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Life Span

Chihuahua Life Span

The life expectancy of the Chihuahua is between is between 14 to 18 years with a median age of 15.5 years.

Females will live slightly longer than males; 1 to 2 years on average. 15.5 years is a few years longer than the life span of domesticated canines in general, which is 12.8 years.

This is due to 2 elements:
  • Small toy breeds live longer than larger dogs 
  • The Chihuahua breed is a relatively healthy breed 
In this section we are going to discuss: 
  • The top leading causes of death for this breed 
  • Steps that you can take to give your Chihuahua a long life

Top Causes of Death for the Chihuahua Breed

The University of Georgia did an extensive study that traced over 70,000 dogs over a 20 yearlong period to record the leading causes of death. This included over 82 different purebred dogs and in this group there were over 100 Chihuahuas. 

The dogs were separated by age, with 2 groups: puppies and adults. Due to this extensive study, we have a very good idea at what this breed is prone to and even a good method of preventing early death.

The Top Leading Cause of Death for Chihuahua Puppies

With Chihuahua dogs under the age of 1 year old, the 2 leading causes of death are:

1) Infection - see below for details

2) Trauma - see below for details

The 3 top causes of death for adult Chihuahuas are:

1) Cardiovascular disease. 18.5% of Chihuahuas died due to cardiovascular disease. This is most common in senior dog over the age of 14. Since the heart can only function for a set number of years, dogs that succumb to heart failure are often classified as dying of old age.

This disease can be categorized into 3 different classifications:

Heart failure: The heart is unable to pump blood as it should. This causes a lack of blood and oxygen to circulate as needed through the dog's body.

Arrhythmia: This is an abnormal rhythm of the heartbeat which - when severe - are life-threatening if due to a decrease in the pumping function of the heart.

Heart valve problems: This includes stenosis (the heart valves due not open enough to allow blood to flow as it should), regurgitation (the heart valves do not close properly which allows blood to seep though) and valve prolapse (the valve bulges into the upper heart chamber).

2- Trauma. A shocking 16.8% of Chihuahuas died due to trauma. This is a staggering number that all owners should consider very carefully. The 3 main types of fatal trauma were:
  • Being run over by a car
  • Being accidentally stepped on
  • Being dropped
It is shocking and important to note that the 2nd leading cause of death for the Chihuahua breed is 100% preventable. Out of the 82 different purebred dogs, the Chihuahua was the 7th breed most likely to die this way. If owners take care to keep their puppy or dog safe, the average life span would increase substantially.

3- Infection. 10.5 % of adult Chihuahua died due to a fatal infection. Type of infection varied quite a bit and included:

Parvovirus - Despite there being a vaccine for this, many un-vaccinated dogs succumb to this disease. This attacks the gastrointestinal tract and immune system, causing severe vomiting and diarrhea. It is spread via direct contact with an infected dog or via the feces of an infected dog. Proper cleaning methods of the environment of dogs with parvo and keeping up on vaccinations can prevent a Chihuahua from catching this very contagious and often fatal disease.

Distemper - As with parvo, there is a vaccine for this. Distemper is high contagious infection of the respiratory and/or gastrointestinal tract. It begins with weakness and coughing. As it progresses a dog may develop diarrhea. In later stages, it attacks the dog's central nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord. The dog may have seizures, paralysis before dying. Keeping your Chihuahua vaccinated - with all puppy shots and boosters through his/her adult life - can prevent this as a cause of death.

Leptospirosis - There are many strains of leptospirosis (including tick disease) and not all does that catch this die from it. However, it can cause fatal liver and kidney damage. Most strains of fatal strains of leptospirosis are spread via the urine of wild animals. This includes raccoon, skunks and rats. Dogs can catch this when drinking from contaminated water; though it can also spread via sniffing of infection urine puddles.

There are 2 ways to prevent this:

1) By not allowing a dog to go near the urine of wild animals or drink from any water source that an animal many have urinated into.

2) Vaccination - This is a bit tricky, because in the U.S. this is not included in standard vaccinations. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) considers leptospirosis vaccine a “non-core”. This means that it is only recommended for dogs that have a high change of exposure. In addition, the breed tends to not react well to this particular inoculation. It is up to owners to discuss this with the veterinarian and decide if there is enough wildlife near the home to warrant having the vaccine.

Sepsis - This refers to septic shock which is a severe infection in the body. Without treatment, it can cause acute kidney failure, liver failure and/or acute respiratory distress syndrome. Even with proper treatment, only roughly 40% of dogs survive.

There are many causes of sepsis, including prostatic infection, pneumonia and bacterial infection of the heart. However, with the Chihuahua breed, the one that owners will want to be concerned about is blood infection. This breed is highly susceptible to tooth decay. When a tooth becomes infected and is not treated, the infection can spread throughout the body, leading to sepsis.

As with many fatal diseases, this one - when due to dental disease - is preventable with proper at-home and professional dental care.

Extending the Life Expectancy of Your Chihuahua

Vaccinations - As you have read, a Chihuahua can be immunized against many of the diseases that are fatal to this breed. Never believe that a dog that is kept inside the majority of the time does not need inoculations. It only takes a moment of sniffing infected urine or a brief period of contact with an infected dog for disease to spread.

In addition, protecting your Chihuahua does not end with the round of puppy shots. Adults need boosters and this should be discussed with your dog's veterinarian.
Senior Chihuahua dogs often do not need boosters since the body has developed enough anti-bodies by the time a dog has reached the 9 or 10 year mark.

Safety First - Since trauma is the 2nd leading cause of death for this breed (16.8 %), a Chihuahua's life span can be drastically increased if safety precautions are put into place and followed by everyone in the household. Here are some tips for keeping your Chihuahua safe:

1) There should be a leash rule that dictates the Chihuahua is never off leash when outdoors. Even the most well trained dogs can suddenly dart off without warning. An otherwise obedient male may run away if he smells a female in heat (and he can sense this from mile away) and a female in heat may escape to find a mate.

2) Have a rule in place for the door. All it takes is a blink of an eye for a dog to dart outside when someone opens a door either to exit or enter the home. It can help to have household members knock before entering in order for someone to make sure the Chihuahua is not close enough to run out when the door is ajar.

3) Teaching your Chihuahua all basic commands, it may just extend his/her life span. While some dogs may be too focused on their goal if running away, many dogs can be stopped in their tracks with a loud and firm "Sit!" or "Come!". Shouting out a command to stop a dog from crossing the street may very well prevent that dog from being hit by a car.

4) Since being dropped or stepped on is a leading cause of death for this breed, it is important for all members of the family to understand that this is an 'under-the-foot' dog and that the dog somewhat fragile. It only takes a moment for a distracted owner to step backward onto a Chihuahua that was lying or sitting quietly behind him/her.

Children should be taught proper methods of picking up the dog and youngsters should be only allowed to carry the dog if they can handle this important task.

Always look around before walking, switch on dimmer lights at night if the Chihuahua has reign of the house and never hold your Chihuahua if you will be balancing and holding other things in your arms. This breed is a pro at wiggling out of his human's grasp.
Brown and tan Chihuahua dog
Proper Dental Care - As discussed above, with infection being the 3rd leading cause of death (10.5 %) and a portion of that being due to dental infections that spread throughout the body, proper cleaning and maintenance of the teeth is imperative. It only takes about 5 minutes per day to perform a thorough cleaning. 

Professional checkups should be done once per year; this will include a comprehensive examination for potential problems and a scraping of tarter at the gum line if needed.

Read more about Chihuahua Dental Care

Proper Feeding - What you feed a dog over the course of his life span has a direct impact on his/her health. While no dog can live forever, with heart failure being the leading cause of death for this breed (18.5 %) feeding a wholesome diet will keep the body - including the heart - in optimal shape.
You will want to be diligent not only about main meals, but snacks and treats as well. Read more about Feeding a Chihuahua
Appropriate Exercise - Along with a good diet, routine exercise will play a role in the overall health of the Chihuahua. Too much can put a strain on the body and during the puppy stage, affect growth plates. However too little will lead to a sedentary dog that does not receive the benefits of maintaining good muscle mass and blood flow. Read more about Chihuahua Exercise Requirements
Keeping regular checkups - don't make the mistake of only bringing your Chihuahua to the veterinarian when he or she is ill or has been injured. Yearly checkups are an important part of keeping a dog healthy and will essentially play a role in your dog's life span. The vet will be able to look for signs of potential issues and early detection plays a large role in effective recovery.

When a Chihuahua matures into a senior, twice per year checkups may be necessary.
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