This advice is not intended to replace the advice of a veterinarian.
The Chihuahua is very lucky in that the breed has few health problems overall; however, a few problems that are seen in the Chihuahua are described below. Patella luxation (slipping kneecap) is probably the most common health problem in the Chihuahua breed.
A good breeder does his utmost to stay knowledgeable about all health issues in the breed, as well as new health issues that are becoming of concern. A good breeder is always learning. Breeders should be aware of any problems their dogs might have, and should always have a veterinarian go over all dogs prior to them being bred.
2) Teeth Issues
Patella luxation is probably the most common defect in the Chihuahua breed.
(Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) lists the Chihuahua as having a 10%
affected rate, however, this may very well be quite underestimated as people who
have a dog with Patella luxation might not even submit the paperwork to OFA.
Although patella luxation is fairly easy to diagnose, some breeders are unaware
that they do have a problem (they think that if their dogs are walking around
fine, they don't have any problems), or are not checking their dogs properly. A
skilled veterinarian can easily determine if a Chihuahua has any looseness in
the patella joint, or if the patella itself luxates. A breeder can also become
skilled, if properly taught, to determine if a dog has patella luxation or not.
Patella luxation can either have genetic causes, or environmental causes (i.e. injury). If patella luxation shows up at an early age (under 7 months or so), it is probably due to genetic causes; however, injury might also cause patella luxation to show up in the first seven months. Sources of injury could include being overweight, too much jumping (i.e. jumping off furniture), or too much stress on the patella and surrounding ligaments (ie. a dog dancing on its rear legs). These causes are especially dangerous when a Chihuahua is in the developmental stages...from a young puppy to 1 or 2 years of age. Chihuahuas might also damage their kneecap by hitting it, and even an unskilled veterinarian might cause permanent looseness if he is forcibly trying to see if the patella is loose. As a Chihuahua ages, slight looseness might be seen, especially in dogs that are very overweight and have continued pressure on the ligaments/patella.
Visual signs of grade 2 (and higher) patella luxation includes skipping, holding the rear leg up for a short time as the dog walks/runs or rear-leg weakness. Grade 1 patella luxation does not usually have any visual signs (which is why some breeders might be unaware they have a problem) except the patella can manually be pushed out of place quite easily by hand. Patella luxation can cause permanent lameness later on, as well as arthritis, especially in the more serious cases (grade 2 and higher).
If your dog does have this painful problem, your veterinarian might be able to give you some options to help alleviate the symptoms, depending on the seriousness of the problem. This might include keeping the dog lean (ie. not letting the dog get fat), the use of joint supplements such as glucosamine/choroditin, pain killers, or surgery.
Because the Chihuahua is small, he also has a very small mouth. This small mouth
can cause problems with the mouth being too small for the teeth, which causes
overcrowding. Overcrowding of teeth can cause food to be trapped between
the teeth, resulting in plaque and tarter buildup, as well as premature
tooth-loss. Keeping the teeth clean is essential to keeping the mouth and the
rest of the dog healthy. Dogs that have dirty teeth are found to be at much more at
risk of heart, liver and kidney damage from the bacteria entering the
You can help keep the mouth clean by offering dental biscuits, dental chew toys, including edible dental chew toys (i.e. greenies, dentabones, etc.), feeding dry food instead of semi-moist or canned food, brushing your dog's teeth (but don't use human toothpaste...it has fluoride...there are doggie toothpastes available at most pet shops), using the available edible water additives for dental hygiene, as well as taking your dog to the veterinarian for a dental cleaning, etc. As the Chihuahua gets older, it is almost inevitable that he will need at least one dental cleaning by the veterinarian, quite often more.
Another issue, although less serious and easily corrected, is retained puppy teeth. Toy breeds are more prone to this problem, and it is caused by the adult tooth growing beside the puppy tooth, instead of the puppy tooth falling out. I usually recommend that if there are any retained puppy teeth (the usual teeth to be retained are the long canines and the small incisors in the front), that the puppy teeth be removed at the time of spay/neuter. This way the dog is only under anesthetic once, and for the rest of his life food can't get trapped between the puppy and adult teeth.
Hypoglycemia is a problem that can occur in Chihuahuas, and is caused by the dog burning off more energy then he is taking in (especially since Chihuahuas have a small stomach), as well as other causes. Also, Chihuahua puppies that are stressed and not eating enough are prone to a hypoglycemia attack. Signs of hypoglycemia ranging from the least severe to very severe are:
Lack of energy/sleepiness
Lack of muscular coordination
The severity of these signs depends
on how quickly and how low the blood glucose level is dropping in the blood.
To be prepared for such a situation, always have some type of sugary substance available. This might include honey, corn syrup, nutri-cal, or concentrated sugar water. It is best to always be prepared for such a situation, and always have something available, by carrying something in your pockets/purse, etc. Even letting him nibble on a piece of donut or cookie could save an older puppy's life. Feeding the dog some food after giving the sugar should be done to keep the blood sugar levels up for a longer period of time. Always keep an eye on your dog for several hours after. In more serious cases of hypoglycemia, and the dog is seizuring or in coma, carefully rub small amounts of syrup on the inside of the cheeks, gums and tongue. Be careful to not put too much in the mouth at one time, or else the dog might choke. Then take your dog immediately to the veterinarian. If the symptoms persist, or if the dog is showing major symptoms of hypoglycemia (seizures, coma, etc.), or any lingering effects of hypoglycemia, take your dog immediately to the veterinarian.
Whenever I place puppies in a new home, I recommend that the new owner puts some sugar in the water, as puppies in a new home often don't eat well the first few days, giving them an increased risk of Hypoglycemia. After several days, once the puppy is eating well, the sugar water can be stopped.
Hydrocephalus is characterized by a build-up of fluid around the brain, caused by a variety of reasons. Symptoms of hydrocephalus includes a very domed head, small size, very large or multiple moleras (also known as a soft-spot), listlessness, sluggish/sleepiness, poor coordination, and seizures. Some Chihuahuas may show symptoms early on, while others may not show symptoms until they are older. Some Chihuahuas are able to live with a mild case of hydrocephalus throughout adulthood. For more information on hydrocephalus, visit this site.
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