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Owning a Chihuahua: Your Complete Dog Breed Guide - PawSafe

Owning a Chihuahua: Your Complete Dog Breed Guide

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

owning a Chihuahua

If you’re considering adding a pint-sized powerhouse to your life, you’re in for a treat with one of the most charismatic breeds out there. Chihuahuas might come in a tiny package, but they hold the largest head-to-body ratio of any dog, along with an unmatched loyalty and a personality that can outshine even the biggest of canines. Whether you’re looking for a luxury lapdog or a tenacious tiny companion, understanding more about Chihuahuas will ensure you make an informed decision.

Join us as we explore the nuances of this remarkable breed, from their fabled origins that stretch back to the great civilizations of the Americas to modern-day care tips. Our guide is enriched by insights from Dr. Valentina Segura, a distinguished expert who has extensively studied the biological and cultural history of domesticated dogs, including the iconic Chihuahua. Dr. Segura’s work sheds light on how these dogs have been revered from ancient times to today, giving prospective owners a deeper appreciation for their heritage and unique traits.

So, if you’re drawn to the idea of a vigilant, affectionate, and albeit tiny guardian, or if you’re simply intrigued by their storied past, this guide promises to equip you with everything you need to know about the delightful Chihuahua. Let’s dive into what makes these dogs a truly special addition to any home.

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Types of Chihuahuas

The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognizes two main varieties of Chihuahua based on their coats: the Smooth Coat (short-haired) and the Long Coat (long-haired). But there are still quite a few different types to choose from:

Short-haired or Smooth Coat Chihuahua:

  • Known for its short, sleek coat that is easy to maintain.
  • Originates from Mexico with historical ties to Mayan civilization.
  • Weighs between 1 and 3 kilograms and stands 15 to 23 centimeters tall.
  • Known for being clever and trainable with less grooming needed but more susceptible to cold.

Long-haired or Rough Coat Chihuahua

  • Features a longer, sometimes slightly wavy coat that requires regular grooming.
  • Can take up to 24 months to develop a full coat.
  • Needs weekly brushing and enjoys bonding during grooming sessions.

Apple Head Chihuahua

  • Characterized by a rounded, apple-like skull with a short muzzle.
  • Often has a molera, a soft spot on the skull that may or may not close.
  • The most iconic and commonly recognized head shape for Chihuahuas.

Deer Head Chihuahua:

  • Features a longer head and nose with no slope, resembling a deer.
  • Tends to be slightly larger than the apple head variety.
  • Known for a more dominant and stubborn personality.

Teacup Chihuahua

  • An exceptionally small version of the Chihuahua, fitting the informal “teacup” category.
  • Must weigh less than five pounds and stand no taller than nine inches.
  • Often controversial due to health concerns associated with their tiny size.

Pear-headed Chihuahua

  • Resulting from a mix of apple head and deer head types.
  • Has a skull shape resembling a pear, with a wider top that narrows down.
  • Not officially recognized and considered undesirable by breed standards.

Fan Chihuahua

  • Described based on coat color rather than physical structure, particularly known for its fawn color.
  • Not a separate breed but often highlighted for its distinctive color.

Chihuahua Breed Standards

According to the AKC’s official standard for the Chihuahua, these dogs should exhibit a “graceful, alert, swift-moving” demeanor with a saucy expression and terrier-like temperament. Chihuahuas should not exceed 6 pounds in weight, making them a perfect fit for a lapdog. They are characterized by their famous “apple dome” skull shape, with erect ears and luminous eyes, adding to their expressive, alert facial features.

Physical Characteristics

Chihuahuas hold the title for having the largest head-to-body ratio of any dog breed. Their body is slightly longer than it is tall, and they possess a level back and well-rounded ribs. The breed comes in various colors and markings, making each Chihuahua distinct.

Size Measurements

Typically, Chihuahuas weigh between 2 to 6 pounds (0.9 to 2.7 kg) and measure about 5 to 8 inches (12.7 to 20.3 cm) in height at the shoulders. Their small size makes them ideal for apartment living and easy to transport on the go.

The Chihuahua is also often mixed with other dog breeds to create ”designer dogs”, like Shiba Inu Chihuahua mixes and top Chihuahua terrier mixes.

Is The Chihuahua Right For Me? Pros and Cons

Apple head Chihuahua with long coat head tilt temperament of Chihuahua as confident and alert

Chihuahuas are among the smallest dog breeds, but their personalities are anything but tiny. Known for their spirited and vivacious nature, Chihuahuas can be intensely loyal companions that bond closely with their owners. 

Their alertness and suspicion of strangers make them excellent watchdogs despite their small size. However, their sharp bark and lively demeanor might be overwhelming for some. Before you decide to bring a Chihuahua into your home, it’s crucial to consider both their charming qualities and the challenges they may present.

Living Conditions

Chihuahuas are highly adaptable to various living conditions, making them perfect for apartment living due to their small size. They don’t require a yard and can get most of their exercise indoors. 

However, they do enjoy walks and playtime outside. Due to their small size and low body fat, Chihuahuas can struggle with cold climates, so they may require extra care, such as sweaters or indoor warmth, during colder months.

Table of Pros and Cons of Owning a Chihuahua

1. Size: Perfect for small living spaces like apartments.1. Fragility: Prone to injury due to their small size.
2. Loyalty: Extremely loyal to their owners, often bonding with one person deeply.2. Temperament: Can be yappy and temperamental; not always great with children or strangers.
3. Maintenance: Low grooming needs for short-haired; moderate for long-haired.3. Health Issues: Prone to dental problems, heart issues, and hydrocephalus.
4. Alertness: Excellent watchdogs due to their alert nature.4. Social Needs: Requires extensive socialization to prevent aggression towards other dogs or anxiety.
5. Exercise: Low exercise needs, suitable for owners with limited mobility.5. Climate Sensitivity: Struggles with cold weather and may require clothing and warming measures.
6. Longevity: Typically have a long lifespan, living up to 14-16 years.6. Training Challenges: Stubbornness can make training a challenge; requires patience and consistency.

Owning a Chihuahua is a commitment to a small but mighty companion who will demand attention, care, and love. They fit well into various lifestyles but thrive best with owners who understand and appreciate their unique characteristics. 

If you seek a small, affectionate dog with the heart of a giant, a Chihuahua may be the right choice for you. However, their care demands and potential health issues should be carefully considered.

Chihuahua Temperament and Personality

Happy Chihuahua puppy for sale running on grass

Chihuahuas might be tiny, but they sure don’t act like it! These little pups are always on alert, making surprisingly good watchdogs for their size. They’re quick to let you know when something’s up, with a sharp bark that punches way above their weight.

How Chihuahuas Get Along with Kids and Other Pets

Chihuahuas have a huge heart for their family and often get super attached to one special person. But this tight bond can sometimes make them a bit too protective, which might lead to a bit of a bossy attitude if not checked with proper training and socialization.

Kids and Chihuahuas 

These little dogs aren’t the best match for families with small children. Their petite size makes them delicate, and too much rough play could accidentally hurt them. Plus, they aren’t big fans of sudden grabs or loud noises, which can make them snap if they feel threatened or scared.

Other Pets 

Chihuahuas can also be edgy around larger dogs, which might lead to some defensive snapping because of their small stature. Introducing them to other pets slowly and calmly can help ensure everyone gets along and feels secure.

Dr. Deborah Duffy’s research highlights that Chihuahuas, like Dachshunds and Jack Russell Terriers, tend to be more aggressive towards both their owners and strangers if not properly managed. Check out Dr. Duffy’s study here for more insights. 

You can also read up on why Chihuahuas might come off as mean and how to handle their fiery personalities on.

Training your Chihuahua with lots of positive reinforcement can help channel their bold spirit in a fun and friendly way. When well-trained, Chihuahuas are joyful, loyal companions who bring a lot of personality into your life!

Caring for a Chihuahua

Caring for a Chihuahua dog by grooming at doggy parlor

Chihuahuas may be low-maintenance in some areas, but they definitely need your attention when it comes to their health and grooming. Here’s how you can keep these tiny pals looking sharp and feeling happy.

Health and Grooming

Whether you have a smooth-coated or longhaired Chihuahua, keeping their coat in great shape is essential. Smooth-coated Chihuahuas are pretty straightforward — regular brushing a couple of times a week should keep their coat shiny and reduce shedding. Longhaired Chihuahuas require a bit more effort. They need brushing several times a week to prevent tangles and mats, especially around the ears, neck, and under the legs.

Both types benefit from regular baths, but not so often that you dry out their skin. Keep an eye on their ears too, as Chihuahuas can be prone to wax build-up and infections.

Teeth and Nails

Dental care is crucial as Chihuahuas are susceptible to dental issues. Regular brushing and professional cleanings can help prevent periodontal disease. Their nails should also be trimmed regularly to prevent discomfort and mobility issues.

Dietary Needs

Chihuahuas need a well-balanced diet tailored to their petite size but high energy levels. It’s important to feed them high-quality dog food that supports their metabolism without contributing to obesity. Be wary of human treats and overfeeding, as Chihuahuas can easily become overweight, which puts additional strain on their tiny frames.

Given their small size, Chihuahuas are also at risk for hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. This is often the case when they lack enough growth hormone. Feeding them small meals throughout the day can help manage this risk and keep their energy levels steady.

Choose a dog food that’s appropriate for their age, size, and activity level, and always have fresh water available to help with digestion and hydration.

Caring for a Chihuahua requires a bit of know-how, but once you get the hang of their needs, it becomes a rewarding part of your life together. They may be small, but they have tons of love to give and thrive when they’re well cared for.

Training Your Chihuahua

Training a Chihuahua requires patience and understanding. Despite their small size, Chihuahuas pack a lot of intelligence and a bit of a stubborn streak. Here’s how you can navigate their training effectively.

Trainability and Intelligence

Chihuahuas respond well to positive reinforcement methods like clicker training. This technique uses a sound — a “click” — to mark the exact moment a dog does what you want. Follow the click with a treat, which tells your Chihuahua they’ve done something right. This method is great for teaching them commands and tricks, as it keeps their tiny minds engaged and willing.

Keeping Training Sessions Short and Sweet

Due to their size and attention span, Chihuahuas benefit from short, frequent training sessions. Long sessions can lead to frustration and boredom, so keep training light and fun, focusing on one command at a time.

Behavioral Training

Managing Feistiness

Chihuahuas can be spirited and sometimes feisty. Managing this behavior starts with setting clear boundaries and being consistent with commands. Early socialization is key — expose them to different people, pets, and environments to help them become well-adjusted adults.

Avoid Taunting

It’s important to treat Chihuahuas with respect and not to tease them. While they can be entertaining and their reactions might seem funny, encouraging aggressive or protective behaviors can lead to problems down the line.

Resource Guarding

Chihuahuas are prone to resource guarding, which involves aggressive behavior over food or toys. Training them to understand that giving up something brings something even better (like a treat for dropping a toy) can help manage and reduce these tendencies.

Intellectual Stimulation

Despite ranking 67th out of 138 breeds in terms of intelligence, Chihuahuas are quite clever. They enjoy and benefit from puzzle toys that challenge their brains and keep them mentally stimulated.

Remember, training a Chihuahua — or any dog — should be about mutual respect and understanding. Their small size means they need to be handled gently, but their personalities are big, and they deserve training that respects their unique traits and needs.

Best Dog Food for Chihuahuas

Chihuahuas may be small, but their dietary needs are specific and crucial for maintaining their energy levels and overall health. Here’s a guide to understanding the nutritional requirements of Chihuahuas and some recommended brands that cater to these tiny titans.

High-Quality Protein

Chihuahuas need diets rich in high-quality protein that supports muscle maintenance and overall health. Protein should come from real meat sources like chicken, beef, or fish. Due to their small size, Chihuahuas can benefit from smaller kibble sizes that make chewing and digestion easier.

Low-Calorie Intake

To prevent obesity, which Chihuahuas are prone to, it’s essential to monitor their caloric intake. A diet with a controlled calorie count helps maintain their optimal weight while providing enough energy for their lively antics.

Frequent, Small Meals

Chihuahuas are susceptible to hypoglycemia, especially in their puppy and senior stages. Feeding them small, frequent meals throughout the day helps stabilize blood sugar levels and provides consistent energy.

Essential Fatty Acids

Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are important for maintaining a healthy coat, especially for longhaired varieties. These nutrients help keep their skin healthy and their coats shiny.

Avoid Human Food

It’s tempting to feed these charming little dogs scraps from the table, but human food can be too rich and may lead to digestive and health problems. Stick to dog food that’s specifically formulated for small breed dogs.

Recommended Brands

1. Royal Canin Chihuahua Adult

This brand offers a formula specifically designed for adult Chihuahuas, considering their finicky appetites. It includes highly digestible proteins, appropriate fiber content, and kibble that’s sized and shaped to fit a Chihuahua’s small jaw.

2. Hill’s Science Diet Small Paws for Small Breeds

Ideal for Chihuahuas, this food provides an antioxidant blend specially formulated to support immune health within a small breed structure.

3. Blue Buffalo Small Breed Chicken & Rice Formula

This brand is known for using high-quality natural ingredients. The small breed formula provides a precise blend of proteins and carbohydrates to meet smaller dogs’ energy needs.

4. Wellness CORE Natural Grain Free Small Breed

This formula is great for Chihuahuas with grain sensitivities and provides protein-rich nutrition without the extra fat that can lead to weight gain.

5. Orijen Small Breed Formula

Known for its high protein content and quality ingredients, this food is formulated to reflect the natural diet, supporting higher energy needs and promoting peak health.

When choosing food for your Chihuahua, always consider their individual health needs, preferences, and any advice given by your veterinarian. Proper nutrition is a key component in ensuring your Chihuahua leads a happy, healthy, and energetic life.

Common Chihuahua Health Problems

Vet checking Chihuahua's teeth for health issues

Understanding the common health issues in Chihuahuas can help you provide the best care for your petite companion. Below is an overview of prevalent health problems, effective preventive measures, and a brief look into their lifespan.

Cardiovascular Conditions

Chihuahuas are prone to cardiovascular issues such as Mitral Valve Disease and Patent Ductus Arteriosus, with studies showing significant over-representation of the breed in these cases. Regular heart screenings can help in early detection and management.

Gastrointestinal Conditions

Conditions like Gallbladder Mucocoele are relatively common, with Chihuahuas having higher odds of developing this compared to other breeds. A diet tailored to their specific needs can help manage or prevent gastrointestinal problems.

Musculoskeletal Conditions

Patellar Luxation and Avascular Necrosis of the Femoral Head are significant concerns for Chihuahuas. These conditions can impact their mobility and quality of life, making regular orthopedic assessments important.

Neurological Conditions

Chihuahuas are especially susceptible to Atlantoaxial Subluxation, Hydrocephalus, and Chiari Malformation/Syringomyelia. Awareness and early intervention are key in managing these serious conditions.

Ocular Conditions

Eye issues such as Cataracts and Corneal Ulceration are also more frequent in Chihuahuas. Regular eye examinations can help catch these conditions early, allowing for appropriate treatments to be administered.

Renal and Urinary Conditions

The breed has a predisposition for Urolithiasis, specifically calcium oxalate and cystine stones, often requiring dietary adjustments and, in some cases, surgery.

Reproductive Conditions

Cryptorchidism and Dystocia are common, particularly in this breed, which can complicate breeding efforts and may require surgical intervention.

Respiratory Conditions

Tracheal Collapse is a significant concern, often requiring life-long management to ensure quality of life.


Chihuahuas generally have a long lifespan, averaging around 13 years. Proper care, awareness of health issues, and regular veterinary visits can help ensure they live a full and healthy life.

Chihuahua Costs

chocolate and tan Chihuahua puppy for sale

Before bringing a Chihuahua into your home, it’s important to consider the costs associated with owning one. Here’s a breakdown:

Initial Costs

Purchasing a Chihuahua from a breeder can vary widely but typically ranges from $500 to $1,500 depending on the pedigree, location, and breeder reputation.

Veterinary Care 

Routine check-ups, vaccinations, and potential health issues specific to Chihuahuas can add up. Setting aside $500-$1,000 annually for medical expenses is wise.


Initial supplies including a crate, bedding, toys, grooming tools, and a leash can cost around $300-$500.


High-quality dog food tailored to small breed dogs is essential for your Chihuahua’s health, costing about $20-$40 per month.


While Chihuahuas are relatively low maintenance, they do require regular grooming, especially the long-haired variety. Professional grooming can cost around $30-$60 per session, depending on your location.


Owning a Chihuahua offers immense joy and companionship. Their vivacious personality, loyalty, and size make them ideal companions for various lifestyles. However, potential owners should be aware of the costs, both financial and time-related, to ensure they can provide a loving and stable environment for their new pup. With the right care and attention, a Chihuahua can become a cherished member of any family.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.