The Chihuahua’s history is puzzling and there are many theories surrounding the origin
of the breed. Chihuahuas were used in the sacred rituals as they were considered holy in
pre-Columbian Indian nations. They were also popular pets among the upper class. The
breed draws its name from the Mexican state of Chihuahua, where the first of the breed
Some historians believe that the Chihuahua came from the island of Malta in the
Mediterranean. More evidence for this theory lies in European paintings of small dogs that resemble the Chihuahua. One of the most famous paintings is a fresco in the
Sistine Chapel by Sandro Botticelli dated 1482. The painting, Scenes from the Life of
Moses, shows a boy holding a tiny dog with round head, large eyes, big ears, and other
characteristics similar to the Chihuahua. The painting was finished ten years before
Columbus returned from the New World. It would have been impossible for Botticelli to
have seen a Mexican dog, yet he depicted an animal strikingly similar to a Chihuahua.
Both folklore and archeological finds show that the breed originated in Mexico. The most common theory and most likely is that Chihuahuas are descended from the Techichi, a companion dog favored by the Toltec civilization in Mexico. The Chihuahua (or Techichi) is referred to as a “mute companion” of the Olmec, Toltec, and Aztec civilizations. The “bark” was introduced by crossing the “Techichi” with the ancient equivalent to the “Chinese Crested”. This change was made to improve the breeds’ effectiveness as a watch dog.
Historical records indicate that the Techichi hunted in packs. They can only be traced
as far back as the ninth century but it is highly likely that this is the Chihuahua’s native
Mexican ancestor. Evidence of this is that the remains of dogs closely resembling, but
slightly larger than the average Chihuahua have been found in such places as the Great
Pyramid of Cholula, which dates back to the 2nd century BC and predates the 16th
century. There is also evidence to suggest that the Techichi may predate the Mayans.
The Toltecs were conquered by the Aztecs, who believed that the Techichi held mystical
powers. In terms of size, the present day Chihuahua is much smaller than its ancestors,
a change thought to be due to the introduction of miniaturized Chinese dogs, such as the Chinese crested dog, into South America by the Spanish.
A progenitor of the breed was reputedly found in 1850 in old ruins near Casas Grandes
in the Mexican state of Chihuahua from which the breed gets its name. The state borders on Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico in the United States, where Chihuahuas first rose to prominence and were further developed. Since that time, the Chihuahua has remained consistently popular as a breed, particularly in America when the breed was first recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1904. Genetic tests place the Chihuahua with other modern breeds originating in the 1800s.
Description and Breed Standard
Breed standards for this dog do not generally specify a height, only a weight and a description of their overall proportions. As a result, height varies more than within many other breeds. Generally, the height ranges between six and ten inches. However, some dogs grow as tall as 12 to 15 inches (30 to 38 cm). Both British and American breed standards state that a Chihuahua must not weigh more than six pounds for conformation.
The standard calls for dogs ideally between 3.3 to 6.6 lbs. (1.5 and 3.0 kg). Pet-quality Chihuahuas (that is, those bred or purchased as companions rather than show dogs) often range above these weights, even above ten pounds if they have large bone structures or are allowed to become overweight. This does not mean that they are not purebred Chihuahuas; they just do not meet the requirements to enter a conformation show.
Oversized Chihuahuas are seen in some of the best, and worst, bloodlines. Typically the
breed standard for both the long and short coat Chihuahua will be identical except for the description of the coat.
Chihuahua breeders often use terms like Teacup, Pocket Size, Tiny Toy, Miniature or
Standard to describe puppies. These terms are not recognized by the breed standards
and are considered marketing gimmicks to inflate the value of puppies. Chihuahuas are
commonly referred to as either Apple heads or Deer heads, the former having short noses and rounded heads similar to that of an apple; the latter having longer noses and more elongated heads.
More than most other breeds, how a Chihuahua turns out depends largely on the genetic
temperament of his parents and grandparents (entire lines are social or antisocial) and
how it is raised (socialization and training) when brought home. A Chihuahua must
be chosen with care, as the temperament of its owner(s) can make a difference in the
temperament of the pup. Ill tempered Chihuahuas can be easily provoked to attack, and
are therefore generally unsuitable for homes with small children. The AKC describes
the breed as, “A graceful, alert, swift-moving little dog with saucy expression, compact,
and with terrier-like qualities of temperament.” The breed tends to be fiercely loyal
to one particular owner and in some cases may become over protective of the person,
especially around other people or animals, but may be attached to more. They do not
always get along with other breeds, and tend to have a “clannish” nature, often preferring the companionship of other Chihuahuas or other small dogs. These traits generally make them unsuitable for households with children that are not patient and calm. Although some Chihuahuas do well with children, one must train their Chihuahua by introducing them to children at an early age.
Chihuahuas have a little quirk of “denning” themselves. Several new Chihuahua owners have been taken aback, when their little dogs start burrowing themselves in everything from pillows, clothes hampers, and blankets. These little creatures love their dens. You’ll often find them under the covers in the beds, deep in the dark and safety of what they believe is their den. It’s a very noteworthy quirk of the breed, as often with new owners, they can accidentally sit or lean onto these little creatures. This den behavior is believed to have come from the supposition of Chihuahuas being descended from the inbreeding of wild desert fox breeds in Mexico.
This breed requires expert veterinary attention in areas such as birthing and dental care. Chihuahuas are also prone to some genetic anomalies, often neurological ones, such as epilepsy and seizure disorders.
Chihuahuas, and other toy breeds, are prone to the sometimes painful disease,
hydrocephalus. It is often diagnosed by the puppy having an abnormally large head
during the first several months of life, but other symptoms are more noticeable (since “a large head” is such a broad description). Chihuahua puppies exhibiting hydrocephalus
usually have patchy skull plates rather than a solid bone and typically are lethargic and
do not grow at the same pace as their siblings. A true case of hydrocephalus can be
diagnosed by a veterinarian, though the prognosis is grim.
Overfeeding a Chihuahua can be a great danger to the dog’s health, shortening its life and leading to diabetes.
Chihuahuas can have moleras, or a soft spot in their skulls, and they are the only breed of dog to be born with an incomplete skull. The molera fills in with age, but great care needs to be taken during the first six months until the skull is fully formed. Some moleras do not close completely and will require extra care to prevent injury. Many veterinarians are not familiar with Chihuahuas as a breed, and mistakenly confuse a molera with hydrocephalus. The Chihuahua Club of America has issued a statement regarding this often deadly misdiagnosis. Chihuahuas can also be at risk for hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. This is especially dangerous for puppies. Left unattended, hypoglycemia can lead to coma and death. This can be combated with frequent feedings (every three hours for very small or young puppies). Chihuahua owners should have a simple sugar supplement on hand to use in emergencies, such as, Nutri-Cal, Karo syrup or honey. These supplements can be rubbed on the gums and roof of the mouth to rapidly raise the blood sugar level. Signs of hypoglycemia include lethargy, sleepiness, low energy, uncoordinated walking, unfocused eyes and spasms of the neck muscles (or head pulling back or to the side). Chihuahuas are prone to eye infections or eye injury due to their large, round, protruding eyes and their relatively low ground clearance. Care should be taken to prevent visitors or children from poking the eyes. The eyes also water to remove dust or allergens that may get into the eye. Daily wiping will keep the eyes clean and prevent tear staining. Chihuahuas have a tendency to tremble but this is not a health issue, rather it takes place when the dog is stressed, excited or cold. One reason for this may be because small dogs have a higher metabolism than larger dogs and therefore dissipate heat faster. Due to this Chihuahuas often wear coats or sweaters when outside in the cold or in overly air-conditioned places. Chihuahuas often like to dig and snuggle down in blankets for sleeping.
Although figures often vary, as with any breed, the average lifespan range for a healthy
Chihuahua is approximately 10 to 17 years.
Chihuahuas are sometimes picky eaters, and care must be taken to provide them with adequate nutrition. Chihuahuas could earn this reputation because they seem to find small unnoticed bits of food all day. Sometimes wet or fresh food can have the most appealing smell to these constant eaters. “They will eat when they are hungry” does not apply as Chihuahuas are prone to hypoglycemia and could be at a critical state if allowed to go too long without a meal. At the same time, care must be exercised not to overfeed them. Chihuahua’s have a notorious problem with dental issues. Dental care is a must for these little creatures. The teeth problems can also be caused from giving too much human foods, many a Chihuahua has had to become toothless due to dental issues. Human food should be avoided. Due to their small size even tiny high fat or sugary treats can result in an overweight Chihuahua. Overweight Chihuahuas are susceptible to having an increased rate of joint injuries, tracheal collapse (reverse sneezing), chronic bronchitis, and shortened life span.
Chihuahuas are also known for a genetic condition called ‘luxating Patella’. It’s a genetic
condition that can occur in all dogs, old or young, slim or overweight, particularly small
dogs. In some dogs, the ridges forming the patellar groove are not shaped correctly, and a shallow groove is created. In a dog with shallow grooves, the patella will luxate (Slip out of place) sideways, especially toward the inside. This causes the leg to ‘lock up’ and will cause the Chihuahua to hold its foot off the ground. When the patella luxates from the groove of the femur, it usually cannot return to its normal position until the quadriceps muscle relaxes and increases in length. This explains why the affected dog may be forced to hold his leg up for a few minutes or so after the initial displacement. While the muscles are contracted and the patella is luxated from its correct position, the joint is held in the flexed or bent position. The knee cap sliding across the femur can cause some pain, due to the bony ridges of the femur. Once out of position, the animal feels no discomfort and continues his activity.
Chihuahuas are also prone to some heart related disorders such as heart murmurs, i.e.,
extra heart sound produced due to turbulent blood flow and Pulmonic Stenosis in which
the blood outflow from the heart’s right ventricle is obstructed at the pulmonic valve.