Like most other small breeds, Chihuahuas typically live pretty long lives. Different authorities cite different average lifespans, but the general consensus seems to be that Chihuahuas live between 15 and 20 years.
Of course, not all Chihuahuas live this long, and some may be able to surpass 20 years of age.
A lot of factors determine the length of time any dog will live, including Chihuahuas. We’ll dig into some of these and explain a few ways to help ensure your pup lives as long as possible below.
Oldest Individual Chihuahua
While most Chihuahuas pass away before completing their teenage years, there are a few reports of individuals exceeding the two-decade mark. Unfortunately, very few (if any) of these reports are backed by credible documentation.
For example, if you Google around a bit, you’ll see repeated references to a Chihuahua named “Megabyte,” who reportedly lived to be 20 years and 265 days old. However, we can’t find any verifiable reports or documentation to back the claim up (please let us know if you are aware of any primary sources relating to this pup).
There are a few other reports of 20-year-old Chihuahuas floating around the internet, but as with Megabyte, we can’t find anything to back up these claims. There are even a few reports of 30-year-old Chihuahuas, but it’s difficult to accept such claims on their face.
Nevertheless, Chihuahuas can almost certainly reach 20 years of age, and a few may exceed this a bit. It’s just hard to prove that they can do so.
Common Chihuahua Health Problems
Like all other breeds, Chihuahuas are at greater risk of some health problems than others. We’ll discuss a few of the most notable examples below, but understand that these aren’t the only health concerns that threaten the breed – they’re just a few of the most common.
Note that while some of these ailments can directly impact your pup’s lifespan, others are unlikely to lead to death. They may, however, drastically decrease your pet’s quality of life, so they still demand attention.
Chihuahuas are especially susceptible to dental problems – partly because they live such long lives. Dental problems can wreck a dog’s quality of life, so it is important to take good care of your pup’s teeth and visit your vet at the first sign of problems.
And while dental problems are rarely considered life-threatening, they can cause long-term changes to your dog’s eating habits, which may very well lead to more serious health problems. Additionally, periodontal disease has been linked to heart problems, which further illustrates the importance of good oral health.
In part because they are so small, Chihuahuas are very susceptible to weight gain and obesity. It doesn’t take many extra calories to cause a surplus when you are dealing with such tiny pups, so it is important to watch your pet’s waistline and ensure she stays fit and trim.
Obesity not only imparts extra stress on a dog’s joints, it can lead to serious health problems involving the heart, liver, and kidneys, among other things. But, if you feed your Chihuahua a sensible diet, allow her to get plenty of exercise and limit the high-calorie treats, she’ll probably stay within the recommended weight range without difficulty.
Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage in a dog’s joints wears down over time. This leads to bone-on-bone contact, which is both damaging and extremely painful. Arthritis can occur for a variety of reasons, but obesity and repetitive activities (particularly those of a high-impact nature) are two of the most important.
Osteoarthritis doesn’t directly contribute to a shortened lifespan, but it can make dogs depressed (which reduces their quality of life and potentially shortens it) and it can make exercise difficult.
Consult your vet if you suspect that your pooch is suffering from osteoarthritis, as there are a number of treatment options available, including over-the-counter supplements, such as glucosamine.
Hypoglycemia occurs when a dog’s blood sugar remains at lower-than-usual levels. Hypoglycemia can cause a number of different symptoms, some of which are quite subtle.
For example, many dogs with hypoglycemia are sluggish or sleep excessive amounts, and they frequently shake or tremble. Just be sure to visit your vet regularly to catch the disease as soon as possible.
With prompt veterinary assistance, hypoglycemia isn’t a terribly problematic condition, but it can be fatal without treatment. It is usually a good idea for owners of hypoglycemic dogs to keep a bit of honey on hand, to help treat dangerously low blood sugar levels.
Patellar luxation is a fancy term for a medical condition that occurs when the bones that form the knee joint fail to align properly. This is a common medical problem for many small breeds, and although it is typically present at birth, it often fails to trigger symptoms for some time.
Patellar luxation can alter your dog’s gait and cause limping. If left untreated, it can also cause arthritis. There are a number of different treatments for patellar luxation, which vary depending on the severity of the disease.
Like most of the other appendage-related health problems described here, patellar luxation is unlikely to shorten your dog’s lifespan, but it will reduce the quality of her life.
Hydrocephalus is a condition in which spinal fluid builds up in the brain. The condition is typically present from birth and is characterized by a swollen head. There isn’t a cure available for the condition, and many Chihuahuas born with the condition die before they reach 4 months of age.
However, mild cases may be treatable with steroids, and moderate cases may partially resolve if a shunt is installed to divert some of the fluid away from the brain.
Chihuahuas are susceptible to a number of different heart conditions, which can drastically shorten their lifespans. Murmurs – disturbances or abnormalities in the flow of blood through the heart — are one of the most commonly observed problems. While murmurs are not necessarily a big problem, they can indicate the presence of other, more serious issues of the heart.
Fortunately, most heart murmurs are treatable. Some will require your dog to take medications, while others will require special diets. Some heart problems may require your dog to take it easy, which can, unfortunately, limit the amount of exercise she gets.
A variety of small breeds are susceptible to a condition called a collapsed trachea. A frightening event to see, a collapsed trachea makes it difficult for a dog to inhale or lead to strange coughing sounds. The condition is thought to be inherited in some cases, but it is also thought to occur in conjunction with other respiratory conditions or obesity.
Surgery is occasionally necessary to treat collapsed tracheas, particularly in severe cases. However, some dogs respond to medications and manage to live somewhat-normal lives with the condition.
Helping to Ensure Your Chihuahua Lives a Long, Healthy Life
While you’ll be unable to protect your Chihuahua from all of the health threats out there, there are several which you can avoid or at least limit their severity. Just try to implement the following practices to give your Chihuahua the best chance at a long, healthy life.
Have Your Puppy Vaccinated
No matter what breed of puppy you’ve introduced to your family, you’ll want to ensure she receives all of the vaccinations that your vet recommends. Many of the diseases that vaccines prevent – including parvo, rabies, and distemper, among others – can be fatal.
Additionally, be sure to keep your dog’s vaccines up to date as she matures. She’ll need regular boosters to help ensure her immune system remains ready to fight off any diseases.
Fit Your Chihuahua With a Collar and ID Tag
All dogs should have a collar and ID tag – even if they never leave your yard. Escapes are always a possibility, and you’ll want to have the best chances of being reunited with your pooch if she scampers off.
An ID tag doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get your pup back, but it certainly improves the odds that she’ll be returned safely.
In fact, many owners take things a step further and have their vet install a small microchip under their pet’s skin. This chip can be read by vets (and many shelters), who will then be able to access your contact information and get your canine back into your arms.
You may even want to add a GPS tracker to your pet’s collar, so you can always see exactly where she is on your phone.
Keep Your Dog on a Leash
A lot of Chihuahua owners allow their pet to walk around unleashed, but this is a very bad idea.
Even if your pup normally walks right by your side, strange things happen, and dogs can get into plenty of trouble in a hurry. All it takes is one passing car, dog, bicyclist or squirrel to launch your dog into a frenzy, which may result in serious injury or worse.
Accordingly, you’ll always want to have your pup securely leashed anytime you aren’t in an enclosed space. But don’t worry – you don’t have to settle for a boring leash.
There are plenty of fantastic and fashionable harnesses and leashes available that’ll let you show off your dog’s personality and fabulousness.
Visit Your Vet Often
One of the most important things you can do to provide your Chihuahua with a long and healthy life is to catch and treat medical problems as soon as possible. And the best way to do this is by visiting your vet regularly.
Your vet is trained to notice the subtle signs of illness that you’re likely to miss, which will help ensure that your dog gets the treatment she needs.
Additionally, by visiting your vet regularly, he or she will become more familiar with your dog, which will increase the odds of noticing minor symptoms and signs.
Feed Your Dog a Nutritious Food
A healthy diet is important for all dogs, and your Chihuahua is no exception. But, you need to pick a good food that is well-suited for your Chihuahua and may help address some of the breed-specific issues from which they often suffer.
Just check out our guide to the best foods for Chihuahuas and pick the one that sounds best for your specific pet’s needs.
Make Sure Your Pup Gets Plenty of Exercise
Chihuahuas may be cute little companions who are content to sit in your lap for hours at a time, but they still need plenty of exercise. They’ll get a bit of exercise during their daily walks, but you should make sure Chihuahuas get about 30 minutes of running, jumping and playing each day too.
Just remember that Chihuahuas can get chilly very quickly thanks to their small size, so be sure to throw a coat or sweater on your pup when the weather is cold. And you may also want to put a pair of booties on her when going for walks in wet weather – cold paws can lead to a cold core body temperature.
As you can see, adding a Chihuahua to your family is certainly a long-term commitment! But given their endearing personalities and loving natures, this is definitely a good thing. Just be sure to keep an eye out for the medical conditions mentioned above, embrace the steps provided for extending their lifespan, and you’ll give your companion a great chance to live for 15 years or more.
Do you have a particularly old Chihuahua? Or do you know of a reliable account of one? We’d love to hear all about it. Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!