Chihuahuas are a bold and energetic breed in the toy group. They’re devoted to their families and make for great lap dogs.
Chihuahuas are flexible pets that are willing to go with the flow — as long as that flow keeps them next to you. They’re small and graceful companions, perfect for calm, comfortable homes.
Characteristics of Chihuahuas
Body size. Chihuahuas are one of the smallest breeds in the world. Males tend to be slightly shorter than females, but the sexes are relatively close in height. The average chihuahua size is five to eight inches tall.
Males and females shouldn’t weigh any more than six pounds — but these dogs are capable of getting far heavier than this. Be sure to talk to your veterinarian if your chihuahua is much heavier than six pounds — or if you’re worried that they’re too small.
Their small size makes this breed one of the most portable in the world. They’re sometimes called purse dogs because of how easily they travel.
Body shape. Chihuahuas are slightly longer than they are tall. Their ribs are rounded but don’t take on the barrel-shaped characteristic of some breeds.
Their slightly arched necks support uniquely rounded heads — often referred to as “apple-domes.” Their muzzles are short and end in slight points.
Chihuahuas have large ears that can perk up at a moment's notice from their normal 45° angle. The ears are always a distinct and expressive feature on a chihuahua’s head.
They have medium-sized tails that loop up toward their backs or dangle to the side in sickle shapes.
Lifespan. Like most small dogs, your pet chihuahua is likely to live well over a decade. In fact, the average chihuahua life expectancy is 14 to 16 years old. Some even make it to 20 years old, so be prepared to take care of these pets for quite a while before deciding to adopt one into your family.
Fur. Chihuahuas either have smooth, short coats or medium-to-long coats. The only difference between these varieties is in their coat type — all of their other features are the same.
Both coat types come in a wide variety of colors. The American Kennel Club (AKC) lists over 31 different coat color options for the breed. Examples include:
- Black and tan
- Blue and tan
- Cream and white
These coat colors can also be arranged in a number of different patterns — like masks.
The AKC has a complete list of these features on their website.
Eyes. Chihuahuas have very noticeable eyes. They’re round and set far apart on the skull. Ideally, they won’t protrude too far from your dog's head, but they sometimes will.
The eyes almost seem to glow with an inner light. Breeders prefer dark or ruby-colored eyes. However, their eyes can also be blue, and they sometimes have two different eye colors — either one color for each eye or two colors in one iris.
Although these eye colors won’t win your dog any best-in-show prizes, they can be fun and beautiful variations in a family pet.
Bite. Chihuahuas aren’t known for their perfect teeth. Overbites and underbites both occur in the breed. You may also need to have teeth removed on occasion.
Personality. The size of a chihuahua’s personality is far larger than its diminutive body.
Chihuahua personality traits include affection, curiosity, bravery, and vigilance — all mixed together with quite a bit of neediness.
This means that they make great companions, but you can’t leave them alone for long. Your pet will love to cuddle in your lap for hours at a time and will be happiest when you’re nearby. Make sure that you have enough time for them before bringing one home.
Their boldness can sometimes put them in danger — since they have a tendency to attack much larger dogs. Make sure to socialize your chihuahua early, or they might struggle to interact with other dogs.
Caring for Chihuahuas
Grooming. Chihuahuas have slightly different grooming needs based on their coat type. The long-coated chihuahuas need to be brushed at least once a week in order to avoid tangles and mats. Chihuahuas with short coats only need occasional grooming.
You should bathe your pet whenever you think they need it — i.e., when they become too dirty or smelly for you. Short-coated dogs will generally need baths less frequently than the long-coated variety.
Both varieties frequently need their nails trimmed and their ears checked for build-up. You should also brush their teeth on a regular basis.
Feeding. Find — or make — a high-quality dog food that your chihuahua likes. They’re fairly flexible dogs, though, not tied down to a routine, so you can work out a feeding schedule that’s best for both of you.
Just be careful not to overfeed your chihuahua. Give them table scraps rarely — if at all, and make sure you know which human foods are safe for dogs. Talk to your vet about any dietary concerns.
Exercise and Mental Stimulation. Chihuahuas have a moderate amount of energy — but don’t need enormous amounts of physical activity in order to stay healthy. Trotting around the house is enough exercise on any given day.
Short, slow walks are nice too — just make sure to keep an eye on your dog for any signs of exhaustion. You’ll need to pick them up and carry them home if you notice them panting or lagging too far behind.
They also only need moderate amounts of mental stimulation. Playing games with you or learning a few tricks are entertaining activities for the breed.
Veterinary visits, medications, and immunizations. Your veterinarian is the best person to determine all of the vaccinations that your pet needs, but all dogs should get a core set.
This includes vaccinations for:
These can begin as early as six weeks of age. There are also other non-core vaccinations that you can discuss with your veterinarian.
Dosages for flea and tick medications are based on your dog's weight and used as needed. Oral and skin-based applications are available from your veterinarian or other distributors.
Many of these medications can be effective against a variety of pests and parasites, so talk to your veterinarian to figure out the best one for you.
Health Problems to Watch For with Chihuahuas
In general, chihuahuas are a healthy breed that live long, contented lives, but there are some health issues that can crop up.
Common chihuahua health issues include:
- Heart problems. The breed is prone to a number of heart conditions like patent ductus arteriosus and mitral valve disease. You should have your pet’s heart examined on an annual basis.
- Eye disease. The large eyes of chihuahuas are prone to infections and other eye conditions. Eye tests can start at any age.
- Patellar luxation. This is a condition where your dog’s knee joints are loose. Your vet can examine your dog's knees and determine how vulnerable they are to injury.
- Idiopathic epilepsy. Chihuahuas are one of a number of breeds that can develop seizures for no understandable reason. Be sure to get your pet to the vet if you believe that they’ve had a seizure.
Special Considerations for Chihuahuas
Chihuahuas are not good with small children. This is important to know before taking one home. They’re also not particularly open to strangers. Be careful not to stress them out too much in social situations.
This aspect of the chihuahua temperament can be modified with early training. Socialization can help make them more comfortable with others.
Another thing to keep in mind is that they’re a very vocal breed. The AKC gives them a five out of five for their tendency to bark at the slightest disturbance.
On a positive note, they rarely drool and shed much less than some breeds.
They can be a bit delicate because of their small size, so take care of them in cold weather — with sweaters and only very short trips outside.
One of the most interesting chihuahua facts is that they’re the only dog breed born with incomplete skulls. For the first few months of their lives, there are soft spots on their heads that you need to be careful with.
These are an adaptation allowing them to fit through the birth canal and not a cause for alarm. Take note, though, that in some cases, the skull might never fully close.
History of Chihuahuas
Chihuahuas are the national breed of Mexico and one of the most ancient lineages of dogs in the Americas. They’re named for Chihuahua, Mexico — a location where the breed is quite plentiful.
No one knows for sure what the exact origins of the chihuahua are, but there’s archaeological evidence that very similar breeds have been around for thousands of years.
The most common theory is that chihuahuas were bred by the Aztecs from a larger ancestral breed — the techichi. The techichi, in turn, was a favorite pet in the older Toltec civilization.
Representations of dogs that closely resemble chihuahuas have been found in many diverse ruins. There are toy versions of the animals from around 100 A.D. that are spread throughout modern Mexico and beyond. Depictions of comparable dogs were found within the pyramid of Cholula — dating similar breeds to around 1500B.C.
A consistently popular choice, the chihuahua breed was recognized by the AKC in 1904. These days they’re a famous dog variety, beloved by people from all walks of life. They’ve gotten a lot of screen time in various Hollywood productions as well — for instance, in the film Beverly Hills Chihuahua.