Chow Chow

PetMD Editorial
Written by:
PetMD Editorial
Published: October 16, 2008

The Chow Chow is a curious looking breed with a scowling expression and a unique black tongue, which came to be known as the "Wild Dog of China." After spending centuries in China and England, it was brought over to America, where it is has since been greeted as a devoted and protective dog.

Physical Characteristics

The Chow Chow dog is a squarely built, sturdy, and powerful Arctic-type best suited for various tasks including hunting, herding, protecting, and pulling. Its coat can be of the rough or smooth variety, both of which have woolly undercoats to insulate against the cold weather. The common colors for the breed are red (light golden to deep mahogany), black, blue, cinnamon, and cream.

The typical straight angulation of the Chow's rear legs account for a stilted and short gait are a well known feature in the breed. Another essential characteristic of the Chow is its black tongue and scowling expression.

Personality and Temperament

The stubborn and independent Chow Chow is reserved, dignified, and even regal at times. Although it is good with household pets, it can be hostile towards other dogs or suspicious of strangers. The Chow is also devoted and protective of its human family.


The Chow Chow enjoys being outdoors in cool weather, but it should be kept as an indoor pet in dry and arid, or hot and humid regions. This need to be indoors also stems from its craving for human attention and interaction.

The rough coat type requires brushing every other day, or daily during periods of shedding. Meanwhile, the smooth-coated Chow only needs brushing once a week. The Chow Chow also loves short play sessions throughout the day, or casual evening or morning walks.


With an average lifespan of 8 to 12 years, the Chow Chow dog breed may be prone to minor health concerns like elbow dysplasia, gastric torsion, elongated palate, stenotic flares, glaucoma, distichiasis, persistent pupilary membrane (PPM), and cataracts, or serious conditions like entropion, canine hip dysplasia (CHD), and patellar luxation. The breed may also be susceptible to renal cortical hypoplasia. To identify some of these issues, a veterinarian may run hip, elbow, and eye exams.

History and Background

The Chow Chow dog breed is thought to be 2,000 years old -- perhaps even older. Because the Chow shares certain features from the Spitz -- an ancient wolf-like breed -- it is believed the Chow is either a descendant of a Spitz ancestor or a progenitor of some Spitz breeds, but the true origin of the dog may never be known. It was, however, common in China for many centuries and may have served as a hunting, pointing or birding dog for nobles.

The breed's numbers and quality declined soon after the imperial hunts stopped, but some pure descendents of the early Chow were kept by the aristocracy and in monasteries. Some have also theorized that the breed provided food and fur pelts in Mongolia and Manchuria. Its black tongue is among the Chow's most unique characteristics, and many Chinese nicknames for the dog are based on this feature.

When the breed was finally introduced to England in the late 18th century, it was given the Chinese name Chow Chow. The name, which comes from a word meaning assorted curios and knick-knacks from the Oriental Empire, was applied to the breed because the dogs were written into the ship's cargo load as curios when brought to England.

The breed gained much fame again when Queen Victoria took a fancy to the Chow Chow. And by 1903, it had entered the United States and was granted breed status by the American Kennel Club. The noble appearance of the breed attracted dog fanciers, but it was not until the 1980s that its popularity soared in America, becoming the sixth most admired breed.

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