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    Overview

    The Chihuahua is the world’s smallest dog breed, and its history is shrouded in mystery. Some believe that it originated in Asia, others that it came from Europe. But no matter where the breed got its start, it really is a dog of Mexico. This, coupled with the fact that in several Mayan dialects “chi” means dog, would seem to place the ancestors of the Chihuahua in the Mayan period.

    The Chihuahua comes in two varieties: smooth with a short, close-lying, glossy coat, and the long-coat, with soft-textured, flat or slightly wavy hair that forms a fringe of longer hair on the neck, legs, and tail. To many people, the long-coat variety is a mere variant of the typical, short-haired Chihuahua, different only in coat length. To others, it is a separate breed. Those who support the idea that this is a distinct type do so because they believe that it is the result of one or more crossing with other breeds.

    Pomeranian, Papillon and Pekingese are said to have been used to create this variety. Chihuahuas are affectionate, but they also make excellent watchdogs. They are very loyal and get attached to one or two persons. The breed is very sociable with its own kind, and several Chihuahuas can live happily in the same household.

    Chihuahua History

    The Chihuahua received its name from the northern part of Mexico bearing the same name, that borders on the Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico boundary lines. Through archeological digs and the work of paleontologists, they have pieced together a history that goes back at least to 5th century A.D. The Mayan Indians of South America made clay sculptures of small dogs that resemble a Chihuahua “type” and are believed by some to be the first to develop a relationship with one of the Chihuahua’s ancestors.

    Another theory about the beginnings of the Chihuahua places it with the Spanish conquerors who invaded Mexico, the Caribbean, and South America. It is believed that they had with them a small, black and tan, terrier type dog. A native people of Mexico, known as Toltecs, (the people that conquered the Mayans), were known to have invaded the southern and central parts of Mexico by 1100 A.D. They possessed a dog of small stature which was heavy-boned and long-coated. The dog was known as a Techichi. These Spanish dogs were bred with the native Techichi, and the Chihuahua resulted. 

    When people in the United States were introduced to this tiny dog with a great personality, they were referred to as “Texas Dogs” or “Arizona Dogs.” Since then, Chihuahuas have undergone a great deal of change and breeders have made great strides in improving their temperament.

    Two Varieties of Chihuahua

    The modern Chihuahua comes in two varieties: long coat and smooth coat. Most breed enthusiasts see the smooth coat as the original Chihuahua, and it has always been the most popular of the two varieties in the United States. The long-coated type has been interbred with other Toy dogs, such as the Papillon, but now this variety is strongly established as a separate entity. Today, the long coat and the smooth coat are shown in separate classes, but apart from the length of coat, the varieties are identical in both character and conformation.

    Character

    Most Chihuahuas are very sociable and usually interact well with their master and family. They are shy around other breeds of dogs, but recognize and tend to get along with their own kind, so much so that Chihuahuas have been described as clannish. However, the way a Chihuahua reacts around other pets may vary with the individual dog.

    The Chihuahua may not be appropriate for a family with very young children if the kids tend to be rough with pets. Sometimes, the dog will become intolerant of undisciplined toddlers. However, Chihuahuas make excellent house pets for single people, seniors and most anybody else. These dogs crave attention and never-ending love.

    Although a little guy, at less than six pounds, the Chihuahua has a terrier-like personality, being alert, observant, and keen on interacting with their masters. The Chihuahua is unaware of his small stature. He can be bold with other dogs much larger than himself, and protective of his master. Chihuahuas are fiercely loyal to their masters and greatly suspicious of any strangers coming into their household. For these reasons, Chihuahuas make good watchdogs.

    Maintenance

    Chihuahuas are among the most appealing of all dog breeds, and Chihuahua puppies are absolutely irresistible. However, you mustn’t succumb to temptation and rush into Chihuahua ownership before giving it a serious consideration. You may think that a small dog is easy to care for, but the responsibility and commitment are the same as if you were taking on an Irish Wolfhound!

    Caring For Male Chihuahua

    It is generally thought that Toy dogs mature more quickly than the larger breeds, but this is not necessarily the case with the Chihuahua. A male will not be fully mature until he is around 18 months of age, and his adolescent or “junior” phase is generally around 12 to 18 months. At this time, a male Chihuahua may not look his best. He has lost his early bloom and is caught between puppyhood and adulthood. This is of little consequence to the pet owner, but it can be a nervous time if you are planning to show your Chihuahua.

    Temperamentally, the adolescent male may show few changes in behavior. He may mess around a little, and be a bit slower to respond to you, but he is unlikely to be confrontational. Try to be patient with your Chihuahua at this time, and give lots of praise and reward when he responds correctly.

    If you are not planning to show your Chihuahua or use him for breeding, neutering is a sensible option. However, it is important to wait until the dog is fully mature – around 18 months of age – before allowing him to be castrated. If the operation is performed too early, the dog is in a period of suspended development, and this may affect his temperament. The advantage of neutering is that your Chihuahua will not be on the lookout for female Chihuahuas in season every time you go out.

    It has been noted that the long-coated Chihuahua grows a more profuse coat after castration, which can be viewed as a bonus, depending on your enthusiasm for grooming. The other possible side effect is obesity. A castrated dog tends to put on weight more easily, and this must be safeguarded against. In terms of health, a castrated dog will be less likely to suffer prostate disorders, and the risk of testicular cancer is virtually eliminated.

    Caring For Female Chihuahua

    A female Chihuahua is sexually mature when she has had her first season. The timing of this may vary dramatically between individuals; some may have their first season at around eight months, others as old as 15 months.

    Despite the major hormonal changes taking place, the female Chihuahua seems to float through adolescence, and rarely gives cause for concern. She is less likely to go through and “ugly duckling” phase than the male, and she will generally continue to be her usual sweet and sunny self.

    In most breeds, spaying is recommended for females that are not to be used for breeding, but this is not always the case with Chihuahuas. Compared with castration in the male, spaying in the female is a much more serious operation, and the implications of this should be considered. The tiny Chihuahua is very vulnerable under anesthetic, so there is risk involved. Research has shown that there are health benefits involved with spayings, such as a reduced risk of mammary tumors, and a lower incidence of pyometra (a life-threatening womb infection). However, this must be considered alongside the side effects of obesity and urinary incontinence, which may occur in the spayed female. This is an important decision to make, and it would be wise to discuss the pros and cons with your vet before taking action.

    Different dog breeds can suffer from common canine diseases, and Chihuahuas are not an exception. Learn more about dog health in general, common canine diseases, preventive care, skin disorders, dog eye and ear infections and more.

    There have been some evidence that some Chihuahuas may be susceptible to severe reactions to Leptospirosis vaccines and can develop distemper encephalitis, kidney and liver failure. The 2003 report of the AAHA Canine Vaccine Task Force indicated that the DOI (duration of immunity) following challenge studies in dogs was equal to or greater than 7 years for the three canine “core” vaccines against distemper virus, parvovirus (CPV-2) and adenovirus (hepatitis, CAV-1).

    Some veterinarian experts maintain that the practice of re-vaccinating animals annually is largely based on historic precedent supported by minimal scientific data; unnecessary stimulation of the immune system does not result in enhanced disease resistance and may expose animals to unnecessary risks.

    Which vaccinations your Chihuahua needs depends on a number of factors, including your Chihuahua’s age, health, medical and behavioral history and living situation. You should discuss with your veterinarian and decide which vaccinations your Chihuahua needs. Some are essential for health, some required by law, and others optional, depending on your dog’s situation.

    Breed Standard

    The AKC standard for the Chihuahua says these dogs should weigh no more than 6 pounds, and if you have ever seen a picture of a Chihuahua, you will readily notice how tiny they are. Breed standards in different countries vary and in Britain, for instance, 2 – 4 pounds weight is the accepted standard. According to the F.C.I. standard, dogs over 6 pounds are disqualified.

    At A Glance

    Other Names:

    Chi

    Country of Origin:

    Mexico

    Utilization:

    Companion Dog

    Classifications:

    FCI Classification: Group 9: Companion & Toy Breeds; Section 6 – Chihuahueño
    AKC Classification: Toy Group

    Size:

    Small (6 – 9 inches at shoulders)

    Colors:

    All colors are acceptable. Colors range from snow white to jet black and can be solid, marked or splashed.

    Litter Size:

    3

    Life Span:

    12 – 15 years

    Grooming Requirements:

    Needs regular brushing, ear cleaning and nail trimming.

    Shedding:

    Moderate

    Personality:

    Intelligent, alert, curious and hardy. Chihuahuas are wary of strangers and make good watchdogs. They make excellent companions to the elderly and single people.

    Social skills:

    Usually get along with other small animals but can be extremely suspicious about strange dogs.

    Suitability for Children:

    Not the best choice for families with young children. They can be snappy with small children and have a low tolerance for them. These dogs are not recommended to families with children under 4.

    Exercise Needs:

    Little

    Train Ability:

    Can be difficult to housebreak.

    Health & Behavioral Issues:

    Small-size dogs, or Toy dogs, suffer breed specific problems. The Chihuahua is not an exception. If the timely and correct preventive care is provided and if the breeding stock is free from genetic defects, then you have a healthy Chihuahua. Here are several congenital diseases (dogs are born with these diseases) that might present serious health risk in this breed of dog:

    Patellar Luxation

    The patella or kneecap is a small bone buried in the tendon of the extensor muscles (the quadriceps muscles) of the thigh. The tendon is a band of tough, inelastic tissue that connects a muscle with its bony attachment. With this condition, the kneecap may slip out of the tendon and then slip back. Patellar luxation is graded 1 to 4 based on the severity of the defect, 1 being occasional mild lameness.

    Progressive Retinal Atrophy

    Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) is a collective term comprising a group of hereditary degenerative lesions of the retina. Generalized PRA is characterized by night blindness with both eyes affected and dogs eventually become totally blind. Central PRA (also called RPE dystrophy) is marked by accumulations of pigment in the layer of pigmented lining of the retina, which results in day blindness and eventually leads to total blindness.

    Transient Juvenile Hypoglycemia

    Transient Juvenile Hypoglycemia, which is brought on by fasting, is common in Toy dog breeds, such as Yorkshire Terrier, Toy Poodle, Pomeranian and other Toy dog breeds, and usually seen in puppies 5 to 16 weeks of age.

    Cryptorchidism

    The testes (testicles) develop in the abdomen and gradually descend into the scrotum. They should be present there at birth, or shortly after. If they have not descended by the time the dog is adult, he can be described as either a unilateral cryptorchid (when one testis is still retained in the abdomen), or bilateral cryptorchid (when both have not descended). The testis that remains in the abdomen does not function and has a high risk of being injured or twisted. The undescended testis is affected by cancer more often than the normal descended testis. Chihuahuas are considered to be prone to cryptorchidism. Sometimes, the hidden testes may descend when a puppy is 6 months of age. It is advised to check with your veterinarian at the time of vaccination.

    Hydrocephalus

    Hydrocephalus is the malfunction of the drainage system of the brain responsible for evacuating the cerebrospinal fluid from the brain into the circulatory system. In hydrocephalus condition, the fluid builds up in the two large interconnecting chambers, and the brain and skull become enlarged because of the accumulation of the fluid. Hydrocephalus may be an acquired or congenital (present at birth) condition and may be caused by birth defects of the brain’s drainage system, head injuries, tumors, parasitic or other infections. In young dogs, the presence of a dome-shaped head and/or non-closing, or persistent fontanel (also called fontanella) may indicate the development of hydrocephalus. Fontanel is a small gap between the incompletely formed cranial bones. Several such spots are usually present at birth and in most cases usually close by 3 or 4 months of age. In Chihuahua, the frontal fontanel, or molera, remains unclosed, and this does not harm the dog. Signs of Hydrocephalus include depression, severe loss of movement coordination, eye abnormalities, seizures, vision problems, and skull enlargement. Young affected puppies often show slow growth as compared to their littermates.

    Demodicosis

    Demodicosis is an infestation with Demodectic mites. It is characterized by skin lesions and alopecia (loss of hair). These mites are very common to dogs and are found in most healthy dogs. The infestation is usually caused by immune system disorders, hypothyroidism (thyroid gland disorder), poor nutrition, existing disease, cancer, and exposure to harmful substances that may lead to the development of cancer (carcinogens). When an infestation occurs, the mites multiply in the hair follicles, causing inflammation and alopecia. It is diagnosed through skin scrapings taken from the spots affected by alopecia.

    There are two types of demodicosis: localized and generalized. In localized type inflamed scaly spots only appear on the dog’s face, front legs and the trunk and are usually observed in puppies of 3 to 6 months of age. Cases diagnosed before two years of age are classified as juvenile demodicosis, and those diagnosed after two years of age as adult demodicosis.

    The generalized demodicosis is a serious skin disease that can take from 1 to 6 months to cure. Start of treatment early in the course of disease usually gives a significantly better chance of cure. The mites and the skin lesions usually disappear one and a half to 2 months on average after the start of treatment of the skin condition and the existing health disorders.

    Cystinuria

    Some dog breeds, such as Chihuahua, Dalmatians, Dachshunds, Tibetan Spaniels, and Basset Hounds are genetically predisposed to formation of cystine crystals (crystals formed out of amino acid called cystine) in the urine which eventually lead to stone formations in kidneys and bladder. These stones can cause irritation and infection. Signs of cystinuria usually include blood in the urine, difficulty and pain in urinating, and frequent but small amounts of urine. If a stone completely obstructs the urethra and thus blocks the outflow of urine (more common in male dogs), this may cause kidney failure – vomiting, depression, loss of appetite. Treating of cystinuria requires an individual approach and lifelong treatment. In most cases special diets and increased water intake are recommended along with medications and surgery to dissolute or remove stones. Recent studies show that cystinuria may be #1 risk factor for developing taurine deficiency in dogs. A deficiency of taurine (taurine is a product of taurocholic acid involved in emulsification of fats and occurring in the bile) can cause blindness and heart disease. Low-quality commercial foods are usually deficient in taurine.

    Mitral Valve Disease

    This term encompasses many heart diseases involving degenerative thickening and progressive deformity of one or more heart valves – mitral valve disease, mitral valve degeneration, mitral valve insufficiency etc. Mitral valve disease is a serious heart condition caused by the abnormal function of the valve that separates the upper and lower chamber of the left side of the heart. This disease is usually associated with a heart murmur that can be heard with a stethoscope. It commonly affects Miniature Schnauzers, Chihuahuas, Fox Terriers, Cocker Spaniels, Cairn Terriers, Miniature Poodles, Bull Terriers, Boston Terriers, King Charles Spaniels, Miniature Pinschers, Dachshunds, Doberman Pinschers and Shetland Sheepdogs. Males are 50% more likely than females to be affected.

    The diseases may result from a congenital defect of the valve, defects in the muscles and tendons that operate the valve, or inflammation of the heart. The disease usually occurs in older dogs, however, it is seen in young dogs and may result in premature death. Signs may include exercise intolerance, weakness, syncope (passing out), coughing at night or at rest because of a build-up of fluid in the lungs, shortness of breath, and lethargy.

    Mildly affected dogs can have a good quality of life for years. It all depends on when the diagnosis is made and when therapy is applied. There are many dogs with a degenerative mitral disease that never progress to heart failure. While the prognosis for dogs with mitral valve disease at an advanced stage is poor, some dogs may be managed with medications and low-sodium diet for a period that varies from case to case. There is no prevention for mitral valve disease. Early detection and appropriate treatment of the disease may improve the prognosis.

    Hemophilia

    Hemophilia is a genetically inherited bleeding disorder caused by a deficiency of the blood clotting factors VIII (hemophilia A) or IX (hemophilia B). Classical hemophilia, hemophilia A, is the most common coagulation disorder in dogs. Signs of severe hemophilia usually include excessive bleeding from the gums, when getting adult teeth, and areas of bleeding under the skin in the regions of hind legs, the knee joint as well as the chest or abdomen (part of the body that encloses the stomach, intestines, liver and pancreas), forehead andt he shoulder area, cough and lameness. Treatment may include periodic blood transfusions. The prognosis for dogs with severe hemophilia is poor since it usually results in lethal complications of the bleeding in the central nervous system. Dogs with a mild to moderate deficiency of the blood clotting factor may survive to adulthood without showing signs severe enough to require veterinary attention.

    Teacup Chihuahua

    Contrary to false advertisements, Chihuahuas are not classified by size. Typical Chihuahuas weigh between 3 to 6 pounds. Dogs a little larger than 6 pounds make excellent pets, especially when children are in the family, but you should think twice before buying an especially tiny Chihuahua. Pups wrongly advertised as signature or teacup often are below the breed’s standard, too delicate for the average home and may have health problems. These specimen are very fragile and high-strung. Anyone desiring this variety of dogs would be better off with a hamster.

    Many people are drawn to the tiniest Chihuahuas available. Ads for teacup or so-called pocket Chihuahuas boast of tiny dogs. The Chihuahua Club of America frowns on the use of these misleading terms. Despite the undeniable appeal, several drawbacks accompany these dogs, including missing teeth, large molars, and injuries. Tiny Chihuahua puppies will suffer more often from these health problems than larger puppies.

    Bred for an extremely small size, teacup Chihuahuas are predisposed to transient juvenile hypoglycemia, so they have to be given insulin on a daily basis. Their knees are prone to dislocation if they try to go up and down the stairs.

    Many breeders suggest a dog weighing about 4 pounds (1.8 kg) is ideal – small enough to be cute yet large enough to be fairly sturdy.

    If you want to compete with your Chihuahua in obedience and agility, a dog that is near the top of the allowed weight limit will generally have an easier time. Even conformation dogs may be hindered by a tiny size. Since many shows are held outdoors with somewhat tall grass, the smallest Chihuahuas will have difficulty moving with ease. If you intend your Chihuahua as a companion for a child, a larger dog is usually better suited. A rough guide to adult weight can be arrived at by doubling the pups weight at 14 weeks of age. Of course, this is not exact, but it can give you a general idea for most lines of Chihuahuas.

    Chihuahua FAQs

    What Are Chihuahuas Most Suitable For?

    According to the FCI standard, Chihuahuas are utilized as a companion and watchdogs. Most owners prefer this toy breed for its extraordinary loyalty to his master. Chihuahua loves people and is always happy to be cuddled on a lap. The loving Chihuahua is the perfect therapy dog, bringing comfort to both children and adults in need. Despite his size, he is a mini guard dog, as he will be quick to bark if strangers approach. He is often described as having terrier-like qualities, and this can be seen in his fearless, outgoing nature.

    Can Chihuahuas be trained to participate in dog sports?

    Despite the fact that they are most commonly perceived as “lapdogs”, Chihuahuas are successfully trained in several different disciplines, including Competitive Obedience, Flyball, and Agility.

    We have small children. Will Chihuahua be the right choice for our family?

    If you have very young children, a Chihuahua is not a good choice. A tiny dog could easily get injured in the rough and tumble of family life. Most responsible breeders will not sell a puppy to a family that has children under eight years of age. Chihuahuas have one trait peculiar exclusively to this breed – molera, or open fontanel. It can be felt as a soft spot on the top of the dogs’s head. In other breeds (and in human babies), the frontal bones of the cranium fuse soon after birth. In some Chihuahuas, this process may take a lot longer, or the bones may never fuse completely. In 50% of Chihuahuas born with this condition, the bones will fuse by the age of three. Although a Chihuahua with a molera is perfectly healthy, the dog should be treated with more care, as the head is more vulnerable.

    We have other dogs. Is Chihuahua likely to get along with them?

    If you already own a Chihuahua dog, there is no problem. If you have a bigger breed, you must be confident that your dog is well trained and will not take advantage of a small size dog. You must supervise the interaction of your Chihuahua puppy or dog with a bigger breed and praise him for being friendly with the Chihuahua.

    Where can I buy a Chihuahua puppy?

    You can find a breeder by contacting your local Chihuahua club for a list of breeders. Another helpful place to find a breeder is dog shows.

    Which gender is better – male or female?

    Many pet owners say that male Chihuahuas are more affectionate and friendly. Female Chihuahuas are less predictable in their choice of their special person – some are friendly with everybody, others prefer one person. However, regardless of gender, a Chihuahua will be a loyal and affectionate companion.

    Do Chihuahuas require a lot of grooming?

    The long-coated variety is more time consuming than the smooth-coat one. The feathering around the ears and the tail will mat and tangle unless it is groomed on a daily basis. The smooth-coat Chihuahua is easier to care for.

    What should I look for when buying a Chihuahua puppy?

    When you go to the breeder to look at the puppies, look for the following signs:

    • The puppies should be in a clean, fresh-smelling environment. There should not be evidence of leftover food.
    • The puppies should be well covered, but certainly not fat.
    • The coat should be clean with no sign of dandruff.
    • The eyes should be bright, with no evidence of discharge.
    • The ears should be clean and free from bad odor. If puppies are at around 8 week of age, their ears should be in an erect position

    It is important to see the mother with her puppies. The mother should look fit and happy to show off her puppies. The Chihuahua will “drop” her coat after having a litter, so don’t be surprised if she is looking a bit sparse.

    Are Chihuahuas difficult to housebreak?

    No. Puppies are quick learners, and if you follow a few simple rules, you will be surprised how quickly your Chihuahua puppy learns to be clean. When you take your puppy outside, use the same spot in the yeard, and use the same command. The puppy will soon build up an association and soon will understand what is required. Praise him lavishly. Housebreaking is much easier if you are using a crate. A dog is loath to foul his sleeping quarters, and he will soon learn to wait until he is let out of his crate.

    Do Chihuahuas bark a lot?

    Normally, a Chihuahua will bark to warn you if a stranger approaches the house. Sometimes, he will bark for attention, or when he is left on his own and is experiencing separation anxiety. If he barks for attention, you need to stop this behavior. Most Chihuahuas respond well to some simple techniques.

    Video Credits: Animal Planet, Discovery Channel

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