What to Know About a Xoloitzcuintli

Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on May 12, 2022

An ancient breed with the name of an Aztec god, Xoloitzcuintli (pronounced show-low-itz-queentli), is sometimes called a Xolo (show-low) for short, or a Mexican hairless dog. Evidence of the Xoloitzcuintli can be traced back more than 3500 years to indigenous peoples of Mexico and Central America, including Mayans and Aztecs. The name Xoloitzcuintli is derived from the dog-headed Aztec god Xolotl. Xolotl was a god associated with the underworld, lightning, and death. Aztec mythology holds that a Xoloitzcuintli led the souls of the dead into the underworld. Xolo's association with death and the afterlife might make you guess that Xoloitzcuintlis are fearsome dogs, but nothing could be further from the truth. Xolos are cheerful, playful dogs who form loving bonds with their human families.

Are you wondering if this age-old dog of the Americas is the right fit for your family? Read on to learn what you should know about Xoloitzcuintlis.

Characteristics of a Xoloitzcuintli

Xolos have a lot of variations. While the Xoloitzcuintli is associated with a hairless dog, there is also a coated variety. Coated Xoloitzcuintlis have a thin coat of short fur, typically in darker colors like black or brown. Hairless Xolos come in almost every color possible — black, bronze, gray, palomino, and more — and can have a wide variety of spots or markings. Both coated and hairless Xoloitzcuintlis have very minimal shedding.

A Xoloitzcuintli typically has large bat-like ears that stand upright, but floppy ears are also possible. Skin thickness can vary, but Xolos are more likely to have tough, thick skin than many other hairless breeds. Due to their tough skin, Xolos are relatively injury resistant, especially compared to other hairless breeds.

Xolos are often very warm and are sometimes referred to as a "hot water bottle." Some indigenous peoples believed that Xoloitzcuintlis had mystical healing properties, and many Xolo owners feel that their dogs instinctively know when they're in pain or comfort and act as a heating pad by snuggling close.

Xoloitzcuintli size. Xoloitzcuintlis come in three distinct sizes:

  • Toy — between 10 and 14 inches tall and between 10 and 15 pounds
  • Miniature — between 14 and 18 inches tall and between 15 and 30 pounds
  • Standard — between 18 and 23 inches tall and between 30 and 55 pounds

Xoloitzcuintli temperament. Xolos are typically calm, gentle dogs who are very loyal to their families. Xoloitzcuintlis like to play but generally are serene house dogs, frequently comfortable lounging around the house. While they can be reserved around strangers, they're not typically shy or aggressive.

Xolos are very alert and will bark to bring something to the attention of their owners, but they don't typically bark incessantly. They can make good watchdogs but aren't the best guard dog because of their reluctance to engage with strangers.

Xoloitzcuintli traits.  Overall, these dogs are:

  • Loyal
  • Calm
  • Intelligent
  • Alert
  • Protective
  • Even-tempered

Caring for a Xoloitzcuintli

Coated Xolos only need to be brushed minimally due to their short, thin fur. A coated Xoloitzcuintli is a very low-maintenance dog. An occasional bath, nail trim, and ear cleaning are sufficient. 

Hairless Xolos can require additional skincare. A Xoloitzcuintli can get acne. Acne breakouts are most common in a puppy 12 months old or less. Wiping down your Xolo with a wet cloth can help remove dead skin cells and excess oil and keep pores clear. If acne is severe or persistent, ask your veterinarian about using an astringent.

Use a light moisturizer formulated for dogs on your hairless Xolo after bathing. Apply sunscreen if you plan to be outside for long periods, especially if your Xolo is light-colored. It's best to pick a veterinarian-approved sunscreen without zinc oxide or salicylates for your Xolo, as these ingredients can be dangerous for dogs. 

Don't over bathe your Xolo.  Their natural skin oils protect them from the sun and insects. 

Xoloitzcuintlis are typically very clean dogs who groom themselves regularly and don't tend to drool. Like all dogs, Xolos need their teeth brushed two to three times a week as well as dental checkups at a veterinarian's office once or twice a year. 

Xoloizcuintlis have moderate exercise needs and do well in apartments, especially the smaller toy and miniature varieties. The larger standard variety can benefit from a fenced yard but doesn't need to go on long runs daily. Like most dogs, Xolo puppies need more exercise than adults and can be destructive if they're not getting enough physical stimulation.

Xoloizcuintlis don't have unique nutritional needs. Unless directed otherwise by your veterinarian, you can choose any high-quality dog food appropriate for your Xolo's size. Commercial foods, as well as homemade foods approved by your veterinarian, are appropriate. Like all breeds, puppies have different nutritional needs than adult dogs and need foods formulated for puppies or for "all ages and stages."

Xoloizcuintlis are easy to train and housebreak, but they need structure and consistency in their training.

Xoloitzcuintli Health Issues

Xoloitzcuintlis are a hearty, healthy breed with few breed-specific health problems. An average Xoloitzcuintli lifespan is a robust 13 to 18 years. Some health screenings recommended for Xolos include:

  • Cardiac exam (all sizes)
  • Patella evaluation (miniature and toy)
  • Hip evaluation (all sizes)
  • Ophthalmologist evaluation (all sizes)

A reputable breeder should be able to give you a detailed health history of your dog, including the results of these standard health tests. 

Hairless Xoloitzcuintlis may be missing teeth, but this is a genetic trait. There's a link between hairlessness and missing teeth. Missing teeth are unlikely to cause health problems. 

Xoloitzcuintli: Special Considerations

Xoloitzcuintlis are allergy-friendly. Many people who have allergic reactions to dogs can own a hairless Xoloitzcuintli. This isn't universal, so if an allergic reaction is a deal-breaker, try to spend some time with a Xolo before bringing one home.

Xoloitzcuintlis have a high prey drive. Small animals are likely to be chased by a Xolo. A Xoloitzcuintli's prey drive can be mitigated somewhat by regular exercise. Still, a Xolo might not be the best fit for households with small animals like rabbits, guinea pigs, or hamsters. 

Xoloitzcuintlis command attention. Whether you love them or hate them, hairless Xoloitzcuintlis get attention wherever they go. Xolo owners often remark that they get frequent questions about the breed. Many Xolo lovers relish this opportunity to share their pup's rich, myth-filled history, but if you prefer to have alone time when you walk your dog, you may want to bring some headphones.

Xoloitzcuintlis are pack oriented. Xolos love to feel like they're part of a community. They often get along well with other dogs and can be a good family dog for families with children. As with all dogs, an adult should supervise all interactions between small children and Xolos to protect both the children and the dog. While Xoloitzcuintlis appreciate living in a group, they can be wary of people and animals they don't know, so be prepared to spend time patiently introducing your Xolo to any new family members, pets or people.  

Xoloitzcuintli History

Indigenous peoples revered the dogs (though some reports say some indigenous societies also ate them). Still, conquistadors fed on them so frequently that the breed almost became extinct. Interbreeding with dog breeds brought over from Europe further endangered the Xoloitzcuintli bloodline, and Xolos were only found in remote areas by the early 19th century. Mexicans revived interest in Xoloitzcuintlis during the 1910 Mexican revolution as interest in indigenous Mexican culture rose, and 40 years later, a team of dog experts searched remote areas of the countryside for breeding dogs to renew the Xolo population.

Today the Xoloitzcuintli is a popular-culture icon. From the paintings of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera to the cartoon Xolo, Dante, in Pixar's animated feature Coco, Xolo popularity has exploded over the past century. Mexico City's Museum of El Carmen hosted an entire exhibit on the cultural significance of Xolos starting in 2019, and the Xoloitzcuintli is the national dog of Mexico.

Show Sources

Photo Credits:

1. All the rights for presented photos are my own. / Getty Images


American Kennel Club: "10 Things to Know About Xoloitzcuintlis," "The Many Versions of a Xoloitzcuintli," "What to Expect When Caring For a Xoloitzcuintli," "Xoloitzcuintli," "Xoloitzcuintli History: From Death to Resurrection."

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: "Dog Grooming Tips," "Pets and Sunscreen: Don’t Get Burned by the Myths!"

American Veterinary Medical Association: "Pet dental care."

Online Nahuatl Dictionary: "Xolotl."

Xoloitzcuintli Club of America: "Buyer's Guide 101," "XOLOITZCUINTLI – The (Not Really) Unpronounceable Breed."

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