How to Identify a Chihuahua

By Jane Meggitt

You know that the Chihuahua is an exceptionally little dog, but you might not know the breed appears in both smooth and long coats. The breed standard permits Chis to appear in any color. The smallest of all breeds, the Chi can't weigh more than 6 pounds in maturity. While the breed standard doesn't specify a height, Chihuahuas usually don't exceed 5 inches tall at the shoulder when full grown. Their ears are erect and large compared to the size of their heads, and their tails fairly long and carried over the back.

Chihuahua History

While the modern Chi is a Mexican native, his actual history remains lost in time's mists. His ancestors may have come to Mexico with the Spanish conquistadors, or he may have been there when the land was conquered. It was in the state of Chihuahua in the late 1800s that the little dogs drew the attention of American tourists. By 1904, the American Kennel Club officially recognized the Chihuahua as a member of the toy group.

The Molera

Many Chihuahuas have a molera, the equivalent of a human baby's fontanel or "soft spot," on the top of their heads. While some sources state that this soft spot predisposes the Chi to hydrocephalus, or "water on the brain," the Chihuahua Club of America claims this isn't accurate. The molera may be permanent or disappear as the dog ages.

Apple Head vs. Deer Head

The breed standard calls for an "apple-domed" dog, but if you're not interested in showing your Chi in AKC conformation classes, you might consider the deer head version. The deer head has a longer nose than the apple-headed Chi and, yes, has a head shape reminiscent of a deer. His ears reach outward, adding to the deerlike quality.

Chihuahua Temperament

The AKC describes the Chi as "charming, graceful and sassy," while the breed standard refers to a dog whose temperament projects "self-importance, confidence and self-reliance." In other words, this tiny creature is a lot tougher than he looks, at least in terms of personality. Most Chis attach themselves to one person in particular, taking on the role of self-proclaimed protector -- whether their person needs protection or not.

Health Issues

Chihuahuas are prone to health issues affecting many toy dogs. These include:

  • Luxating patellas, or slipped kneecaps.
  • Tracheal collapse.
  • Dental disease.
  • Liver shunt, a congenital issue requiring surgical correction.

Other problems specific to the breed include the neck deformity known as atlantoaxial subluxation, genetic eye issues, heart disease and neurological disorders. Chihuahuas often become obese -- it doesn't take too many treats to cause such a tiny dog to gain a lot of weight.

Potential health issues aside, the Chi is usually a long-lived dog. It's not uncommon for them to live into their late teens or even reach their 20th birthday.