Chihuahua: Dog Breed Characteristics & Care

History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Chihuahua

hellomikee/Twenty20

The Chihuahua is a tiny but confident dog that loves to give and receive attention. Despite its petite and fragile appearance, ​the breed is quite bold—even brazen. It boasts distinct features, like wide eyes and ears that are usually erect and very large in relation to its small head and body. The Chihuahua has a unique personality and can be quite an affectionate and loyal companion dog.

Breed Overview

GROUP: Toy

HEIGHT: 6 to 9 inches

WEIGHT: 2 to 6 pounds

COAT: Chihuahuas can have smooth short coats or longer fringed coats.

COAT COLOR: They are seen in many colors, either solid or a combination of two colors. Most common colors include black, tan, fawn, cream, white, blue, silver, chocolate, and red.

LIFE SPAN: 12 to 20 years

TEMPERAMENT: Loyal, alert, lively, attentive, bright, companionable

HYPOALLERGENIC: No

ORIGIN: Mexico

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Click Play to Learn More About the Confident Chihuahua

Characteristics of the Chihuahua

Chihuahuas are incredibly popular pets and those owners who care for them consider themselves Chihuahua fans for life. Beloved for their spunky (and sometimes sassy) nature, Chihuahuas make up for what they lack in size with larger-than-life personalities.

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly Medium
Pet-Friendly Medium
Exercise Needs Low
Playfulness Medium
Energy Level Medium
Trainability Medium
Intelligence High
Tendency to Bark Medium
Amount of Shedding Low

History of the Chihuahua

The Chihuahua originated in Mexico in the state for which it was named. A likely ancestor of the breed was the Techichi, a sacred dog of the ancient Toltecs. The ancestors of the Chihuahua may have been present earlier than the ninth century—some believe that the smaller size of the breed may have resulted from crossing with Chinese crested dogs.

First registered by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1904, the Chihuahua is one of the oldest breeds on the American continent and one of the smallest breeds in the world. It's also highly recognizable, thanks to its tiny size and big personality. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Taco Bell ad campaigns starring the breed boosted its popularity, as did Chihuahuas being featured in reality television series as purse dogs of rich, famous young women.

Chihuahua Care

The Chihuahua's affectionate and attention-loving nature makes it a snuggly dog that enjoys being carried around and pampered. When raised and handled appropriately, the Chihuahua can make a wonderful companion for many kinds of families. Not all Chihuahuas will automatically get along with children, but they can be trained and socialized to get along with kids. It is often recommended that Chihuahuas not be adopted into a family with young children, as the children may not handle a small dog as gently as is needed to prevent injury.

Sleeping chihuahua puppy
Johner Images​ / Getty Images 
Loving Chihuahuas
May-lin Joe / Getty Images
Man carrying chihuaha
Tim Kitchen / Getty Images

Exercise

Many people underestimate the exercise needs of smaller dogs, and it is absolutely essential for your Chihuahuas to get regular exercise. Chihuahuas have a moderate to high energy level and may develop behavioral problems if not given enough activity. Exercise and mental stimulation will help maintain your dog's mental and physical health. Stay aware when you are walking a Chihuahua, as they can be aggressive toward larger dogs if not properly trained. You may need to be on alert to remove your dog from potential conflict.

Grooming

Smooth-coated Chihuahuas need little more than basic routine grooming due to their short hair. However, the long-coated Chihuahua varieties require more frequent grooming, especially routine hair brushing. Due to its small size, the Chihuahua's nails don't wear down naturally, so it's important that you trim their nails regularly to keep them from becoming overgrown and uncomfortable. 

Training

The sassy attitude of the Chihuahua demands proper socialization and in-depth obedience training. Without adequate socialization, the breed can become fearful and defensive, especially around new people or animals. An untrained Chihuahua can act defiant and defensive towards its owner and other people. Though stubborn at times, the breed is smart and can become well-behaved with dedication and consistency. It's also essential that you teach your Chihuahua to tolerate being handled at a young age, especially for things like nail trims and grooming.

Common Health Problems

Responsible breeders strive to maintain the highest breed standards as established by kennel clubs like the AKC. Dogs bred by these standards are less likely to inherit health conditions. Some hereditary health problems can with Chihuahuas—the following are some conditions to be aware of:

  • Patellar Luxation: This is a dislocating kneecap, which causes the dog pain. You may notice your dog holding its foot off the ground, and its kneecap may pop back into place when its muscles relax and lengthen.
  • Collapsing Trachea: This is a restriction of the windpipe that is often seen in small dogs. Coughing when pressure is put on the trachea is a sign of this condition—if you notice these symptoms, you should discuss it with your veterinarian urgently.
  • Hydrocephalus: This can be noted in puppies with signs of an abnormally large head as fluid accumulates.
  • Hypoglycemia: Low blood sugar can affect Chihuahua puppies, and they may need a sugar supplement.
  • Chihuahuas like to be warm and they don't tolerate cold well. You may need to put your dog in a sweater for walks in cold weather. You'll note that your dog will seek out warm places in your home, like near the heat, in the sun, or on a blanket.
chihuahuas as pets
Illustration: The Spruce / Emilie Dunphy

Diet and Nutrition

Due to their small size, Chihuahuas need only 1/4 to 1/2 cup of dry food per day. You will need to monitor your dog to ensure it is not getting overweight, as obesity can lead to a shorter lifespan. Consult your veterinarian about an appropriate diet if your pet has a health condition or is gaining too much weight.

The small size of a Chihuahua's jaw makes their teeth weaker, so you will need to support your pet with daily dental care, including brushing. You should provide dental chews and a diet that requires chewing, which will naturally help reduce plaque. Good dry dog food for Chihuahuas will have large and dense pieces.

Where to Adopt or Buy a Chihuahua

Since Chihuahuas are such a popular dog breed, there are many verified breeders across the country. Make sure to work with someone who can provide medical records and references for their dogs. Alternatively, there are plenty of specialized Chihuahua rescue organizations around the country as well.

Chihuahua Overview

Pros
  • Cuddly

  • Intelligent pet for the right owner

  • Small and easy to transport

Cons
  • Does not tolerate cold temperatures

  • Requires a high level of physical exercise

  • Can be aggressive if not properly trained

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

If you'd like to share your life with an adorable Chihuahua, take the time to do your research first. Talk to your veterinarian, other Chihuahua owners, reputable Chihuahua breeders, and Chihuahua rescue groups to learn more.

If you're interested in similar breeds, check out:

There's a whole world of potential dog breeds out there. With a little research, you can find the right one to bring home!

FAQ
  • Are Chihuahuas good apartment dogs?

    Yes—Chihuahuas are great apartment dogs thanks to their small size and easy care. It's important to train your Chihuahua properly so you keep the noise and barking to a minimum.

  • What were Chihuahuas bred for?

    Unlike working dogs or service dogs, Chihuahuas are thought to be bred for companionship and religious ceremony. They have a long noble history as a "lap dog" and are thought to be descendants of the ancient Techichi.

  • Are Chihuahuas good family dogs?

    Chihuahuas can be great family dogs with a few stipulations. First and foremost, they should be brought into the family young, so they grow up surrounded by the members of the household and are not overwhelmed. Additionally, any children in the household should be a bit older and taught how to properly hold and play with a pet, as is very important with a dog as small as the Chihuahua.

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