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From VetChef vets and nutritionists


The Chihuahua is commonly recognised as one of the smaller dog breeds, known as the tiny dog with the big personality. Although one of the oldest breeds from the Americas, its lineage is hard to pin down. They were officially recognised in the mid 19th century and are thought to be descended from the Techichi, a small desert dog that dates back to Mayan times. Depictions of this ancient dog suggest they possessed common physical characteristics with the modern Chihuahua.

Known for their high ‘apple dome’ skull formation, the modern breed has large, round eyes and large erect ears. Their height can range from 15.2 - 22.8 cm, but some can grow up to 38 cm. They weigh between 1.3 - 2.7 kg and have a lifespan of 10 to 18 years. Colours vary from brown, black, liver and grey to blue, white and fawn and they come in various patterns. Coat length comes in two types, smooth and long.

Chihuahuas can be intelligent, trainable and loving companions, however, lack of training, stimulation and appropriate handling can cause them to be anxious or reactive.

There are some health issues Chihuahua owners need to watch out for.

Collapsed Trachea

This condition could be genetic or the result of trauma to the neck itself. The trachea or windpipe is constructed of rings of cartilage and this problem develops when one or more of those rings collapses.

Signs of tracheal collapse include:

  • Loud, raspy breathing

  • Hacking non-productive cough

  • Gagging or retching associated with the cough

  • Problems eating or drinking

  • Cyanosis, such as bluish looking mucous membranes

You should consult a veterinarian if your Chihuahua suffers any of the above signs. Treatment will vary depending on the severity. Medications may be prescribed or surgery may be an option. To help prevent injury to the trachea it is better for your dog to be walked or exercised in a harness, rather than on a collar. With a collar, the tension is directly applied to the neck but a harness will distribute it over the shoulders, back and chest. Carrying too much weight can exacerbate this condition, so it is important that your dog maintains a healthy diet and sufficient amount of exercise. VetChef can advise on and develop bespoke recipes for your Chihuahua to ensure optimal health.

Luxating patella

This is a condition where the kneecap (patella) slips out of its normal groove and the dog can no longer extend the knee joint properly. A Chihuahua is genetically prone to this, but it can also be triggered by some actions like running or jumping on and off furniture, such as the sofa or your bed. One problem with this condition is that the dog may only feel pain when the patella initially slips out of place and he will continue walking normally for a while. Only when the area begins to swell will the dog show signs that something is wrong. Those signs can include:

  • Limping

  • Reluctance to run

  • Favouring one side of the body

  • Yelping when being picked up

  • Discomfort when jumping from furniture

  • Hopping for a few strides when running

One treatment option might be surgery but your veterinarian can advise you.

Dental Problems

Dental disease is one of the most common problems with dogs and Chihuahuas are no exception. They can be prone to malformations of the jaw, retained baby teeth and teeth that grow in a way that damages the soft tissue of the mouth. Signs of dental issues can include:

  • Chronic bad breath

  • Problems eating

  • Weight loss

  • Pain and discomfort

  • Excessive plaque or tartar build-up in the teeth

  • Nasal discharge

  • Difficulty in closing the mouth fully

Plaque accumulation and calculus/tartar formation can lead to more serious problems such as gingivitis. Bacteria can permeate the surrounding bone area and can enter the bloodstream which can also lead to heart, lung and kidney complications. Regular brushing, together with appropriate chew toys, combined with periodic professional cleaning can help to maintain good dental health. Feeding warm food has been shown to soften dental plaque, so feeding a warm VetChef meal prior to giving an appropriate chew can form part of your dental care routine.


As Chihuahuas are so small even the smallest amount of extra weight can be a problem. It can lead to heart disease, diabetes, premature wearing of the joints, arthritis and can lower overall life expectancy. Pet owners can help to promote a healthy lifestyle for their Chihuahua. Being such a small dog it’s easy to underestimate their exercise requirements.

Signs of obesity:

  • Lack of a waist or abdominal tuck. The waist should be smaller than the ribcage when viewed from above. When viewed from the side the abdomen should tuck up behind the rib cage

  • Fat rolls around the neck and shoulders. There should not be rolls around your dog’s upper body. There may be slightly looser skin to allow for a full range of motion, but these would be better described as wrinkles than rolls.

  • Poor or reduced mobility (in the absence of joint issues). Your dog should be able to rise from lying to standing in one fluid motion, without having to haul itself up.

Just like any other dog, a chihuahua needs daily exercise. Walking, running around and playing are great ways to keep your dog fit. If your dog really enjoys exercise you can even go one step further by playing a canine sport such as agility or adding regular hydrotherapy sessions to further enhance your dog’s fitness. A lack of appropriate exercise leads to weak muscles, joints and bones, shorter life expectancy and weight gain. A nutritious diet is vital to help manage your dog’s weight. A fresh food diet including plenty of fruit and vegetables is ideal. Alongside an appropriate exercise regime, VetChef can help with devising particular recipes for an overweight dog. Their recipe calculator can provide specific meals for your in-need Chihuahua.

Heart disease

Chihuahuas are genetically predisposed to a number of cardiovascular problems. It is important that during veterinary check-ups your dog’s heart health is reviewed to ensure valves are working correctly. There are a number of nutrients that are important to heart health, a VetChef recipe for your chihuahua will ensure these nutrients are present in the diet to ensure optimal heart health.

Signs of heart problems:

  • Shortness of breath

  • Coughing

  • Poor exercise tolerance

  • Collapse

  • Cyanosis (gums and tongue turning bluish grey)

Brain fluid imbalances

Due to some chihuahuas being bred for exaggerated head and facial features, some can develop hydrocephalus where fluid builds up around the brain. Chiari malformation and Syringomyelia (CM/SM) – a very painful condition where fluid-filled areas develop within the spinal cord near the brain.

Signs of brain fluid imbalance:

  • Headache, causing “head pressing” where a dog may press its forehead against a wall or other surface.

  • Seizures.

  • Poor balance or head tilt

  • Nausea and vomiting

Veterinary management of this condition is essential and may require medication and dietary changes to control symptoms. A VetChef diet can help by providing a highly palatable, moisture-rich diet.

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