How To Breed Chow Chows

How To Breed Chow Chows

Are you wondering how to breed Chow Chows? This dog breed is ancient and has a very appealing lion-like look, and an eye-catching mane. A beautiful puffy dog known for its loyalty in China, and loved in the West for its unique temperament and coat. Breeding Chow Chow dogs is rather straightforward since the breed has an overall good health, yet, some conditions are ramping up.

As a Chow Chow breeder, you must focus on getting rid of very common eye problems like glaucoma, but also morphological problems such as hip dysplasia. Make sure of your vet’s health screenings and DNA tests to only breed healthy Chow Chows.

Whether you are breeding Chow Chows occasionally, professionally, or just owning them, you must be aware of the breed’s grooming requirements. It is a hard-to-maintain breed because of its incredible coat: it looks amazing but requires tremendous regular upkeep. Brushing Chow Chows is a must-do, but you should also take care of their eyes, ears, and paws. If you have a busy life at work, Chow Chows may not be to go-to breed.

Background of Chow Chow Breeding

Chow Chows are perhaps misleading the general public with their irresistible puffy look; they are all over Instagram and rise in popularity every month passing. Decades ago, the breed was in the top ten in the United States but it’s not far behind. Things are getting better for the breed and they should climb up the ranking fast over the next years.

In spite of their outstanding appearance and physique, Chow Chows are not a toy breed, nor they are a designer dog. The breed is centuries’ old and has always been a versatile working dog breed used for tasks ranging from guarding to herding or retrieving. It’s a great all-round dog, clearly equipped for very cold weather. Think of Chow Chows as bears, or cats, they are cute and cuddly but do not necessarily enjoy crowds and strangers.

Chinese History

Chow Chow dogs are members of a very ancient and sacred dog breed. They are among the oldest identifiable breeds currently alive. Dogs looking like Chow Chows appear in paintings, sculpture, and pottery dating 200-300 BC or the Han Dynasty. There is some debate as to its exact entrance on the timeline and even where in China it was originally bred. Many breed historians think that the Chow Chow originated in Siberia and Mongolia. The Chows abundant coat and its close relationship to dogs like the Akita or Samoyed make writers conclude that it was bred for sled work and for a life in these harsh climates, and only then gradually migrated to Northern and Eastern China.

One recent study of the breeds DNA suggested an even older origin. This study concluded this breed, as well other Chinese indigenous breeds (e.g. Tibetan mastiff, Akita), goes back 8300 years and postulates a Southern origin along the Yangtze River rather than a Northern one. This study, also, concluded from an analysis of genes related to heart function that Chow Chows were used for sporting.

In China, Chow Chows have been a dog both at the head of the table and on the table. These dogs have been known in China as “puffy lion dogs”. They had a place of esteem as the guardian dogs of the Buddhist Temples. They were used for hunting, retrieving, and guarding. Do not get fooled by then cuddly appearance, Chow Chows have historically been working dogs. Lamaistic Buddhist monks bred blue Chow Chows. These dogs were used for important working activities like herding and guarding of flocks. Marco Polo was the first Westerner to write about them in the 13th century. Marco Polo encountered these dogs while in Tibet. He described their extreme loyalty to one master and their reservedness. Their almost innate ability to guard impressed Marco Polo. Historical records suggest, too, that Chow Chows were brought with the Mongols during their incursions into Europe in the 14th century. In spite of these dogs living as temple guards and being used by Emperors as gifts to foreigners, some of them, apparently, still may have ended up as an item of the Chinese diet. China passed a law in 1915 banning eating them.

phylogenetic tree chow chow breed
Genealogical tree of the Chow Chow breed in comparison to other ancient dog breeds.

Arrival In The West

Chow Chows were first brought to Europe in the late 18th century. The English sailors probably gave the dog the name “Chow Chow” which was an English version for the word, “curios” or “knick-knacks”. These dogs were among the many different items brought from China to England and so the bills of lading listed them among the other things in the cargo with the one label. However, some commentators think the breed’s name comes from a corruption of a Chinese slang word for food (since some of these dogs were eaten).

Into the next century, there was a fad in England and France for anything Chinese. These dogs grew in popularity. At one time, they were an exhibit at London Zoological Gardens as “one of the wild dogs of China“. Queen Victoria received a Chow Chow as a gift in 1865. She appeared to be taken by the dog. After this royal dog was well-received, the popularity of the dog in England continued to rise.

The Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1894. The first specialty club was formed in 1895. Chows were shown in the United States in 1890. It was recognized by the AKC in 1903. The parent club in the United States was formed in 1906.


The Chow Chow has a distinctive appearance. The dog looks every bit like what the Chinese had called puffy lion dog. The dog has a double-layered coat. There is a rough and a smooth type. Both types of coats have thick undercoats. In dogs with the rough type of fur, the fur around the neck is full and mane-like. The tail in the rough type is also heavily furred and feathered. The eyes are almond shaped and deep set.

As per the breed’s standard, Chow Chow dogs weigh on average 60 pounds and stand 18 inches at the withers. They have a square build. The dog’s stiff back legs give it its unusual gait. The coat colors include black, blue, red, cream, and cinnamon. The Chow Chow’s most unusual feature is its blue-purplish tongue (a trait it shares only with the Shar-Pei) and it is the only breed that has bluish flews. Chow Chows, in addition, have 44 teeth rather than the 42 of other dogs. These very distinctive traits were among the several that were used in a DNA study to trace back the dog’s origins.

Grooming Requirements

Chow Chows have two varieties of coats: rough and smooth. The rough-coated Chow is the one that most people are familiar with. It is the one that has the heavy fur around the neck that gives it a lion-like appearance. Chow Chow coats require a great deal of maintenance. They need to be brushed 3-4 times a week and a good job will require three kinds of brushes. A medium coarse brush should be used on the body, a slick brush on the legs, and a pin brush where hair is the longest. A thorough job should include grooming down to the skin in order to prevent matting. If regular grooming is not done, it may be necessary to use some dog conditioner to help tease out those layered mats that may have formed by careless or less than frequent brushing. These dogs are heavy shedders and frequent upkeep of their abundant fur will minimize the problem to some degree.


The Chow was very popular in 19th century’s England when all things Chinese were the rage and Queen Victoria owned one. Sigmund Freud had his Chow Chow named Jo-Fi with him during all his therapy sessions. The popularity in Europe was mirrored in the United States. President Calvin Coolidge owned a black Chow named “Timmy”. In the United States, the breed’s popularity continued its surge through the 1980’s. Martha Stewart owns several Chow Chows and they frequently appeared on her television show. Her dog named Gengis Khan competed at Westminster in 2012 and took the Best in Breed award.

The Chow made the top ten of all breeds in popularity in the 1980’s. Today it has fallen to 74th place in the United States. The Chow Chow has been cited as a popular breed of dog now in steep decline, mainly due to the proliferation of designer dogs and very eye-catching mixed breeds. All reasons for the Chow Chows decline aren’t completely known. The breed’s temperament probably has something to do with it. Chow Chows by nature want to guard their family. They will bond with one or two people and protect them. They have been described as cat-like in their personality. They are reserved and suspicious of strangers. This breed is not recommended for families with small children or for people who don’t understand the breed and aren’t willing to do the work of early obedience training with the dog.

Dog Bites

Another possible reason for the decline stems from a list that was compiled by the Center for Disease Control in the late 1990’s. The list attributed to Chow Chows 238 fatalities by dog bite from 1979 to 1998. Some insurance companies penalized homeowners who owned the breed by excluding coverage for damages caused by the breed. Also, some municipalities passed laws banning the breed. However, more recent lists do not have Chow Chows anywhere at the top.

How To Breed Chow Chows

Chow Chow breeding is generally not hard thanks to its overall good health. However, there are at times required c-sections mainly due to puppies that are too big to pass through the female’s birth canal. Puppies should always be handles with care and Chow Chows have a guarding instinct so behave accordingly during the first hours, and prove to the mother that you are no threat.

old chow chow in 1901 champion red craze
Photography of Champion Red Craze, a winning Chow Chow, which was born in 1901.

Average Size of the Litter

The average size of a Chow Chow litter ranges from 4 to 6 puppies. The litter size is slightly smaller on average than other dogs of similar size. Puppies tend to not be cuddly and should be handled carefully as they grow to prevent accidental bites. They are born with pink tongues which gradually darken at around the 8th or 10th weeks.


In a survey study of 150 different breeds of dogs published in 2010, Chow Chows had a large number of C-sections with a rate of 28.1 percent births by Caesarean section. This study did not identify the specific reason that the Chow Chows would have so many C-sections. The study did note that the most common reasons for all c-sections in dogs are dystocia during labor, the slowing of labor with ineffective contractions, or a difficulty because of some size disproportion in that the puppy could not fit through the birth canal. As a Chow Chow breeder, you must absolutely inform your vet as soon as the due date is approaching in case the c-section is required.

Common Birth Difficulties

One cause that is particular to the Chow Chow and a few other dog breeds is a condition called water puppies or walrus puppies. In this condition, one or more of a litter of puppies gets engorged in utero with fluid. The reason for the engorgement can be blood incompatibility with the dam or anemia. An infection in the dam or an autoimmune problem is also thought to be a probable cause. This engorged puppy is usually so large it does not even make it to the birth canal. The presence of one of these puppies blocks the passage of the rest of the litter. This necessitates an emergency surgical delivery. The water puppy usually cannot be saved. Some veterinarians have been able to alleviate the edema by giving the immediately whelped puppy a diuretic drug called, Furosemide (Lasix).

Coat Colors

The AKC sanctions five coat colors (solid black, blue, cream, cinnamon, red) but Chow Chows may, also, be found in white and gray. The Kennel Club breed standard includes white in addition to the other colors sanctioned by the AKC. Some other colors or combinations of colors are sometimes marketed by sellers as “exotic” in order to charge exorbitant prices for their puppies. One fad in China has been to dye the fur of Chow Chows in order to look like panda bears. The dye lasts approximately six months and is said to be harmless. Such practice may be ethically questionable to some.

Mating Problems at Coitus

Mating can be a particular problem for Chow Chows. There can be an excessive resistance of a bitch to one dog or another. This is usually due to shyness or aggression. Most breeders will not persist with a breeding attempt in this situation and fall back to artificial insemination. Another problem with natural breeding is the dog’s inability to successfully mount and tie with the bitch because of how the dog or the dog and the bitch are built. This problem has grown over the years because the dog’s physiology has changed. The massive fur, short legs, and box-like structure can all be impediments to natural breeding.

Bitches which are naturally bred or artificially inseminated without a resulting pregnancy may have fertility problems. Common health problems like primary hypothyroidism and autoimmune thyroiditis may cause infertility in dogs.

Breeding Concerns

It is recommended by major registries like the Kennel Club that dogs pass health assessments prior to breeding. These evaluations would include a general veterinarian assessment such as the Breed Council’s Bronze Health Scheme. Other tests for hip and elbow dysplasia and eye disorders should be negative. A genetic test for Degenerative Myelopathy is also available. Of course, any dog that is not in top fitness should not be bred.

Health Concerns When Breeding Chow Chows

Chow Chows are a relatively healthy breed to the exception of eye conditions which they are affected by quite a few in comparison to most other dog breeds. Because of their puffy face and abundance of fur, make sure you clean their eyes regularly using veterinary eye drops for example.

For the sake of comprehensiveness, we have listed below the health problems Chow Chow breeders should be aware of, especially when purchasing a new breeding dog. Health checks are a must for responsible breeding.

Eye Problems

Eye problems do crop up within the Chow Chow breed. Entropion is a common eye condition that is genetic in dogs. In this condition, the eyelid of the dog curls into the dog’s eyes. The eyelid causes inflammation of the eye and scratches the cornea of the eye. Obviously, this is a painful condition for the dog. Surgery remedies it.

Chow Chows are one of several breeds particularly prone to glaucoma. In this condition, the pressure in the eye or eyes builds up and restricts the fluid in the eye. This pressure and fluid buildup results in inflammation, redness, and cloudiness of the eye. If nothing is done, the dog will lose vision. About 40% of dogs treated for glaucoma still become blind.

Juvenile cataracts are another hereditary condition not uncommon in the breed. The cataracts develop when the dog is six to two years of age. They are visible on the eye and make the eye appear to be cloudy. There are two types, dissolving and non-dissolving. The dissolving type may be treated with cortisone drops. Non-dissolving must be fixed (95% success rate ) by surgery. Left untreated cataracts will impair the dog’s vision and they could lead to the development of glaucoma. Genetic testing exists eye problems in dogs.

chow chows corking dogs quote
Chow Chows are very loving and caring dogs, but they also are an ancient dog breed developed to work hard, guard, retrieve, and herd.

Digestive Problems

Diabetes in dogs is a condition in which the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin for a dog’s metabolism. Insulin is the hormone that moves blood sugar out of the blood and into the cells. As a result of this lack of insulin, blood sugar builds ups in the bloodstream. A dog with diabetes will have an increase in appetite but lose weight. The dog will drink a lot of water and need to urinate frequently. The urine may have a sweet scent. Overweight and older dogs are more likely to have diabetes. The disease, however, can strike at any age. Chow Chows as a breed are more prone to it. Left untreated diabetes can cause cataract, vomiting, and diarrhea. Treatment involves monitoring the blood sugar levels of the dog and giving replacement insulin (usually by injection). It is a lifelong condition but with veterinary management the prognosis for the dog is good and a normal lifespan should be expected.

Stomach cancer is rare in dogs, its general occurrence is around 0.1%. However, the rate of stomach cancer in Chow Chows is between 10-20 times higher. Studies are ongoing to determine the genetic links responsible for this almost always fatal disease. Symptoms of stomach cancer include vomiting, loss of weight, fatigue, diarrhea, black tarry stools, and loss of appetite. The prognosis is grim even with veterinary treatment.

Autoimmune Diseases

In autoimmune diseases, the body attacks its own cells. Normally, the mechanism of white blood cells is used against viruses and bacteria. When this same mechanism happens against a dog’s own cells some symptoms of disease will happen. There are many autoimmune diseases classified by what parts of the body are affected. Chow Chows are prone to many of them.

The most commonly seen in Chow Chows is pemphigus foliaceus. In this disease, the skin is the target of the autoimmune attack. Blisters usually start around the face and ears with the whole body being covered with sores eventually. The toe pads may crack. Diagnosis is made by a skin biopsy. The disease usually starts in middle-aged dogs.

Autoimmune thyroiditis occurs when the attack is on the thyroid. The thyroid then fails to produce enough thyroid hormone resulting in hypothyroidism. According to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, Chow Chows rank 105th for occurrence of the disease with an abnormal thyroid incidence rate of .7%

Other autoimmune diseases which occur in Chow Chows include Uveodermatological Syndrome, attack on the eyes, and Systemic Lupus Erythematosus which is a serious attack on various body organs. Lastly, discoid lupus is also occurring in Chow Chows and results in an attack on the dog’s skin.

Treatment of autoimmune diseases will be with some type of immunosuppressant drug therapy. Prednisone is a frequent drug used to treat especially the skin related autoimmune diseases or acute flares of a disease like SLE. Prednisone is an inexpensive drug and is usually the first drug employed to relieve the symptoms of the disease. Long-term use of drugs like prednisone can result in diabetes developing in the dog and an adapted diet would potentially help offset the drug’s repercussions.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is a common problem for dogs. It involves a malformation of the ball joint of the hip making it susceptible to osteoarthritis. Symptoms include difficulty in the dog getting up, a reluctance to engage in running, and lameness. Treatment usually involves anti-inflammatories which help with the symptoms.

The cause of hip dysplasia is thought to be genetic. Researchers believe it to be caused by more than one gene. In data collected by the OFA on 187 breeds between 1979-2017, Chow Chows ranked 34th highest in the incidence of hip dysplasia. Of the 5796 dogs examined, 21.2% had dysplastic hips and another 16.2% had equivocal evaluations.

Degenerative Myelopathy

The fatal disease, degenerative myelopathy, is thought to be caused by a recessive gene. That means both the dam and the sire must be carriers. Degenerative myelopathy symptoms usually begin in older dogs. The disease is much like the human disease, Lou Gehrig disease. A dog will begin to lose motor function and control of its bowel and bladder. The dog eventually will not be able to walk. There is no cure for it. A study of thirty-three dogs showed that 27% were carriers and the rest were at risk or affected.

Other Conditions

Other health issues found in Chow Chows are bloat and heart problems.

Bloat strikes broad-chested dogs. It happens when the stomach of the dog turns on its axis. This torsion of the stomach prevents blood flow to the intestines of the dog. Symptoms include retching and vomiting. Bloat is a life-threatening medical emergency. Bloat kills half the dogs it strikes even with medical intervention.

Pulmonic stenosis is a valve abnormality in which blood flow is impeded because of a narrow valve. Symptoms of this condition include fatigue and exercise intolerance. This heart condition can result in heart failure. It has been reported that up to 30% of dogs having pulmonic stenosis will have sudden death. Most cases are mild and no treatment is recommended. Surgery is usually successful but is reserved for only the most severe cases since the surgery itself is risky.

Future of Chow Chow Breeding

As the founder of Breeding Business, there are so many breeds I need to read about and know of, but very few that I truly have fallen in love with. Chow Chows are perhaps today my favorite or one of my favorite dog breeds of all times. I love cats and Chow Chows are somewhat the cats of dogs: they love their owners and they are cute and cuddly, but they also have boundaries. It’s not a breed for everybody but with behavioral training for dogs becoming more available than ever, I believe that Chow Chows will have a huge surge in popularity over the next years.

The recipe for success, in this day and age, is very simple. The breed must be atypical so it can quickly spread all over social medias with memes, quick videos, and photos. I think Chow Chows are more that excelling at being eye-catching and incredibly appealing to anybody’s eyes (or curiosity). But more than that, Chow Chows are not yet another designer dog or toy breed that is racing to be the smallest it can be. Chow Chows breeding is clean and loyal to its standard; all those breeders of Chow Chow puppies try their best to produce healthy pups that are able to work but also to be family dogs.

To conclude, I would not be surprised if within ten years, Chow Chows were back in the top twenty dog breeds in North America. This would be a huge jump from their current 74th position. With sudden popularity, buyers will have to decipher which Chow Chow breeders are to be trusted, and which are not.

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