Chow Chow

Autumn Madden, DVM
Written by:
Published: October 25, 2022
Chow Chow

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Chow Chows are one of the oldest dog breeds. Historians have pinpointed the Chow Chow’s origins to China’s Han Dynasty, which stretched from about 200 BC to 220 AD. They later gained popularity in Europe and became one of Queen Victoria’s favorite breeds.

Chow Chows have had many jobs over the years, including guarding, cart pulling, and hunting. The non-sporting breed is easily identified by a blue-black tongue, squished-face, droopy eyes, upright ears, and body folds. With these features, plus their deep historical roots and independent personality, Chow Chows are a truly unique breed.

Caring for a Chow Chow

With a squished-faced nose, thick fluffy fur, and curled tail, the Chow Chow invites cuddles and affection. However, this regal breed would prefer if their space was respected.

Chow Chows might be aloof and wary of new people and other pets, but with early socialization they can be more welcoming. Chow Chows are very intelligent and stubborn, traits that don’t make them ideal dogs for first-time pet parents. But they are watchful over the people they love, and their adaptability makes them wonderful companions.

Chow Chow Health Issues

When considering a Chow Chow for a pet, it may be beneficial to consider pet insurance and budget for any medical issues that arise. These diseases are more likely to occur in the breed: 

Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is caused by a deformed hip joint, which can lead to gait abnormalities and arthritis. Depending on the severity, hip dysplasia can be treated with medication for pain management or with surgery.

Elbow Dysplasia

Similar to hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia is typically seen in younger dogs when the elbow doesn’t fuse properly. It can cause arthritis as the dog ages.  

Patella Luxation

Patella luxation is a condition where the knee joint becomes loose. Cases can be mild or severe, and it’s most commonly genetic in origin.

Autoimmune Thyroiditis

This is a condition where the body’s white blood cells attack the thyroid gland, resulting in hypothyroidism.  

Diabetes Mellitus

Diabetes is a condition in which a dog is unable to regulate the metabolism of sugar, resulting in weight loss, lethargy, increased drinking and urination, and dehydration. Dogs need insulin injections to help manage diabetes.  

Cataracts

Cataracts are characterized by opacity of the eye’s lens. Chow Chows can have a genetic predisposition for cataract development. It can also be secondary to diabetes mellitus. 

Entropion

A common eye abnormality in dogs, entropion is when the eyelid rolls inward. The constant rubbing of eyelashes against the cornea can cause irritation and damage to the cornea.  

Distichiasis

This is a second eyelash disorder where one or more rows of eyelashes are turned toward the eye, causing irritation.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is increased pressure in the eye that can be painful to dogs and lead to blindness. It can be inherited or caused by diabetes mellitus.  

Stomach Cancer

Stomach cancer (or gastric carcinoma) is not a commonly reported disease process in dogs—it’s actually less than 1% of all cancer diagnoses. But Chow Chows are at an increased risk, and it’s suspected that this condition has genetic origins. Some common clinical signs of stomach cancer include:

  • Decreased appetite

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Blood in stool

Gastric Torsion

Gastric torsion (GDV), or bloat, is a life-threatening disorder where the stomach will fill with gas and rotate. If you notice your Chow Chow is trying to vomit but cannot, is unable to keep down food or water, unwilling to eat or drink, straining to defecate, or having a rounder appearance, take your dog to a veterinarian immediately.

Heart Defects

Chow Chows can experience abnormalities in heart valve function or issues with electrical signals that the heart needs in order to function.

Pemphigus Foliaceus

Particularly seen in rough-coated Chow Chows, pemphigus foliaceus is a common autoimmune skin disease where the body attacks the bonds between keratin cells (a protein found in skin, nails, and hair). This typically starts around age 4, and clinical signs may include hair loss and crusting around nose and ears. 

Considerations for Pet Parents

When looking for a Chow Chow puppy, it’s important to make sure the parent dogs have been genetically tested for hip, thyroid, knee, and eye problems, and that the results of these tests are recorded with the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or PennHIP and Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF), respectively.

If you are adopting a Chow Chow from a rescue or shelter, it’s unlikely that these pets have been registered, but always ask for all available health information on your dog. It’s also important that your new pet is examined by a veterinarian within the first two weeks after coming home to make sure they’re healthy.

What to Feed a Chow Chow

Chow Chow Special Nutritional Considerations

Chow Chows can have skin, coat, and joint issues. It may be beneficial to talk to your veterinarian about what joint supplements and omegas to add into their diet to keep your Chow Chow healthy. Joint supplements with chondroitin and glucosamine can be beneficial to keep joints healthy, and omegas have anti-inflammatory properties.  

How to Feed a Chow Chow

Because Chow Chows have an increased risk for gastric torsion, multiple meals a day should be provided, regardless of age. As an adult, a Chow Chow can benefit from being fed at least twice a day. Your vet can provide guidance on how much and how often to feed your Chow Chow.

Nutritional Tips for Chow Chows

Chow Chows do not require a lot of activity. Most dogs of this breed are comfortable with a few 20-minute walks a day. But their laid-back lifestyle makes them more susceptible to obesity and the additional health issues associated with it, such as diabetes, glaucoma, and arthritis.

Because of this, it’s important not to overfeed your Chow Chow. Following the feeding recommendations on the side of an Association of American Feed Control (AAFCO)-approved diet in conjunction with veterinary recommendations will help reduce the likelihood of obesity.   

Behavior and Training Tips for the Chow Chow

Chow Chow Personality and Temperament

Chow Chows are intelligent, stubborn, and watchful over their family. In a family unit, a Chow Chow will typically have one person they are especially close with. They are not cuddly dogs and appreciate when their space and boundaries are respected. If they want attention, they’ll let you know. 

Chow Chow Behavior

Chow Chows are smart dogs, which means they’re susceptible to boredom. To help make training successful, keep sessions short and creative. Training requires patience due to their stubborn nature.

Chow Chows typically do not care for strangers. However, a lot of socialization starting at a young age can help make them more comfortable when meeting new people and animals.  

Chow Chow Training

When looking for a Chow Chow trainer, they should be certified through a reputable program. Chow Chows respond to clicker training and positive reinforcement techniques such as play, praise, and food.  

Fun Activities for the Chow Chow

  • Fetch

  • Hide and hunt

  • Treibball

  • Walks

Chow Chow Grooming Guide

Chow Chows have two different coat types: smooth and rough. Both types shed heavily twice a year.  

Skin Care

Regular bathing and grooming your Chow Chow may be needed to help maintain healthy skin.  

Coat Care

Smooth-coat Chow Chows require brushing once a week. Rough-coat Chow Chows require grooming every other day.

Eye Care

A Chow Chow’s long hair around the face has the potential to get into the eye and cause irritation and infection. Regularly scheduled trips to a professional groomer can help remove some problem hairs from the face. Because Chow Chows can have hair issues around the eyes, if your dog is squinting, has green or yellow eye discharge, experiences swelling, or if there are significant changes to the eye, take them to a veterinarian as soon as possible for treatment.  

Ear Care

Chow Chow ears are erect. While any dog can develop ear infections, they are less likely than their floppy-eared counterparts. After your dog gets wet (whether from a bath or a swim), it can be helpful to use an ear drum-friendly, self-drying ear cleaner to remove water from the ear canal. It’s best to talk to your veterinarian about which products they recommend and the best technique for regular ear cleaning.

Chow Chow FAQs

Is a Chow Chow a good family dog?

With lots of socialization and training, Chow Chows can be good family dogs. Chow Chows tend to do better in families where children are older. They typically have one person at home who’s their favorite, but they will watch after the entire family.  

Are Chow Chows smart dogs?

Chow Chows are very intelligent, which can make them challenging dogs to train. Their smarts mean they’re likely to get bored with training, so short (but fun!) training sessions can be helpful to keep them engaged.

Are Chow Chow dogs rare?

While you might not find a Chow Chow at the dog park, the breed is not considered rare.

Are Chow Chow dogs lazy?

Chow Chows may not require as much activity as active breeds like the Border Collie, but they are not lazy. They need a couple of 20-minute walks every day, but Chow Chows are not made for long, rigorous amounts of activity.

Chow Chows are more likely to overheat because of their thick coats, so short spurts of exercise are better for them. In addition to physical activity, Chow Chows require mental stimulation to help keep them engaged in activities.

How are Chow Chows different from other dogs?

Chow Chows are very distinctive looking thanks to their fluffy coat, blue-black tongue, and wrinkles.

Featured Image: iStock/Iurii


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