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Eating Problems

The Most Common Eating Problems with the Chihuahua Breed

Overview

When you have such a tiny toy breed like the Chihuahua, it's common for elements regarding food to come into play. We've gathered up all of the most common questions that are emailed in to us, and have answered them all here in one place. We will go over:
  • My Chihuahua never eats/doesn’t eat enough 
  • Picky eaters
  • Only eating if you hand feed your Chihuahua
  • Preference towards just one particular food 
  • Hiding food/bringing it to a different spot
  • Eating too fast
  • If a Chi is underweight & you need to get him to eat more
  • My Chihuahua Eats Everything
  • Overly hungry - the 7 main reasons
  • Eating things while out on walks
My Chihuahua never eats/doesn’t eat enough!

While it may seem that your Chihuahua never eats, if your puppy is gradually growing or your adult Chihuahua is maintaining, this means that your Chihuahua is indeed eating exactly as much as he needs to. Remember, Chihuahuas do not need a lot of calories at all.  An estimate, which can be higher or lower by 20%:

1 lb. (0.45 kg) = 40 to 60
1.5 lbs. (.68 kg) = 64 to 96
2 lbs. (0.90 kg) = 80 to 120 
2.5 lbs. (1.13 kg) = 111 to 165
3 lbs. (1.36 kg) = 120 to 180
3.5 lbs. (1.58 kg) = 154 to 232
4 lbs. (1.81 kg) = 160 to 240 
4.5 lbs. (2.04 kg) = 198 to 298
5 lbs. (2.26 kg) = 200 to 300 
5.5 lbs. (2.49 kg) = 243 to 363
6 lbs. (2.72 kg) = 254 to 396 
So, what may seem like a very small amount of food to you, is actually appropriate for this tiny toy breed. If your Chihuahua puppy is not growing or if your adult is losing weight, there may be a serious health issue at play. Loss of appetite is a sign of many health conditions; do have your Chihuahua checked by the veterinarian ASAP. 

Another issue of why a Chihuahua may be reluctant to eat is if the bowl is not in correct proportion to a Chihuahua’s body. Sometimes if the bowl is too deep, the dog can bump his forehead on the edge of the bowl or have a hard time eating in a comfortable position. This can cause a dog to avoid eating or he may carry the food to a different area and eat it there.
Chihuahua in rain jacket
Ava, at 2.5 years old. Weight: 4.5 lbs.Photo courtesy of Tina Kinney - Grimes, Iowa
My Chihuahua is picky. I can’t find a food my Chihuahua likes. 

While all owners have an urge to give their Chihuahua something that the dog finds to be absolutely scrumptious (the canine equivalent of lobster in butter with a side of steak sirloin), the most important thing is that the food is healthy for the Chihuahua. We suggest trying no more than 2 manufactured brands (4 or 5 star) and then stick to your guns. 

With home cooking, you can experiment with the ingredients; perhaps your Chihuahua prefers carrots to peas, or pasta to rice. You can make kibble more appealing by adding low-sodium chicken or beef broth (stir well, so that the Chihuahua does not just eat off the top) and warming it in the microwave (just until it is warm, do not over-heat). 

And remember, if your adult is maintaining, he is eating enough. 

My Chihuahua only likes freeze-dried food, is that okay? Yes, as long as it is a 4 or 5 star food. 

My Chihuahua only eats if I hand-feed him. 

This can become a trap for many owners. You hand-feed your Chihuahua just a few times and he expects it all the time. In fact, he demands it and refuses to eat unless you do this. Of course, you must stop this habit and get things back on track.
Do reassess your Chihuahua’s bowl to make sure it is one that he is comfortable with. Many Chihuahuas that love being hand-fed do better with raised bowls. If his bowl is raised, he may prefer a floor bowl or a flat plate. Then, place his food in/on his bowl/plate. While he will resist at first, at some point he will become so hungry that he will eat the food. You will need to wait him out. It is canine instinct to survive. No dog will refuse to eat when it comes down to it.

NOTE: If a Chihuahua has collapsed trachea or another health issue in which moving his neck causes pain, this can be one rare but possible explanation for a Chihuahua only eating when hand-fed. If you suspect any such thing, bring your Chihuahua to the veterinarian ASAP 
My Chihuahua literally only eats one food (just chicken, nothing else, etc.)! 

If you find yourself in a cycle of your dog only eating one certain food and nothing else, this can be a matter of an owner giving in too quickly. You gave your Chihuahua one particular food and now, he refuses to eat anything other than that. 

An owner will the Chihuahua’s ‘real’ food to him, the dog will sniff it and back away… and within a minute the owner will say, "Well, my dog is a picky eater, I guess he refuses to eat this!" But, this only reinforces the behavior. 

Barring any health issues, when a dog is hungry, he will eat. If you want your Chihuahua to eat a certain food or a mix of food, offer it and leave it there. If he is used to you caving in quickly, he’ll test you a bit. He’ll expect you to sigh and offer that one food he loves the most. 

But if you hold steady, he will eat the ‘real food’ you offer, if there is no other choice. Also mix food ingredients well so that they are blended. Picky eaters also do best with warmed food and with food that has low-salt chicken or beef broth drizzled over it. 
tiny Chihuahua
Brady, at 6 months old
Photo courtesy of Christine Hart
My Chihuahua hides his food/Brings it to a different spot. 

It is not uncommon for a Chihuahua to test you when it comes time for dinner. They can be a bit stubborn or want to just see how much they can get away with. A dog may hide or run away with food because:

1) If the dog was the runt of the litter (the smallest puppy) this could have reinforced this type of behavior. The smallest dogs are almost always pushed aside. Without someone keeping a very close eye, the runts of the litter can die from starvation or dehydration. A puppy that had to fight for food may have an urge to hide and run with their food to ‘protect’ it.

2) Rescue dogs are also known for this behavior, as many have gotten used to always being hungry and when given food, they feel that they need to protect it. 

3) Dogs that do not feel secure that their food is safe will move it to another room, one where they feel that their food is protected. This can happen if the kitchen is a very noisy room, if there are other dogs in the home and the Chihuahua feels as if they need to compete for food or if people sit or walk too close to where the dog food dish is. 

Be sure to offer a nice quiet area for your Chihuahua to eat. This should be an area with no one walking by, without loud noises and without people talking to your Chihuahua or trying to pat or play with your dog while he eats. This will help make your Chihuahua feel that his eating area is indeed a place where his food is safe. 

When your Chihuahua takes any food out of the dish, immediately take the food and put it back into the dish. Get ready for your dog to test you; he may try to move it 10 times before giving in to your request. It will be worth it.

While this can seem like a game, it is not. Keeping a very close eye on your dog and not allowing your Chihuahua to eat outside of the designated area will show your dog that if he wants his tummy full, he must eat where you ask him to. 

Never give in and always stay consistent. Also, think about snacks. Do you give your dog treats in other areas of the home? In order for this training to work, a dog must learn where he is allowed to eat. If your Chihuahua has this behavior of taking food to a new area, then even small dog treats should only be given in the designated eating area.
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My Chihuahua eats too fast! 

Some dogs do wolf down their food as if they think it's their last meal and this is not good for the stomach or the digestive system. It can cause a dog to have gas and in some cases, even vomiting right afterward.

This can be resolved by using a slow-feed dog bowl (be sure to choose stainless steel) or by placing slow-feed stainless steel balls into the dish that you already have. Both work to displace food so that it takes longer for a dog to eat his meal.

My Chihuahua is underweight, how can I get him to eat more? 

There are a lot of owners that are concerned about their dog being underweight. The good news is that in most cases the Chihuahua is actually at his correct weight; this is a small toy dog and is not supposed to weigh a lot nor have an appearance of being heavy and sturdy. With that said, if a Chihuahua has lost weight or if a veterinarian has told you that your dog is underweight, you'll have a valid reason to be concerned and take some steps to encourage some weight gain.

So, let's first keep in mind:

1) The Chihuahua is a small dog, with a small frame. Adults do not have a 'beefy' look and should look lean.  
2) There is a vast array of medical issues that can cause weight loss. The #1 most important step before helping your Chihuahua gain weight is to have any and all medical issues ruled out.
3) Once any and all health issues are ruled out, there are some steps you can take.  

With health issues ruled out and your vet's approval for at-home weight gain, you can then do the following:
1) Keep up with exercise. Though daily walks do burn some calories, it will be the food intake that matters here and you don't want to cause additional health issues that will arise from being sedentary while you are working to help your Chihuahua gain a bit of healthy weight. Exercise can also trigger the appetite to kick in. 

2) With your vet's approval, aim to add about 150 calories more per day. This can be accomplished by having your Chihuahua ingest 1 tablespoon of fish oil (123 calories are in a tablespoon of Salmon fish oil) along with 1/4 cup of whole cottage cheese (there are 55 calories in 1/4 cup of whole cottage cheese) per day. So, 123 calories of fish oil + 55 calories of cottage cheese = 178 calories more per day. Both foods are easily tolerated by most Chihuahuas and are healthy additions. The fish oil can be blended into meals (1/3 tablespoon if you feed 3 meals per day… 1/2 tablespoon in each meal if you feed twice per day). The cottage cheese can be blended into meals as well, or fed off a spoon if your Chihuahua prefers it that way. 
Chihuahua side view
Sweetpea, at 6 months old
Photo courtesy of Donald & Arla Kirby
Weigh your Chihuahua once per week to check for an increase. For very small Chihuahuas this can be done on a kitchen scale. For larger Chihuahuas, you can place a basket on a scale, place your Chihuahua in it and then check the increase. With the plan we have discussed, if there is no weight gain after 3 weeks, check back with your veterinarian.

My Chihuahua Eats Everything!

There are 2 elements at play here.

1) If your Chihuahua literally eats or tries to eat everything, including non-food items, this can be a blend of boredom, chewing obsession and/or curiosity. 

You will want to:

1. Puppy proof the house no matter WHAT the dog’s age. Mouthing items, chewing on them and potentially swallowing them is exceedingly dangerous. You’ll want to do a serious sweep of the interior and exterior of the home. Pick up anything and everything that you possibly can, that can be moved to a new stop, up higher. This includes but is not limited shoes, clothes, remotes, books, bags of any sort, etc. The floors and all areas that the Chihuahua can reach should be as bare as possible with new locations (counter-tops, closets, hangers & hooks) being the new home for those things.

2. For things you cannot move – Tie up loose electrical cords and keep them out of sight. Run cords through purchased spiral cable wrap, cord concealers, or even PVC pipe to keep them safe from your puppy. For furniture and other such large items, if the Chihuahua chews on those, use a quality deterrent spray. 

3. If your Chi is eating everything (but actually just chewing) and is teething, take some time to carefully choose quality teething toys. If your Chihuahua is under stress, for example, due to separation anxiety, look for ways to alleviate this. 
Gizmo Meeko, at 1 year, 9 months
"Waiting for His Date"
Photo courtesy of The Trezza/Vadjinia Family
2) If your Chihuahua by ‘eating everything’ you mean that he eats food non-stop, this is a whole other issue. 

The Top 7 Reasons Why a Chihuahua May Always be Hungry

1. Type of Food - When a dog eats and eats without ever feeling satisfied and full, this is often due to the type of food that he is ingesting. If he is being given a very low quality food that is packed with cheap filler, he is not actually receiving enough ‘real’ food and that can be a major problem. Reassess what you are giving to him. Switching to a better quality brand can make a huge difference, as your Chihuahua will actually become full after a meal. 

You can check the rating of any brand of food here: Dog Food Advisor – Check food rating. It lists out just about every brand of dog food, gives you its rating (1 through 5 stars) and tells you exactly why it was rated as so. 

2. Increased Activity - Just like humans, when a dog burns more calories, the body requires more fuel. Some owners may not even realize that there has been an increase in exercise or other activity. This change usually occurs for those that live in areas that experience a change in season. During warmer months with pleasant temperatures, dogs are walked, brought out to dog parks and taken along with owners to run errands more often. If your Chihuahua is exercising more, it is perfectly okay for him to have a higher appetite.   
3. Weather - Canines tend to eat less during hot summer months and more during colder winter months. Sometimes an owner may not notice the decrease in the summer, but the heartier appetite during the winter is very apparent. These seasonal fluctuations are very normal and over the course of a year it all evens out. 

4. A Need for Water - There can be an increased hunger if a dog is not drinking enough water. Since all foods contain water, a dog may eat if that is his only option to hydrate. Be sure to keep clean, cool water available at all times. Bring water with you when you are exercising your Chihuahua in a 2-in-1 travel container (the lid is the bowl) or with a collapsible bowl. 

5- The Need to Chew - If a puppy is teething he can have an insatiable need to chew and this can often present as eating more food, especially if he is being fed kibble that is crunchy and offers a comparable comfort as chew toys do. Offer offer ice cubes - plain or flavored - which are low or no calorie alternatives that allow for some great, crunchy chewing without the ingestion of added food. Proper teething toys that are rotated will help as well. 

With adult Chihuahua that seem to always be hungry, this may be due to anxiety or stress that presents as a nervous chewing habit leading to the consumption of extra food. All sorts of situations can cause a dog to feel stress. The top reasons are: being left home alone, a change in human family members (a new baby in the house or a family member has moved out) or transitioning to a new home. For adults that suffer from separation anxiety, take steps to help him with this. 

If a dog is stressed and eating too much due to a change in environment, time is the best fix for this. It is not uncommon for dogs to suffer from depression due to the loss of a family member, either animal or human. Offering quality time with new and interesting activities can help, which would include bringing a dog to a new place that he has never visited before (lake, different dog park, pet store, etc.)
6. Health Conditions -There are a few medical issues that can cause a dog to overeat and gain weight.

These are also possibilities if a Chihuahua is eating a lot but is still skinny:

• Cushing's syndrome - A malfunction of the adrenal glands causes an overproduction of the cortisol hormone. While increased appetite is 1 sign of this, other signs and symptoms are much more apparent: Fur loss, a darkening of the skin, increased thirst (and subsequent increased hunger if water is not available), a distended stomach, weakness and loss of muscle mass. 

• Canine diabetes - During the onset of diabetes, insulin related tumors can cause an increase in appetite. With this disease, there can a dog may eat a lot but lose weight. 

• Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency - This is rare with the Chihuahua breed (90% of all cases involve German Shepherds and the Rough Coated Collie), however it is a condition in which there are not enough enzymes being created to properly digest food. The food then passes out of the body before nutrients can be absorbed and this causes a dog to always be hungry.  

• Bacterial overgrowth - With this issue, there is an overgrowth of bacteria in a dog's small intestine, which causes damage that results in nutrients from food not being absorbed. In turn, a dog becomes very hungry and eats more without gaining weight.
Mabel, at 1 and 1/2 years old
Photo courtesy of Kimberly R. - Seattle Washington 
Worms – If a dog has worms, he may eat a lot by still be skinny. Your vet can inspect for worms by examining a stool sample and this can be treated with proper de-worming medication.

6. Behavioral/Conditioning Issues -In some cases, owners may not realize that their Chihuahua eats too much only because extra food is being offered too often. It's a trap that owners can fall into without realizing it. You're cooking dinner; your Chihuahua just ate but is looking at you with those puppy dog eyes. You give in and feed him a bite of your food. You wonder, "How can my Chihuahua eat so much?' but what's really happening is that a satiated dog is tempted by the smells and sight of food and will rarely turn down an offering even if his stomach is full. 

This sort of habit can easily be corrected by sticking to a strict feeding schedule and not offering any food except during meal and snack times. Your Chihuahua may miss the attention, however the extra food can easily be substituted with pats, kisses and perhaps a few minutes of play time.
My Chihuahua Eats Everything On Walks

Dogs mouth things to find out what they are, they will mouth them first and then decide if it’s worth their time. Also, a Chihuahua may actually eat tiny pebbles and such due to them tasting salty. If a puppy or dogs eats all sorts of things while out on walks, this can cause an array of issues. Here is what you can do:

1. You are in charge. Have your dog on a leash and harness (NOT leash and collar). When on harness, you can have full control over your Chihuahua, keep the leash taut and quickly move him away before he eats anything by moderately tugging on the leash, without fear of injuring him (because the harness prevents neck injury). 

2. Anytime that you prevent your Chihuahua from trying to eat something, give the ‘Leave it’ command. Even though you will be the one to force the dog to ‘leave it’, give praise (and once in a while a tiny treat). Practicing this all along the walking route will be a great opportunity for him to understand the command. In time, he should listen to it without any intervention on your part, other than giving the command. 
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You may also like:

Types of Chihuahuas - This article discussed different facial features, coat types, size and more. 
Chihuahua is Shy -Steps you can take to help a Chihuahua overcome his shyness and have more self-confidence to engage in the world around him. 
Can a Chihuahua drink milk - An great summary of the types of dairy products that this breed can and cannot have. 
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