Group: Toy

Size: Small


The Toy group is made up of dogs that are small breeds and were bred to be companions or lap dogs. Some of the breeds have been placed in this group simply due to their size.

The Chihuahua is a small breed and belongs to the Toy group. This is defined by the Kennel Club as "small companion or lap dogs". The Chihuahua is the smallest breed in the world and takes its name from the Mexican state where it became fashionable in the late 19th Century.


Clinical Tip: From a clinical perspective we need to consider the nature and temperament of this lovely bold, curious breed. Given their tiny stature and their temperament, mindful Therapeutic Handling is a must. Always make every Therapeutic Touch count.

Chihuahua Conformation + Morphology

  • Head shape; mesaticephalic (round apple shape)
  • Body shape; mesomorphic
  • Coat type; smooth or long coated
  • Coat colour; any colour combination, from solid to marked, tri, brindle, spotted and merle. Common colours include fawn, red, cream, chocolate, brown, mixed, white, and black
  • Paw shape; hare
  • Tail shape; sickle
  • Ear shape; erect

Chihuahua: Breed Gait Facts

Understanding the conformational differences within this breed (interbreed variation) and the impact these may have on the efficiency of their gait is an important viewpoint for all therapist's to consider when working with the Chihuahua.

These wonderful dogs should move swiftly with a definite, steady balanced protraction and retraction phase. From the rear the hocks are parallel to each other, and their limbs perpendicular. The footfalls of the pelvic limbs (hindlimbs) should be in line with the thoracic limbs (forelimbs).

This breeds topline should be level, following a "natural canine topline". There are interbreed differences in the Chihuahuas leg length -check out Mr Darcy's story below and compare the leg length of his compared to his half sister, Emma.

Speed = stride length x stride frequency.

One of the important determinants of stride length is leg length. With their interbreed differences, leg length will impact on their individual speed and maneuverability. As a breed they have a higher stride frequency to cover the equal distance compared to a slightly larger breed.


Chihuahuas preferred gait pattern is the trot, which is a symmetrical gait pattern. The footfalls in a trot gait pattern are nearly evenly spaced.

Consider the abnormal gait pattern of the Chihuahua with Legg–Calvé–Perthes Disease (LCPD) of the right pelvic limb. Due to pain they will offload the limb by engaging an abnormal flexor pattern using their hip flexors.

They re-distribute the offloaded weight to the opposite pelvic limb (left) and to the opposite diagonal thoracic limb (left) predominantly.

You will also notice the paw placement of the left thoracic limb is placed caudally compared to the right thoracic limb in this scenario, to move the Chihuahua's body mass forwards, assisting in offloading the affected right pelvic limb.


Clinical Tip: Ensure to utilise a holistic rehabilitation programme that addresses the thoracic limb placement, core alignment and the dysfunction of the affected pelvic limb in Chihuahua's following a Femoral Head and Neck Excision (FHNE) due to LCPD.

The ideal rehabilitation start time following FHNE surgery using physiotherapy and hydrotherapy is day 10 post surgery.

Chihuahua Common Conditions + Problems

  • Hypoglycemia; is low blood glucose levels and results in a decline in functional ability. In severe cases there may be loss of consciousness
  • Heart Murmurs; these are abnormal heart sounds and can be due to one of several causes; incompetent valve, abnormally narrowed valve, hole in the heart and anaemia
  • Pulmonic Stenosis; this is a common congenital, hereditary heart defect. Malformation of the Pulmonic valve leads to an obstruction of the flow of blood from the heart to the lungs
  • Tracheal Collapse; is a form of tracheal (airway) obstruction caused by flaccidity and flattening of the cartilaginous rings which support the trachea
  • Hydrocephalus; is an accumulation of fluid around the brain. Cerebrospinal Fluid (CSF) leaks inside the skull and increases pressure on the brain. Hydrocephalus can be congenital or acquired
  • Open Fontanelle; also known as "Molera" is an anomaly of the skull, whereby the bone junctions fuse incompletely leaving a hole at the top of the skull. Take care and use Therapeutic Handling
  • Epilepsy; seizures are the physical manifestation of uncontrolled and hyper-synchronous electrical activity in the brain. This causes a loss of consciousness, involuntary repetitive movements, urination, salivation and defecation
  • Legg–Calvé–Perthes Disease (LCPD); also know as avascular necrosis is a developmental orthopaedic disease where there is degeneration of the hip joint. This is due to disruption of blood flow to the head of the femur, which causes the bone to die and collapse
  • Luxating Patella; this occurs when the patella (knee cap) moves out of its natural functional position


This breed doesn't have any major health concerns, but like all breeds they can acquire certain conditions.

Chihuahua Temperament + Personality

This breed, which is the smallest in the world, is curious, bold and has the biggest personality stashed into that tiny body. They are a delicate breed and can be vulnerable to injuries and attacks from rambunctious larger animals.

Chihuahuas benefit from appropriate socialisation and positive reward based training to optimise their learning and behaviours. The Chihuahua has the potential to be extremely intelligent but can be easily frightened or provoked to attack.

This breed is exceptionally loyal and may be overprotective of their chosen person when around other people or animals. They also tend to prefer the companionship of other Chihuahua's over other breeds of dogs.


These traits can make them unsuitable for households with children who are not patient and calm.

This breed loves to burrow themselves into blankets, pillows and clothes, in the safety of what they perceive as their den. They enjoy the sunlight and love to be on the highest point of furniture.

The Chihuahua, despite his tiny frame, is alert, fearless and certainly doesn't view his size as a disadvantage!

Introducing Mr Darcy (his half sister is called Emma!)

My name is Mr Darcy and I am a short-haired Chihuahua. I am highly intelligent and although I say it myself, extremely handsome!

In 2013, when I was around 6-months old, I was experiencing excruciating pain and my vet diagnosed me with Legge-Perthes disease in my right hip. This is a condition where the ball part of the hip joint becomes deformed due to a compromised blood supply leading to pain and a limp.


In small breeds like me, the easiest solution is to remove the diseased hip by removing the ball of the femur. This operation is known as an excision arthroplasty or femoral head and neck excision (FHNE). The hip then forms a false joint which is functional and pain free. However, in order to do this the body needs to support the hip using well developed muscles around the rump.

My vet, a very good friend of mine, advised my Mum and Dad that I needed a little companion as I was now too thin and refusing to eat.


Well Emma, my little half-sister, arrived and although I say it myself, she looked as if "butter wouldn’t melt" but I soon got to know her and quickly made up my mind that I needed to stand my ground and to make sure that she understood that I was and always will be top dog.

She was spayed and at the same time had to have the very same operation as me on her back leg, so we were both about to start our journey together.

Although I was medically worse than Emma, we were advised that physiotherapy and hydrotherapy would be essential to our recovery and rehabilitation.

We were referred to Barbara Houlding at K9 Hydro Services. She very quickly realised that I was top dog and very clever and understood my temperament and was focused all about me!



As a result, she worked with me to get the desired result and she is now also one of my best friends.

I started off with an assessment and had both land and water based physiotherapy treatment twice weekly and this quickly became weekly but as I improved this was reduced to fortnightly and now we both visit Barbara every several weeks to keep us at our best as part of our maintenance plan.

The land-based treatment is wonderful as Barbara always gives me choices and I have been so relaxed and have been known to nod off on several occasions, not something I do anywhere else!

I have never been very keen on water and always refuse to go out if it is raining but Barbara encouraged me by telling me how clever I was and very soon I was in her lovely warm pool and enjoying it. We have such a great trust and understanding, even though she is a human!


We really look forward to our physiotherapy and hydrotherapy sessions and thanks to Barbara, we are always very happy to walk, trot, run and do everything we want to, even though I am known to overdo it at times! Whereas Emma loves to sleep!

Emma also really enjoys her sessions, but always goes second, after me of course, and I have heard it mentioned that she is a better swimmer than me, no doubt because of her extra "buoyancy". On the plus side I am four months older, slim and my legs are longer than hers. This gives me the great advantage of always being able to look down on her!

Emma is no lady as she always gobbles all her food in a one while I am still thinking about starting my meal. Mum or Dad always need to guard mine as, quick as a flash, Emma has been known to eat both dinners! No doubt this is due to her very healthy appetite and my excellent table manners which comes from being very posh!


We are now in our eighth year and this lock-down period has really upset our social life. Mum and Dad were, in the past, always going out which gave us plenty of "me time". The TV is now on longer and they take part in meetings at home on Zoom, Teams, and GoToMeetings.

These meetings are so boring, and we can’t wait for this lock-down to be over. We have even been bathed in the bidet and have also recently acquired our own professional nail clippers! Now we just pop into the garden and walk round the park twice a day and its not the same and we really miss our social life, meeting and greeting our friends and our "walkies in the car".

We love being made a fuss of although we are both very independent and are not lap or yes dogs. We are, including Emma, very intelligent and love everyone on our own terms.

Most of all, we miss our social times with Barbara, we are really looking forward to getting back to our sessions.

Barbara must also be really looking forward to seeing me, well us, again. After all this time, I must just remind her that my little sister Emma is after me in the pool!

Signing off for now; Mr Darcy (my family are Emma, Ann and Andrew Nunn)


Chihuahua Role Historically + Now

This breeds original role was as a companion / lap dog. These wilful little dogs are intelligent, quick to learn and are perfectly capable of competing in agility and obedience trials with as much enthusiasm and success as the larger dogs, if you can convince them that it's fun!

Chihuahuas are bold and confident and are often described as being "terrier-like". Their alert nature and suspicion of strangers also makes this breed an excellent watchdog.

The Chihuahua is a wilful little breed that needs to be convinced, that doing as they are asked is fun!

Chihuahua Bitesize History

The Chihuahuas origin is unclear and there are many theories surrounding this, however folklore and archaeological finds depict that this breed originates in Mexico

The shorthaired Chihuahua that we know and love today took his name from the Mexican state of Chihuahua where he was discovered in the 1850s. American visitors to Mexico took these tiny dogs home with them and began to show them in 1890.

It's believed the longhaired variety was created by crossing the shorthaired Chihuahuas with the Papillon or Pomeranian breeds.

This breed became increasingly popular through association with the dance king and Latin music bandleader, 'Xavier Cugat" in the 1930s and 1940s.

Even More History

The common beliefs are that the Chihuahua is descended from the Techichi, a companion dog which was favored by the Toltec civilization in Mexico.

There are no available records of the Techichi before the 9th century. Dog pots which were buried as part of the western Mexico shaft tomb traditions (dating back to 300 BC) from Colima, Mexico, are thought to depict Techichis.

The Techichi was absorbed into the Aztecs society when they conquered the Toltecs and many of the dogs lived in temples and were used in their rituals.

They believed that the Techichi had mystic powers which included; the ability to see into the future, heal the sick and guide the souls of the dead safely to the underworld. It was customary for a red Techichi to be killed and cremated with the remains of the deceased. In the late 1500s the Techichi faded into obscurity when the Spanish conquered the Aztecs.

There were possibly earlier ancestors present before the Mayas, as dogs similar to the Chihuahuas are found in materials from the Great Pyramid of Cholula and in the ruins of Chichen Itza on the Yucatán Peninsula (pre 1530).

However genetics indicated that there was less than 2% pre-European mitochondrial DNA in modern Chihuahuas.


Evidence in the form of "Wheeled dog toys" suggests that a Chihuahua style dog was in Mexico over 1400 years before the first Europeans arrived.


Dog effigy pots dating to around 1325 AD have been discovered in Georgia and Tennessee and appear to represent the Chihuahua.


A pot featuring the Chihuahua style dogs was unearthed in old ruins at Casas Grandes in the Mexican state of Chihuahua in 1850 (dating from 1100-1300 AD). It's thought these pots may have arrived with survivors from the Casas Grandes site in Chihuahua, after it was attacked and destroyed around 1340 AD.

Small dogs such as Chihuahuas were used as living heating pads during illness or injury and it is believed that this practice is where the ideas of pain being transferred to animals from humans originated.

Chihuahuas as we know them today remained a rarity until the early 20th century.

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