The Chihuahua is the world’s smallest dog, but despite this these little canines tend to be plucky, bold, robust and generally very healthy, thanks to the relatively large gene pool of Chihuahua dogs in the world. They are also very popular pets, and one of the most popular small or toy breeds within the UK. However, despite the fact that they are generally hardy, they are also small and delicate, and prone to a relatively large range of inherited health conditions compared to other dog breeds. Added to this, incorrect feeding or handling of the Chihuahua can cause problems of its own, or exacerbate existing or potential problems.
Read on to learn more about Chihuahua dogs and health conditions.
The Chihuahua puppy shares one unique trait with human babies, which no other breed of dog possesses; when they are born, the plates of their skulls are not fully fused, and a small pit or hole is present in the back of the skull. As the Chihuahua ages, this hole naturally closes itself, as it does in human babies.
However, due to this trait, a small number of Chihuahua puppies each year suffer from problems with normal fusing of the plates of the skull, and in some cases, the hole present will not close entirely. Dogs that this happens to may then develop a condition called hydrocephalus as a result of this, which is simply explained as a build up of fluid on the brain. This fluid is composed of cerebrospinal fluid, which collects between the brain itself and the skull. This in turn can lead to pain and pressure build-up on the brain, and a range of problems such as seizures, poor coordination, blindness and other issues.
For affected dogs, a permanent shunt inserted surgically, along with medical management, can permit affected dogs to attain a good quality of life.
Patellar luxation is the term used for a problem that causes the kneecaps of the dog to slip out of their sockets, which displays as lameness and pain. There are different degrees of luxation, and in some cases, the knees may slip right back into place without an issue, while in others, they may require surgical correction. Patellar luxation is one of the most common health conditions faced by pedigree Chihuahuas, with up to a third of dogs of the breed thought to suffer from it to some extent.
Hypoglycaemia, or low blood sugar, is another condition that is fairly commonly found in Chihuahua puppies, and one that can prove fatal. The effects of hypoglycaemia can cause weakness, shaking, disorientation and a cold, clammy feeling to the skin. Making good quality food available to affected pups at all times can help to prevent peaks and troughs in blood sugar, and you should discuss how to manage the condition with your vet if your Chihuahua is prone to rapid dips in their blood sugar.
The smaller and more delicate a dog, the easier it is to throw their metabolism out of whack, and the less tolerant it will be of mistakes! Chihuahuas only have very small stomachs, and as such, require extra special care and attention to be paid to their feeding and diet. Getting the balance right between feeding too much or too little can be challenging, and it is important to monitor your Chihuahua’s food intake on an ongoing basis to ensure that it is meeting their needs.
It is not hard to overfeed the Chihuahua, and their food should always be portioned and measured out, with treats kept to a minimum. Also, feeding a diet that is designed for small dogs and that is small enough for them to eat and digest comfortably is very important too.
Again, due to the small size of the Chihuahua, they are liable to become dehydrated much faster than most dog breeds, so it is important to ensure that your Chihuahua has fresh, clean water available to them at all times, particularly when it is hot. Illnesses such as diarrhoea or vomiting can have a profound effect on the electrolyte balance, hydration levels and metabolism of tiny dogs, so even a small, mild bout of sickness can throw them out of whack quickly, particularly if they are prone to low blood sugar deficits as mentioned above.
Finally, one condition in particular can affect the Chihuahua as soon as they have made it into this world, and that condition is called portosystemic shunt. This is a congenital problem that means that the vein connecting the foetus to the womb while the puppy is in utero, in order to return waste products, does not close off properly after birth. This causes waste products to enter the bloodstream of the pup, rather than passing through the liver to be eliminated in the normal way.
Chihuahuas with this condition will usually be smaller than their littermates at birth, and will not grow and put on weight at the same rate as the other puppies. The condition can also lead to the pup in question exhibiting neurological problems, and prompt surgery is required to correct the anomaly.