The Chihuahua is one of the most dynamic and misunderstood dog breeds in existence. They’re sort of the ‘love em’ or hate em’’ dog which are adored by many, and nuisances to others. The smallest dog of all 155 AKC dog breeds—never weighing in past 7lbs—their fragile bodies are no obstacle for their stubborn and confident demeanors. These little canines think the world of themselves, and often lack the ability to discern their own size from that of other (always larger) canines.
Often a one-person dog, the Chihuahua’s one quest in life is to love and be loved unconditionally. They’re full of enthusiasm and can adapt to nearly any living environment, although they hate extremes. They’re a wonderful breed and if properly trained and socialized, there’s no reason why they should be aloof or aggressive towards strangers.
Overall, Chihuahuas are a generally healthy breed, and have the capacity to outlive most dogs. Despite their physicality, these dogs are resilient went it comes to illness. Enough so that some live to be twenty years old, which few breeds have the stamina for.
It is unlikely that your Chihuahua will experience any of these health conditions listed below, but, it’s important for you as the owner to be aware of what’s most likely to happen if your Chihuahua is to fall ill.
Common Chihuahua Health Issues
While this isn’t a specific condition, it’s first on the list because it’s the leading cause of health problems in toy dogs—but particularly Chihuahuas. Chihuahuas love to follow their owners around. They want to be included in everything and often act as a ‘shadow’ might, despite what their owner is doing. And when accidents happen (if Chihuahua falls off the couch, etc.) they’re such fragile animals that injury often follows.
Aside from their jealous and snappy behavior, the other reason why they should never be around small children is because the youngsters often lack the awareness in dealing with the Chihuahua.
Children will ‘rough play,’ resulting in a Chihuahua with a serious injury. Their bone structure is thin and lithe, and prone to breaking. So it is something to pay extra attention to.
The patella is made of three parts (thigh bone, kneecap, and calf). Luxation is a fancy name for dislocation. As you can deduce, this condition occurs when the kneecap continuously shifts in and out of place. Symptoms can be an abnormal gait, different degrees of pain, lameness in the leg(s), and at worse immobility.
Due to the fact that this condition fluctuates in severity, there are many different types of treatment available. From physical therapy (in which often your dog will adjust to his gait and live a perfectly healthy life) all the way to corrective surgery.
Chihuahuas have weak teeth. Some are born with very little enamel, meaning they’re prone to cavities and rot. A quick Google search will show you just how notorious Chihuahua’s are for having bad breath. This is actually due in part to their dental hygiene, as their teeth are fickle and often malnourished.
Bad breath is usually the most obvious symptom, but an inspection can also expose tartar and plaque build-ups, premature tooth loss, and at times cavities. It’s important to spend an ample amount of time on your Chihuahua’s teeth, as they come predisposed to having poor dental hygiene.
One of the more interesting things about Chihuahua’s is while they’re certainly the dog which lives the longest, they can also be particularly unhealthy. Hypoglycemia—also known as low blood sugar—is a condition found in most toy breeds. Their small bodies have a harder time regulating their blood sugar, but if it’s caught early on there’s virtually no risk and it’s easily treatable.
Symptoms include extreme fatigue, a loss of appetite, hair loss, and shivering (despite the temperature). At worse, if this condition is misdiagnosed or goes on without treatment, the Chihuahua can slip into a coma from organ failure.
That’s why it’s important that if your Chihuahua is experiencing any of these symptoms, to take him to the vet just to assure there isn’t something serious happening.
Chihuahuas are known to shiver. While normally this isn’t a health problem, it is on the list because it’s almost always addressed by owners. It can be indicative of a serious issue as the aforementioned hypoglycemia, but usually it’s due to the fact that they don’t have much fat beneath their coats.
In addition, smaller dogs tend to have a hyperactive metabolism, meaning they’re constantly shedding body heat. Little dogs across the board shiver, but Chihuahuas do it particularly often. It’s usually not something to worry about, but if it seems abnormal then don’t’ hesitate to take your dog for a checkup.
Oddly enough (as this usually occurs in larger dogs) Chihuahuas tend to have heart murmurs. Usually they’re benign, and there’s no cause for concern, but at other times they can be a red flag for cardiovascular disease. If your veterinarian decides that there’s a reason to examine further, then they’ll do an EKG and take X-rays. If there is indeed something wrong, often your Chihuahua will have to adjust his diet, lifestyle, and amount of exercise.
Perhaps the most common condition that afflicts the dog species, hip dysplasia occurs when there’s displacement between the thighbone and hip joint. It can cause difficulty walking, lameness in the leg(s), pain, and an abnormal gait. Similar to patellar luxation, the degrees of severity range from the canine needing zero treatment, all the way to corrective surgery.
Usually this condition more commonly affects bigger dogs that grow too quickly into their bodies, but Chihuahua’s have such frail and fragile frames that often the origin of their hip dysplasia comes from an injury they experienced in their youth. But as mentioned, there are plenty of treatments available, and they’re almost always successful.
This is a congenital heart disease which occurs when blood doesn’t properly flow through the Chihuahua’s heart. The reason it’s called ‘pulmonic’ is because that’s the valve which doesn’t form properly, causing the heart to work twice as hard to pump blood throughout the body.
The severity of pulmonic stenosis vastly differs from case to case, with some needing no more than a dietary change, and others requiring heart surgery. This condition can be fatal if undiagnosed, as eventually the heart will wane and fail beneath the stress.
There are multiple different ways the trachea can collapse, but often it’s attributed to a hereditary disorder that weakens the lining of the tracheal rings, causing them to flatten over time.
As this continues, the airways thin, and it becomes progressively harder for the dog to inhale oxygen. If severe enough, it can certainly be serious, as the lack of oxygen will begin affecting other organs. There are preventative measures and surgery available for this condition.
This condition generally affects puppies in their first 2-6 months, and is generally fatal. It occurs when cerebrospinal fluid clumps in the brain due to obstruction or trauma during birth, which pushes the brain against the skull. The canine’s head will swell rapidly, and in an attempt to save the pup veterinarians will sometimes us a shunt to displace the fluid from the brain to the abdomen.
They’ll also sometimes use steroids to help reduce the pressure. But puppies with bad cases of hydrocephalus will die before reaching 5 months. Some people recommend waiting on making a Chihuahua purchase until they’re that age, although this condition is very rare.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)
This condition directly affects the eyes, and it occurs when the photoreceptors at the back of the eye begin to fail. Symptoms first begin with night blindness—the Chihuahua will have a particularly difficult time seeing in the dark. But as it progresses, it eventually begins to affect their daytime vision as well.
Unfortunately, there’s no cure for PRA and as it develops, it leads to complete blindness. However, veterinarians can diagnose the condition early on and allow the proper time for both owner and canine to prepare for blindness. Except for the loss of vision, PRA doesn’t have any other physical effects on a Chihuahua’s body.
Keeping Your Chihuahua Healthy
These are conditions which can affect a Chihuahua, but will rarely do so. Now that you’re armed with this knowledge, it’s important that you take the necessary steps in ensuring that your canine is going to lead the healthiest life possible. Here are some tips.
Buy The Right Food
Don’t be cheap about your pup’s diet. These small canines have fast-working metabolisms and need the highest quality food available. Not only that, but Chihuahua’s can be fickle about their food choice. Work with your veterinarian to ensure you’re giving your dog the proper diet.
Take Your Pup To The Vet
It’s incredible how few owners actually take their dog to the veterinarian for annual checkups. Even if your dog is perfectly healthy, there’s a lot of value in keeping a log of his aging process (weight, height, etc.).
Many of the aforementioned conditions need to be treated in their earliest stages, which means they need to be caught early on. That’s what professionals are for.
Groom Your Chihuahua
Yes, Chihuahua’s have just about the most manageable coat of all dog breeds (they do shed, however). Make sure to examine and groom your dog weekly and check for anything abnormal (inflammation, rashes, infection, parasites, redness). Just as well, be sure to brush his teeth 2-3 times a week, because Chihuahuas—of all dogs—need it. Trim your pup’s nails monthly, as Chihuahuas won’t wear them down on their own.
Chihuahua’s have a tendency to become lethargic with age. They’ll find their spot on the couch and decide that’s their habitat for the rest of life. But despite their small size—like every animal—they too need exercise. Remember, a walk around the block for you is a hard workout for them. Be sure to motivate your Chihuahua to stay active as his energy begins to wane, and balance his activity level with his food intake.
Chihuahuas can live to be twenty years old. They’re generally a healthy breed, contagiously enthusiastic, and sassy to no end. So long as you take the proper steps in ensuring your dog is the healthiest he can be, the risk for the aforementioned conditions drops even lower than it already is. Be informed, aware, and diligent, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t have your fur friend with you for a couple of decades.