One of the main appeals for Chihuahuas among dog lovers is their tiny size.
They are small, energetic, and cuddly guardians that enjoy being held, lounging in your lap, and traveling with you.
If wolves are dogs’ closest genetic relatives, you might be asking why Chihuahuas are so small.
To answer this question, you’ll need a crash course in selective breeding, domestication, and genetics.
Don’t worry, these topics aren’t as incomprehensible as they appear and they are very interesting to consider for all animals, us humans included!
Domestication and Selective Breeding
Domestication is the process of converting a wild or feral animal into a tame, obedient pet.
In the case of dogs, humans domesticated wild wolves into hunting companions 12,000 years ago.
This process is not just a behavioral feat, but a multi-generational event that requires selective breeding.
Selective breeding is a process that occurs both naturally and is man-made.
We use it in plants and animals as well.
It entails deliberately mating two animals who have desirable traits together to create the animal that best suits their needs.
In the case of dogs, traits such as personality, facial structure, and size have been selected over the centuries to create the variety of dog breeds that exist today.
In the case of small dog breeds, scientists have pinpointed the exact DNA sequence, or gene, that connotes a small size known as the 1GF1 gene.
Humans who wanted smaller dog breeds as emotional companions would actively select for this gene by mating the smallest female and male dogs while sterilizing the larger offspring thereby increasing the number of 1GF1 genes in the gene pool.
Chihuahuas inherit their name from the Mexican state in which they originated.
The indigenous Toltec peoples selectively bred the now extinct Techichi dog breed to achieve the tiny Chihuahua breed we know and love today.
Techichis were double the size of Chihuahuas, so to achieve a smaller size, the smallest Techichis of each litter was bred to decrease their body size over the generations, with the first appearance of Chihuahuas on an official breed registry in 1904.
As opposed to selecting for large, ferocious hunters or herders, the Toltecs wanted a small, cuddly companion for emotional support.
I’m sure we can all relate to those motives!
How Small Are Chihuahuas?
Chihuahuas are the smallest dog breed on earth according to the American Kennel Club.
They range in height from 5-8 inches and in weight from 2-6 pounds.
Chihuahuas weighing 2-3 pounds are known as Miniature Chihuahuas and have gained increasing popularity on the pet market.
Health Effects Due to Chihuahuas’ Small Size
Due to their small size, Chihuahuas are prone to certain unfavorable health conditions.
Chihuahuas often have respiratory problems including, tracheal collapse and reverse sneezing.
They also have bladder issues that cause them to urinate quite often, so if you are a Chihuahua owner you should be prepared to give your pets many bathroom breaks.
For the same reason, Chihuahuas are difficult to potty train.
That said, their little accidents are so small that you can wipe them up with a single paper towel.
Other health conditions endemic to this tiny breed include:
- heart problems like patent ductus arteriosus and mitral valve disease
- eye disease
- loose kneecaps
Despite these health issues, small dog breeds have a desirable advantage over larger breeds in that they have longer lifespans.
Chihuahuas are no exception.
While their average lifespan is set between 14-16 years, most Chihuahuas live to be 18-20 years old.
Another advantage Chihuahuas have over larger breeds is their consumption size.
A small stomach means a smaller portion of food, and thus you spend far less each year on dog food (and dog poop bags) than you would with larger breeds.
So, why are Chihuahuas so small?
Well, in short, because our ancestors wanted a cuddly, sweet, and tiny companion!