the exact quantities of vitamins and nutrients you provide are correct. Many food manufacturers add additional vitamins, though the dose is often excessive. Bear in mind that an excess of nutrients can be just as harmful as a deficiency.
When it comes to choosing between wet or dry food, you should also bear in mind that although dry food is often cheaper and contains less fat than wet food, it does frequently contain more preservatives. Whilst the moisture content of dry food is very high, you have to ensure your Chihuahua gets enough water if you give it dry food. Another possibility is a balanced mix of wet and dry food, although you should never mix the two within the same meal. Since the canine organism digests wet and dry food at different speeds, mixing them could result in digestion problems. The aforementioned BARF method is an alternative to ready-made food, i.e. biologically appropriate raw food, which involves dogs only eating fresh, raw meat and vegetables. The advantage of raw food is definitely that the natural vitamins often lost with conventional feed processing remain intact and automatically provide the dog with all necessary nutrients and vitamins.
Whether you opt for the BARF method or ready-made wet or dry food ultimately depends too on which feeding method fits in best with you and your day-to-day life. It's generally true that you can feed your dog in a species-appropriate manner with both BARF and pre-prepared food – as long as the food in question is tailored to your Chihuahua's needs. If in doubt, you're best off contacting your breeder or vet.
Housing and grooming
As is the case with all dogs, the right diet, healthy food, plenty of love and affection, appropriate grooming and sufficient exercise play a crucial role in your Chihuahua living a long, healthy and species-appropriate life.
Regularly brushing the fur is part of suitable grooming for the Chihuahua – especially for long-haired dogs. The eyes and ears should also be checked to identify and treat possible ailments at an early stage. Otherwise, these small dogs satisfied with little space are very low-maintenance. They are definitely ideal canines to keep in a small apartment.
Despite their size, you should not underestimate the need of Chihuahuas to play and be active with their beloved owner. They are very people-focused and need plenty of love and attention from their family in order to be happy. They love long walks in nice weather, although they prefer to stay at home in inclement conditions. In such cases, they can easily relieve themselves on a bit of old newspaper as long as you trained them to do so when they were still puppies.
Good and consistent training from the puppy phase and comprehensive socialisation will make living with your Chihuahua much easier. It will even help you to steer its notorious stubbornness and love of barking in the right direction, therefore you can be sure that nothing will stand in the way of living in harmony with Chihuahuas – even outside your handbag.