Chihuahuas have a larger-than-life personality in a small package, but they can also suffer from some significant health issues.
Fortunately, most of the conditions are treatable, so these loyal furbabies usually live long lives. By understanding the common maladies that Chis face, you’ll be better prepared to identify and manage health concerns and keep your little Napolean healthy.
Just because Chihuahuas have genetic predispositions for certain health conditions doesn’t mean your pooch will suffer from any of the issues below. Most dogs suffer from at least one problem in their lifetime, but the ones we’ll discuss here are more likely to manifest in Chis.
The most common health issues you may see in your Chihuahua include periodontal disease, hypoglycemia, collapsing trachea, congenital defects, eye disease, and orthopedic issues.
In this article, we’ll look at 6 common health issues of Chis, when they tend to occur across the life cycle, and how Chihuahua health compares with other dog breeds. We’ll finish with a list of health signs to watch out for and offer some tips for prevention and general healthcare.
Common health problems
Chihuahuas can live to 16 or more years, but they also have genetic tendencies for some diseases. When you know about common issues like periodontal disease, hypoglycemia, and collapsing trachea, you’re more prepared to recognize them and seek early treatment when your pup shows signs of trouble.
Chihuahuas have tiny mouths that are prone to tooth overcrowding. As a result, plaque and tartar buildup and cause tooth and gum disease.
According to Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine, 80-90% of dogs over 3 years old will suffer from a variety of periodontal disease. It’s particularly common among breeds with small mouths like Chihuahuas, Shih Tzus, Toy Poodles, West Highland White Terriers, Pugs, and Pomeranians.
Dental and gum disease can occur at any age, but it’s more common in adulthood because Chis tend to retain their baby teeth.
Overcrowded teeth tend to trap food and are harder to clean. This leads to a buildup of food residue, plaque, and tartar that irritates the gums. Over time, bacteria can also damage the tooth enamel and roots, causing disease.
Signs of periodontal disease include:
- Bad breath/halitosis
- Pawing at the mouth
- Excessive drooling
- Discolored teeth that appear yellow or brown
- Receding gums
- Red, inflamed gums
- Bloody saliva
- Gums bleed easily when touched, or teeth are brushed
Without treatment, periodontal disease will progress and can cause tooth infections, decay, and other health conditions.
Some things you can do to help prevent periodontal disease in your Chi include brushing his teeth daily, feeding a diet designed for dental health, avoiding sugary treats, and giving your dog dental chews that help scrape off plaque. You should also schedule dental exams and cleanings with your veterinarian at least once a year.
If you catch signs of periodontal disease early in your Chi, dental cleaning may be enough to treat the condition. However, more advanced cases may require antibiotics and tooth extraction.
As a toy breed with a tiny stomach, Chihuahuas are prone to low blood sugar or hypoglycemia.
Smaller dogs like the Chihuahua, Pomeranian, Toy Poodle, Maltese, and Yorkshire Terriers are prone to developing hypoglycemia. Their tiny bodies can easily burn more energy than they’re able to consume.
This condition is more common in young puppies because they have a higher metabolism and activity level. However, it can also affect adult Chis.
When a dog’s body doesn’t have enough sugar circulating in the bloodstream, the organs lack energy for normal functioning. Severe cases of hypoglycemia can cause confusion, loss of consciousness, and death.
Symptoms of hypoglycemia include:
- Wobbly gait
- Head tilt
If left untreated, hypoglycemia will deprive the organs of needed energy. The symptoms will intensify, eventually leading to seizures, unconsciousness, and coma or death.
To prevent hypoglycemia in your Chihuahua, feed a growth formula to puppies 3-4 times a day to provide more consistent energy. You should also seek veterinary care for any other medical conditions because illness can deplete your Chi’s energy stores.
Treatment for hypoglycemia includes rubbing some corn syrup on the gums for a quick sugar boost. Your veterinarian may also administer an IV sugar solution to restore blood sugar levels.
Chihuahuas are prone to develop a collapsing trachea. With this condition, the cartilage rings flatten, causing airflow restrictions.
While tracheal collapse can occur in any breed, it’s more common in Chihuahuas, Pomeranians, Yorkshire Terriers, Lhasa Apsos, and other toy breeds.
Because tracheal cartilage can weaken over time, this condition is more common in middle-aged to senior dogs. However, you may occasionally see it in younger pup’s.
With a collapsing trachea, the cartilage rings that keep the windpipe rigid weaken, or the membrane stretches. This causes the tracheal tube to flatten, which reduces airflow to the lungs.
Common signs of a collapsing trachea include:
- Chronic, honking cough
- Difficulty breathing/breathlessness
- Exercise intolerance
- Bluish tinted gums
Without treatment, the disease will progress and cause your furbaby greater respiratory distress. Complete tracheal collapse can cause fainting or collapse in your dog.
Contributing factors for a collapsing trachea include obesity and tracheal compression. Therefore, if your pooch is prone to tracheal collapse, put your dog on a diet to reach and maintain a healthy weight and use a harness when you walk him.
Treatment for tracheal collapse may be medical and include bronchodilators, cough suppressants, and steroids. When the ring flattening is more pronounced, your veterinarian may refer your Chi to a specialist for surgical correction.
Chihuahuas are prone to certain congenital defects, including hydrocephalus, portosystemic shunt(liver), and patent ductus arteriosis (heart).
Small and toy breeds like Chihuahuas, Boston Terriers, and Toy Poodles are prone to developing hydrocephalus. Dogs that have genetic tendencies for portosystemic shunts and a patent ductus arteriosis include Chis, Yorkies, and Miniature and Toy Poodles.
Puppies are born with these defects. The symptoms usually develop, allowing a diagnosis before adulthood.
Hydrocephalus occurs in dogs with a dome-shaped skull and involves a collection of fluid on the brain that causes swelling. With liver shunts, blood bypasses the liver instead of passing through it. As a result, toxic byproducts of digestion don’t get filtered from the bloodstream. In the case of patent ductur arteriosis, an opening or shunt between the pulmonary artery and aorta fails to close, allowing blood to flow backwards and pool in the lungs. As a result, the heart works harder to pump enough blood to the rest of the body.
Signs of these conditions include:
- Larger than usual head/cranium
- Stunted growth
- Head pressing
- Unusual behaviors
- Stunted growth
- Poor muscle development
- Staring into space or circling
- Head pressing
Patent ductus arteriosis
- Difficulty breathing
- Loud heart murmur
- Exercise intolerance
- Stunted growth
Each of these conditions requires veterinary intervention. If they are left untreated, your dog will grow progressively weaker and can die.
The best way to prevent any congenital defect in Chihuahuas is by selecting a reputable breeder and family line that doesn’t have a history of the conditions.
Treatment for Hydrocephalus is tricky and involves surgical placement of a tube to drain fluid from the brain into the abdomen. Portosystemic shunts may be treated medically with dietary management, IV sugar solutions, and antibiotics or surgically. If your Chi is born with a patent ductus arteriosis, your veterinarian will refer you to a cardiac specialist for surgical correction.
Chihuahuas are predisposed to developing certain eye diseases, including glaucoma, keratoconjunctivitis sicca (dry eye), and cataracts.
Eye conditions are common in many breeds, including Chihuahuas, Beagles, Poodles, Shih Tzus, and Pugs.
While eye conditions can occur at any point in life, the conditions that Chis experience usually manifest in adulthood.
In glaucoma, pressure builds up in the eye because the aqueous liquids can’t drain from the globe. Dogs with dry eyes don’t produce adequate tears. Cataracts involve a hardening and clouding of the eye lens.
Signs of eye problems in Chihuahuas include:
- Red eyes
- Rubbing or pawing at the eyes
- Eye discharge
- Bulging eyes
Without treatment, these conditions can progress and cause corneal ulceration and eye damage.
Prevention of eye disease in your Chi includes purchasing puppies from a reputable breeder and family lines that don’t have a history of issues. Additionally, you should also schedule routine health checkups to ensure your furbaby maintains good health.
Treatment of eye disease in your Chihuahua depends on the condition but may include antibiotics, eye ointments, steroid drops, anti-inflammatory drugs, or surgical correction of cataracts.
Chihuahuas can suffer from orthopedic issues like luxating patellas and Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease.
Certain orthopedic conditions such as Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease and patellar luxation are common among small breed dogs like Chihuahuas, Shih Tzus, Poodles, and Pomeranians.
With luxating patellas, you may see signs of luxation at any time, but symptoms of joint degeneration usually develop later in life. Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease usually causes problems in puppies.
With luxating patellas, Chihuahuas are born with a shallow knee joint that allows the kneecap to shift out of place, causing intermittent lameness. Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease involves the death of the hip ball joint, which causes severe pain.
Signs of orthopedic issues in dogs include:
- Holding one hind leg off the ground (luxating patella)
- Intermittent skipping (luxating patella)
- Cracking/popping sound in the affected knee (luxating patella)
- Progressive lameness in the hind limb
- Inability to bear weight on one or both legs
- Reduced hip joint movement
Without treatment, luxating patellas can cause joint damage and eventual degenerative arthritis. Untreated cases of Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease can result in bone fractures and increasing lameness.
As with many heritable conditions, these diseases are best prevented by working with reputable breeders and family lines that don’t have a history of the conditions.
Treatment for patellar luxation includes physical therapy, restricted activity, joint supplements, and anti-inflammatory medications. For Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease, the treatment is surgical removal of the head and neck of the femur.
Chihuahua Health issues across the lifecycle
With Chihuahuas, certain health issues like hypoglycemia are common in puppies, while others like eye disease manifest in adulthood.
Chihuahua Puppy Health Issues
Certain congenital diseases manifest when Chihuahuas are puppies. The effects of hydrocephalus, liver shunts, and patent ductus arteriosis usually create symptoms in your furbaby early in life. Another condition that’s more common in the puppy stage is hypoglycemia.
Similarly, you may see signs of orthopedic issues in your youngster. Puppies may limp or hop intermittently if they have patellar luxation. Hip degeneration and severe lameness surfaces in 6-9 month puppies that suffer from Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease.
Adult Chihuahua Health Issues
Many health issues that appear in adulthood take time to develop. Periodontal disease and eye diseases usually manifest as your furbaby matures. A collapsing trachea is also usually a result of chronic weakening of the cartilage in the tracheal rings.
Senior Chihuahua Health Issues
Many of the conditions that start in adulthood can worsen in your senior Chi. A collapsing trachea can become more pronounced in older dogs. You may also see signs of degenerative arthritis from patellar luxation. Cataracts are commonly seen in older dogs.
Chihuahua Health Issues and average lifespan
Chihuahuas are generally healthy and have an average lifespan of 14-16 years. However, they do suffer from some conditions that can affect their quality and length of life.
Chihuahuas usually live long, healthy lives. However, when congenital conditions like hydrocephalus and liver shuts are severe, they can shorten or negatively affect your Chi’s quality of life.
Chihuahua Health Issues VS Other Dog Breeds
Chihuahuas are generally healthy dogs, but they are susceptible to many of the same conditions, such as hypoglycemia and luxating patellas, as other toy breeds. Their diminutive size and small mouth also predispose them to dental disease like other tiny pups such as the pomeranian.
On the other hand, this tiny furbaby is less likely to develop conditions like hip dysplasia or a twisted stomach like large and giant breed dogs may experience. They also tend to have a longer lifespan.
Health Signs Chihuahua Parents Should Beware Of
Because your Chi has certain disease predispositions, you should know how to recognize the conditions early. Below, we’ll list the major symptoms of common conditions.
- Bad breath, heavy drooling, or pawing at the mouth are signs of dental disease.
- Weakness or sleepiness and disorientation are signs of hypoglycemia
- Twitching/shivering/seizures can be signs of hypoglycemia or congenital defects
- A honking cough and breathlessness are signs of a collapsing trachea
- Exercise intolerance can be a sign of a collapsing trachea or a congenital defect
- Stunted growth and head pressing can be signs of congenital defects
- Difficulty breathing can be a sign of a collapsing trachea or a patent ductus arteriosis
- Red eyes, an eye discharge, or pawing at the eyes can point to eye disease
- Chis with orthopedic issues may demonstrate progressive lameness, intermittent hopping, or reduced hip movement
Chihuahua Health Care Tips and Prevention
Chihiuahuas can develop some health conditions, but they also make loyal family dogs. If you choose to add a Chi to your family, there are things you can do at home to help your furbaby live a healthy life.
- Brush your Chi’s teeth at least 3 times a week to remove plaque and tartar.
- Use a harness when walking your furbaby to avoid compressing the trachea.
- Feed a balanced diet to maintain a healthy weight. Divide your Chi’s daily portion into several smaller meals and feed him throughout the day.
- Schedule regular health checkups and vaccinations with your veterinarian to prevent disease.
- Consult with your veterinarian about appropriate supplements to encourage healthy eyes and joints.
- Provide your Chihuahua with daily exercise for his physical and mental health.
- Use a reputable breeder who can provide a detailed health history of your Chihuahua’s parents and ancestral line.
The Final Woof
Chihuahuas are tiny dogs with large personalities. Although they’re prone to certain health conditions, these loyal pets usually live long, healthy lives. Knowing about potential issues and how you can spot them helps you to catch and treat issues early. Common diseases affecting Chis include periodontal disease, hypoglycemia, collapsing trachea, and certain congenital defects.
Just because your Chihuahua has a higher risk of certain diseases, it’s not a guarantee of trouble. However, staying prepared helps you to take the best possible care of your baby. You can also support your Chi’s health and take some preventative actions to reduce the chances of a severe illness.