Common Chihuahua health issues

13 May 2024 - 4 min read
Chihuahua with a pink arrow drawn to its spine

Chihuahuas may be small in size, but their personalities are anything but.

Known for their loyalty and spunky attitudes, these pint-sized pups make great companions. But like every dog breed, Chihuahuas come with their own set of health concerns that owners should be aware of. Knowing what to look for can help you keep your doggo healthy and happy.

Here’s a rundown of common Chihuahua health issues.

Hydrocephalus

Fawn coloured Chihuahua This birth defect causes dogs to have an abnormally shaped skull. This leads to fluid accumulation in the brain, causing symptoms like: 

  • Abnormal walking patterns

  • Behavioural changes

  • Ignoring commands

  • Lessened ability to respond to verbal cues

Affected dogs often also have a domed head and pupils that appear to face downwards and outwards.

Thankfully, treatment is available. It consists of medications that prevent fluid build-up in the skull or the surgical placement of a shunt that redirects fluid away from the brain.

Tracheal collapse

A weakening in the cartilage around the windpipe causes this condition. It causes it to flatten when a dog breathes in partially. It means any inhaled air passes through a narrower area, leading to difficulty breathing and the characteristic 'goose honk' cough.

This cough will occur more frequently with excitement, during hotter weather or when pressure is applied to the neck, like when pulling on a collar.

Symptoms tend to start from middle age onwards, and X-rays can confirm diagnosis. Vets can treat affected dogs medically, although severely affected dogs may need surgery.

Mitral Valve Disease (MVD)

Degeneration in one of the heart valves causes this disease. It allows blood to flow in the wrong direction, putting strain on the heart, and increasing the volume of blood in the organ. This means the heart expands.

An expanded heart may press on the windpipe, triggering coughing episodes. As the heart struggles to pump blood around the body, symptoms like lethargy and breathing problems can occur. Medications used to manage MVD work by reducing the effort required for the heart to function normally.

Patellar luxation

Chihuahua

Luxating patella occurs in dogs born with an abnormal knee joint. The condition is often associated with the characteristic ‘skipping’ gait that it causes, leading to the patella (kneecap) moving into and out of its groove on the femur (thighbone).

The disease is often assigned a grade based on the ease with which the patella will slide out of place. The condition is controllable with weight management and exercise for lower grades. But dogs assigned with a higher grade may need surgery. 

Periodontal disease

Chihuahua with a pink arrow drawn to its mouth

Like most small breed dogs, Chihuahuas are prone to plaque and tartar. The build-up leads to an overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria in the spaces between the teeth and gums. Bacteria cause inflammation, pain and symptoms like: 

A lot of dogs need a dental procedure to extract the diseased teeth and remove the tartar that has accumulated over time. Dogs adapt well to having fewer teeth, and practices like tooth brushing are very effective in preventing this disease.

How to care for a Chihuahua

A black and tan Chihuahua with a quizzical look stands outdoors with blurred trees in the background.

Genetic testing

Genetic testing can help prevent disease from being passed on. For example, hydrocephalus is not preventable; it's an inherited condition. That means Chihuahua health relies on careful breeding practices to make sure it's not passed on. Any good breeder should undertake the right tests.

Having a good relationship with your vet

Diagnosing MVD early, by regularly attending veterinary health checks and pursuing diagnostic recommendations, will help to delay disease progression. Not only can certain drugs be used to delay the onset of heart failure, but early diagnosis allows vets to monitor dogs for symptom progression, such as worsening of a dry cough and an increasing reluctance to exercise.

Monitor your dog

Monitoring and noticing any changes in your Chihuahua can help prevent issues. Being aware of the common symptoms of conditions like hydrocephalus may assist in early diagnosis and treatment, reducing the potential time for brain damage to occur.

We recommend regularly measuring a dog’s breathing rate to see if it increases, which can provide the first indication of the breathing difficulties that heart failure causes.

Lifestyle changes

A healthy lifestyle can prevent numerous illnesses. For example, using a harness instead of a collar puts less strain on the neck, making conditions like tracheal collapse less severe.

We recommend removing potential airway irritants, maintaining a healthy weight and trying to avoid periods of over-excitement (which can trigger coughing episodes) alongside things like appropriate medication.

Weight loss will also benefit dogs with conditions like luxating patella. A healthy weight results in less strain on the knee joint. Regularly exercising your dog, working alongside a physiotherapist and adding joint supplements to the diet are all methods to prevent joint issues and slow down the development of conditions like arthritis

Grooming and hygiene

Regular grooming and proper hygiene are essential in preventing several illnesses.

As an example, the best way to prevent periodontal disease is to start incorporating tooth brushing into your dog’s daily routine. It's easier when the process starts earlier, but it can also be used after a dental procedure to prevent a dog from having future issues.

The best tooth-brushing practices often involve using a soft-bristled brush with dog-friendly toothpaste to gently clean the outer surfaces of the top and bottom teeth. 

How dog insurance can help

Even with conscientious breeding, routine veterinary care, and daily attention to your Chihuahua's health, accidents or illnesses can still occur. That's where having Chihuahua insurance becomes invaluable.