Japanese Chin

Published Nov. 8, 2023
tricolor japanese chin standing in grass

In This Article

General Care

The Japanese Chin is a compassionate and energetic breed that makes an ideal indoor companion. This breed is known for having silky fur, a broad head, a short muzzle, and widely spaced eyes. Standing only 8–11 inches tall and weighing no more than 11 pounds, Japanese Chin are the perfect lap dogs.

The breed name is a misnomer, according to the Japanese Chin Club of America (JCCA), as the breed is often cited as originating in China—though the true roots of this ancient dog are murky. But it is known that Japanese Chin were kept by Buddhist monks and gifted to nobility, becoming common sights in Imperial palaces, according to the JCCA.

Caring for a Japanese Chin

Japanese Chin dogs are extremely affectionate, fun-loving, and playful. Often described as cat-like, according to the JCCA, these dogs can be found lounging on the back of a couch or arm of a chair, much like a feline. But they’re still canines, and they love going on walks through the park and performing tricks for their humans.

Japanese Chin do require some upkeep thanks to their long fur, but their single-layer, silky coat is fairly easy to comb. Brushing your pup once or twice a week, along with as-needed baths, will keep your Japanese Chin looking their best.

Japanese Chin Health Issues

red and white japanese chin dog standing in front of a door
Photo credit: Adobe/jenngarcia

The average Japanese Chin lifespan is 10–12 years. Make sure to research Japanese Chin breeders before bringing home a puppy. This breed can be predisposed to a handful of health issues, and working with a responsible and ethical breeder can help ensure your dog is healthy. Pet insurance might also be a good idea for this breed.

Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome (BAS) 

Japanese Chin are flat-faced (brachycephalic) dogs. This means they can experience brachycephalic airway syndrome, which results in difficulty breathing due to their anatomy. Japanese Chin may snore, snort, breathe heavily, gag, or cough more often than breeds with longer muzzles. This condition also makes Japanese Chin highly sensitive to warm temperatures and susceptible to overheating.

Take special care in humid or hot weather, limiting exercise to cooler times of the day. Obesity can make BAS symptoms worse, so keep your Japanese Chin dog at a healthy weight. Corrective surgery to widen the nostrils or trim your dog’s soft palate (the section of the roof of the mouth that separates the nasal passage from the oral cavity) may be recommended in severe cases.

GM2 Gangliosidosis

Similar to Tay-Sachs disease in humans, GM2 gangliosidosis is a fatal, inherited disease that has only been found in the Japanese Chin breed. This disease causes the nervous system to lose function, leading to incoordination, intention tremors (violent shaking of the head), loss of vision, difficulty eating, and altered behavior. 

The first symptoms are typically observed when a Japanese Chin is 12–18 months of age. The disease progresses rapidly, leading to a poor quality of life. Humane euthanasia is usually pursued within a year of the symptoms’ onset. This disease is preventable if breeders genetically test their breeding line for the disease and dot not breed dogs that have the genetic mutation in their DNA.

Luxating Patella

Patellar luxation is when your dog’s kneecap moves (luxates) out of place, most often due to the shallow groove in the femur. There are varying degrees of kneecap luxation, with the most severe requiring orthopedic surgery. 

A reputable Japanese Chin breeder will have their dogs evaluated for patellar luxation before breeding to make sure only those without this medical condition are used for breeding purposes.


A cataract is a cloudy lens within the eye. Small cataracts are only visible with the aid of an ophthalmoscope, while large cataracts can be easy to see, as the pupil will look completely white. The larger the cataract, the more significant the loss of vision.

Japanese Chin can develop cataracts as young as 4 years old. Cataracts are usually hereditary, so breeders should not breed Japanese Chin with a family history of cataracts. Surgery to remove the cataracts and restore eyesight is a treatment option.


Entropion is when the eyelids roll inward toward the eye. The fur on the eyelids and the eyelashes then rub against the surface of the eye (the cornea). This is a very painful condition that can lead to corneal ulcers.

Entropion is usually diagnosed in Japanese Chin puppies. Thankfully, this condition can be corrected with surgery. Dogs with a history of entropion should not be bred.

This breed can be predisposed to a handful of health issues, and working with a responsible and ethical breeder can help ensure your dog is healthy.


Distichiasis is an inherited condition that causes extra eyelashes to grow on the eyelid, which are pointed towards the eye. These extra lashes can rub against the surface of the eye, causing irritation and sometimes corneal ulcers. To prevent this condition from being passed down to future generations, it’s best to breed Japanese Chin without a history of distichiasis.

Heart Disease

Myxomatous mitral valve degeneration (MMVP) can develop in some Japanese Chin. MMVP refers to the degeneration of the mitral valve, which is between the left atrium and left ventricle.

The leaflets that make up the valve become deformed, which prevent them from opening and closing completely. This allows blood to flow backwards into the left atrium (mitral regurgitation), leading to the development of a heart murmur that can be detected during a routine physical exam. 

If this condition progresses, symptoms may include coughing, lethargy, and respiratory distress. Heart medications can be prescribed to help slow the heart disease and delay congestive heart failure.

What To Feed a Japanese Chin

black and white japanese chin puppy sitting in front of yellow flowers
Photo credit: jhorrocks/iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

It’s important to feed your Japanese Chin a high-quality dog food that meets the nutritional standards set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). This food has gone through rigorous testing and contains the proper amount of nutrients

Talk with your veterinarian to choose the best food for your Japanese Chin puppy and dog. Their daily diet should consist of 90% dog food formulated for their age and no more than 10% treats.

How To Feed a Japanese Chin

Based on the Japanese Chin’s small body frame, it’s best to feed this breed three times a day (morning, midday, and evening) to prevent hypoglycemia.

Japanese Chin puppies under 1 year of age should be fed a small-breed, high-quality puppy formula, as this diet is higher in calories to allow for proper growth. Once a Japanese Chin turns 1 year old, no further growth will occur and their diet will need to be slowly transitioned to a small-breed, high-quality adult dog food. Talk to your vet about when to switch your Japanese Chin to senior dog food. Some senior diets start at 8 years of age, while others should be given at 12 years or more.

How Much Should You Feed a Japanese Chin?

Follow the feeding guidelines on your AAFCO-approved dog food packaging to find guidance on how much to feed your dog. Talking to your veterinarian will give you even better information, as a vet can tailor their feeding recommendation specifically to your dog, based on their weight, health, life stage, and lifestyle. 

Measure the food for each meal to ensure you are feeding your Japanese Chin the proper amount.

Nutritional Tips for Japanese Chin

Japanese Chin should receive all essential nutrients in their AAFCO-approved dog food, so they shouldn’t need supplements. However, sometimes your veterinarian will recommend a supplement for your dog, as needed. Never give your pup a supplement without veterinary guidance. 

Behavior and Training Tips for Japanese Chin

Japanese Chin Personality and Temperament

red and white japanese chin dog with a blue british shorthair cat
Photo credit: Adobe/oksix

Japanese Chin are very affectionate to their family members, though they can be reserved around people they do not know. It’s important to enroll your Japanese Chin puppy in socialization classes at an early age (before they’re 12–16 weeks old) so they can grow accustomed to new people, other dogs, and novel experiences.

Though they’re generally good with children, interactions between kids and Japanese Chin should always be supervised. This breed is so small that they can accidentally be injured during play.

While Japanese Chin were bred to be palace companions, don’t assume they are content sitting on the couch all day. These pups have a moderate amount of energy and need a short walk every day, as well as playtime in a fenced space. Thirty minutes of exercise a day is enough to keep this breed happy.

Japanese Chin Behavior

Japanese Chin can display separation anxiety, as these people-oriented pups prefer to be around their family members. It’s important to train them at an early age so they are not anxious when left alone. This can be done through crate training.

Chin are not known to bark a lot, but they will let their family know when there’s a stranger nearby or if they hear an unknown sound. They also don’t tend to dig.

Japanese Chin are very affectionate to their family members, though they can be reserved around people they do not know.

Japanese Chin Training 

Japanese Chin are very intelligent dogs, but this doesn’t mean they’re always a breeze to train. The JCCA says these pups give off “an air of serenity and superiority.” Pet parents need to use positive reinforcement training methods in short sessions that are made to be fun. Japanese Chin need treats and praise to keep them interested in learning.

But once you have their attention, Japanese Chin are easy to house train and can learn fun tricks.

Fun Activities for Japanese Chin

  • Learning new tricks

  • Short, daily walks

  • Spending time with family

  • Snoozing on the back of a couch

Japanese Chin Grooming Guide

Japanese Chin are known for their silky fur that’s feathered on the ears, tail, and backs of the legs. There are a variety of coat colors, but the most well-known is the black-and-white combination. 

Skin Care

Japanese Chin do not require special skin care, but talk to your vet if you notice changes in your dog’s skin.

Coat Care

Despite their luxurious appearance, Japanese Chin are considered low maintenance when it comes to their grooming needs. Their fur should be brushed once or twice a week to prevent tangles, and a bath may be needed monthly (or whenever your Chin looks a little dirty).

Eye Care

Like many dogs, Japanese Chin can develop tear stains. Gently cleaning their eyes with a warm washcloth or dog-safe face wipe can remove staining.

Because Japanese Chin can be prone to eye problems, monitor your dog’s eyes for changes such as redness, cloudiness, or discharge. Talk to your vet if you have concerns.

Ear Care

Japanese Chin are not as prone to ear infections as some other dog breeds; however, this isn’t a guarantee that infections will never happen. Clean their ears with a veterinary ear cleaner every two to three weeks (and always after a bath) to keep their ears clean and minimize the risk of an ear infection.

Considerations for Pet Parents

Japanese Chin are great dogs, even for first-time pet parents. They don’t require a ton of exercise or grooming, their small size makes them easy to travel with, and they are very loving to those who care for them.

They can live well in an apartment or house, with or without a fenced backyard, as long as they get a daily 30-minute walk to meet their exercise needs. When socialized as puppies, Japanese Chin also get along well with kids, cats, and other dogs, making them ideal family pets.

However, Japanese Chin are so attached to their people that they can develop separation anxiety when left alone for long periods. Always be conscious of how long your dog has been left alone and give your pup toys to entertain themselves with when you’re gone. Japanese Chin do best in a family of homebodies or with people willing to take their dog with them on outings.

Japanese Chin FAQs

Are Japanese Chin cuddly?

Yes, Japanese Chin love to spend time and cuddle with their family members. This breed is very affectionate and can often be found napping on laps.

Are Japanese Chin dogs good pets?

Yes, Japanese Chin can be great dogs, including for first-time dog parents. They generally are healthy dogs that interact well with children and other pets if they receive proper training early on. They also are easy to travel with due to their small size and do not require much exercise. 

Can Japanese Chin be left alone?

Japanese Chin can develop separation anxiety. When you bring home your Japanese Chin puppy, crate train them and help them get used to being left for short bursts of time.

What’s the difference between a Japanese Chin vs. a Pekingese?

The small stature and flat face of Japanese Chin make them look a lot like another Asian breed: the Pekingese. According to the JCCA, the two dogs were once considered the same breed before the Pekingese breed was further developed.

There are differences between Pekingese and Japanese Chin:

  • The Japanese Chin has a thinner coat compared to the doubled-coated Pekingese.

  • The Pekingese has long fur around the neck and shoulders, which makes them look like they have a mane. The Japanese Chin’s fur is longest on the ears, tail, and backs of the legs.

  • The Pekingese stands slightly shorter than the Japanese Chin, at 6–9 inches, but they typically weigh a bit more (up to 14 pounds).

Featured Image: Adobe/Dogs

Michelle Diener, DVM


Michelle Diener, DVM


I live in Raleigh, North Carolina. I obtained by BS degree in Biology at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2000 and my DVM degree at NCSU in 2006. I have...

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