The Chihuahua is one of the most beloved dog breeds, known for cramming a lot of personality into such a small body. For guardians who want to spend as much time as possible with their dog, tending to their needs is essential. They require a proper diet, and sufficient physical exercise, and have their health needs monitored for any issues. As one of the smallest dog breeds in the world, some may think the Chihuahua is particularly vulnerable to disease and health problems. While it is true there are certain health issues to which the Chihuahua are prone, they are also one of the longest-living dogs when cared for correctly.
This article looks at the most common Chihuahua health issues. By doing so, you can keep an eye out for any diseases or other problems which may affect a Chihuahua and support them through diagnosis and treatment.
Chihuahua health overview
If we provide even the minimum basic care requirements for the Chihuahua, it is possible they could reach their expected lifespan of 12 to 15 years. However, there are many recorded cases of individual Chihuahuas living up to 20 years of age. Being such small animals, they usually weigh somewhere between 1.5 kg and 4 kg. For this reason, we need to factor in the right amount of food to provide. Their small stature, short hair, and slight frame mean they can also be susceptible to cold and may need extra protection in winter.
Chihuahuas can be a very loving and long-lived breed which can predispose them to certain health issues. These common health issues of the Chihuahua include:
- Dental problems
- Cleft palate and tracheal collapse
- Eye problems
- Joint and vertebrae problems
- Neurological problems
- Mitral regurgitation
- Fontanelle retention
- Hemophilia A
This is something we explain further in the sections below. Remember that any sign of a change to their health or well-being needs to be monitored and they should be taken to a veterinarian if we are ever in doubt. The sooner a health issue in Chihuahuas is diagnosed, the better the prognosis will be.
Also, Chihuahuas can often be a little stubborn and easily frightened. As with all dogs, they need proper education and training. This means employing positive reinforcement and devoting sufficient time to help them coexist properly.
Dental problems in Chihuahuas
Due to their small stature, Chihuahuas can have certain health issues related to developmental problems. One such issue is their teeth. When they are puppies, Chihuahuas sometimes retain their baby teeth longer than they should. It most commonly happens with their incisors which can remain for up to 8 months or longer. If the Chihuahua’s milk teeth do not fall out, we need to take them to a veterinarian to be removed.
The cause of milk teeth retention in the Chihuahua is usually due to the adult teeth not growing properly to displace them. If the baby’s teeth do not fall, they can make the mouth misaligned. Misalignment of teeth means food can get stuck in them, promote tooth decay and cause other dental problems.
Tartar is also a significant health issue for Chihuahuas. Build up of tartar on their teeth can lead to serious periodontal disease, eventually causing teeth to fall out. Constant bad breath is also a common symptom of periodontal disease. The older the dog becomes, the easier it is for tartar to develop. Therefore, it is a good idea to accustom the Chihuahua to dental hygiene from a young age.
We need to brush the dog’s mouth a minimum of once a week with dog-specific toothpaste. And we should ideally use a product with chlorhexidine to promote antibacterial action. We also need to take care of their diet and use food that can help remove plaque and tartar buildup. When taking the Chihuahua to the vet for their regular checkup, their teeth should always be examined.
Cleft palate and tracheal collapse
Some dog breeds are more prone to congenital diseases than others. Chihuahuas are more likely than most breeds to develop a cleft lip and/or palate. The break in the puppy’s palate means the nostrils are in direct contact with the mouth. The split in their lip means Chihuahua puppies cannot create the necessary suction to suckle on their mother’s breast and will need to be hand-fed.
There are new advances in surgery for puppies with a cleft palate or lip. However, it can be expensive and is not available everywhere. Ideally, breeders should ensure not to keep breeding dogs that are known to carry the defect-causing gene.
Another problem with the Chihuahua palate is more common. Misalignment of the palate can lead to hoarseness or something known as ‘reverse sneezing’. We can sometimes hear them swallowing or inhaling air causing the Chihuahua to choke or gag for a few moments. This is because the misalignment of the palate means when they swallow or take a deep breath, they might get caught. This is made worse if they start to panic, so reassuring them when you see it happen is advised.
Another related problem is tracheal collapse. This produces a result similar to the misalignment of the palate as we can hear hoarseness and choke. When they inhale too quickly, exercise, or get excited (for example when they greet us), the trachea can temporarily collapse. This only usually happens for a few short moments, but we can help by giving them a very gentle massage of the throat.
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Eye problems in Chihuahuas
The bulging eyes of the Chihuahua, in part, give them their distinctive look. It is one of the reasons so many people find them adorable. It is also linked to certain eye problems. They are prone to suffer conjunctivitis which is an inflammation of the conjunctiva in their eye, often causing oozing and irritation. The bulging state of their eyes can also make them more prone to injury. Due to such injuries, secondary problems such as uveitis, displacement of the lens, or glaucoma can occur.
If you look at your Chihuahua’s eyes regularly, you will see they are very often wet. As their eyes bulge, they are more exposed to the air, making them dry out more readily. The eyes need to tear to keep them moist and maintain function. This can lead to significant staining under their eyes. This can also lead to obstruction of the tear ducts which can result in secondary infection. We must regularly clean the Chihuahua’s eyes to ensure they are kept free from dirt accumulation which can lead to bacterial buildup.
Joint and vertebrae problems in Chihuahuas
A small breed such as the Chihuahua is known to be predisposed to joint dislocation, especially in their knees. This is often due to the breeding practices which have led to such small dog breeds in the first place as they unintentionally encourage certain genetic issues. You can sometimes see this in the rear legs of the Chihuahua as they limp a little, sometimes temporarily. Stiffness in the legs may also only be temporary.
The Chihuahua’s limping should leave soon. If you notice they are still limping after some time, you may be able to help by giving a massage to the affected area. Limping problems that do not resolve themselves will need to be attended to by a vet. Chihuahuas are also relatively prone to obesity, so extra weight can put a strain on bones and ligaments. Reducing their food intake or offering a more balanced diet can help to avoid these issues.
Another bone issue for Chihuahuas is a herniated disc. This problem occurs when a vertebral disc is moved out of position, causing the affected dog trouble when walking and even standing from a lying down position. This is because of the extra pressure exerted on the spinal cord. We might suspect a herniated disc in our Chihuahua if they hardly move, have trouble when walking, or are displaying evident signs of pain, among other symptoms. We need to take the dog to the veterinarian for a proper diagnosis if this is the case.
Treatment for a herniated disc will depend on the individual dog and the severity of the problem. They will need various combinations of anti-inflammatory medication, analgesics, physiotherapy, complete rest, and, potentially, surgery.
Neurological problems in Chihuahuas
There are two main neurological problems associated with Chihuahuas. One is hydrocephalus, an accumulation of fluid in the brain that can lead to:
- Behavioral changes
- Enlarged skull
It is a complicated disease with a diverse range of symptoms which can often be misconstrued as belonging to other health issues in Chihuahuas.
The other main neurological disease affecting Chihuahuas is epilepsy. This is a neurological disease that is hereditary, but difficult to screen. The symptoms are caused by high levels of electrochemical activity in the brain which cannot be controlled. When a dog suffers from a seizure or fits, it may have epilepsy. However, it can be difficult to diagnose, especially in isolated incidents. We need to go to the veterinarian to confirm epilepsy or see if it is a secondary symptom of a different condition.
Mitral regurgitation in Chihuahuas
Also known as mitral insufficiency, mitral regurgitation (MR) in Chihuahuas is due to degeneration that occurs in the mitral valve of the heart. It is one of the most frequent heart disease-related problems in dogs.
The detection of MR is very difficult and is usually only spotted during veterinary checkups. The causes of this disease are varied and can be due to primary or secondary heart diseases. Chihuahuas are one of the dog breeds where problems with the heart are most prevalent.
Cryptorchidism in Chihuahuas
Cryptorchidism is the scientific term for an undescended testicle. If one or more testicles do not drop, it can cause serious problems in their development. The veterinarian can easily detect this problem during a physical examination. If the testicle or testicles dos not descend naturally, they should be removed. The reason is that undescended testicles can result in problems such as torsion or even increase the risk of cancers.
Chihuahuas are one of the breeds most associated with canine cryptorchidism. However, removing the dog’s testicles (i.e. neutering them) has other benefits such as reducing behavioral problems, avoiding unwanted pregnancies, and more. If you want to know more, you can look at our article on what to expect after your dog is neutered.
Fontanelle retention in Chihuahuas
As with human babies and other mammal species, the Chihuahua is born with a fontanelle. This is a small membranous gap which is located on the dog’s skull. Although it is sometimes referred to as a ‘hole’, it is covered, but it is not bone. It exists so that puppies can be born more easily and then grows over after they are born.
In certain small breeds such as the Yorkshire Terrier or Chihuahua, it can happen that the fontanelle does not properly fuse. This means adult dogs will still have a vulnerable spot on their skull. Fortunately, it is not an issue that should cause severe detriment to the Chihuahua’s life. However, we do not be mindful and avoid any trauma to the area.
Hemophilia A in Chihuahuas
This is a hereditary disease and carriers should not be encouraged to be used as breeding dogs. Hemophilia causes the ability of the dog’s blood to clot to be abnormally low. This means even minor wounds can bleed significantly. It is very important that this problem is diagnosed early and any veterinarian treating the dog is made aware of the condition. If a dog with Hemophilia goes into surgery, they have a much higher risk of complications.
If the dog does incur serious blood loss, it must go to a veterinarian. They will likely be hospitalized to monitor their vital signs and stabilize them. Blood loss can lead to anemia and be potentially fatal. There are several different types of hemophilia, but Chihuahuas are most likely to have hemophilia type A.
Hypoglycemia in Chihuahuas
Hypoglycemia occurs when there is a significant drop in blood sugar in the Chihuahua’s blood. When the dog is having a hypoglycemic episode, their body will not be able to properly absorb nutrients. This leads to exhaustion, and weakness and, in severe cases, can lead to a comatose state and death. There are various causes of hypoglycemia in Chihuahuas, including low blood pressure and malnutrition. Low blood sugar is a common health problem in miniature and toy dogs such as the Chihuahua.
Hypoglycemia occurs most often in Chihuahua puppies, but it can develop in adults also. Additionally, the less the dog weighs, the more prone they are to this health issue. Those weighing less than 1.5 kg are most affected. Regardless of size, we need to take off a Chihuahua’s diet, especially if they are underweight. Hypoglycemia can be detected by checking the glucose levels in the dog’s blood.
This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.