Japanese Chin

Anna Cherry
Dr Anna Cherry (BSc Hons, BVSc, MRCVS, University of Liverpool)
Photo of adult Japanese Chin

The Japanese Chin is a small breed of dog that is renowned for its elegance, cheerful personality and impressive silky long coat. Today, this breed is a lot smaller than its ancient ancestors and bears a striking similarity to the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (CKCS), which is believed to have been one of the breeds used in its development in the UK.

The Chin is also an amiable breed that is fun and gentle, making it an excellent child’s companion. They easily integrate into the family setting, getting on well with other family pets and any dogs they meet whilst on their adventures. They are sociable, affectionate and love to be around people, loyally following their owner around the house.

This pint-sized companion makes the perfect lap dog, loving nothing better than to snuggle down into a nice warm lap. In fact, historically, they are believed to have graced some of the finest laps of the Chinese Aristocracy and the Japanese Imperial Family, who had a soft-spot for this adorable breed.

About & History

Contrary to its name, the Japanese Chin is believed to have originated from China, where it was thought to have been popular amongst the Chinese Aristocracy. There is confusion surrounding how this ancient breed arrived in Japan, with some linking them to Zen Buddhist teachers; others believe a Korean Prince introduced them and some texts cite that a pair were gifted to the Japanese Emperor from the Chinese Emperor.

After their arrival in Japan, the Chin soon became the breed of choice for the Japanese Imperial Family, who used them as lapdogs. If rumours are to be believed, they were also used for decorative purposes and some of the tiny ones were kept in hanging bird cages, which is unthinkable today!

This breed is speculated to have been developed from the Tibetan Spaniel, as well as being closely related to the Pekingese. In later years, it is believed that the Chin was mixed with other toy spaniels (e.g. CKCS), by breeders in the UK, to achieve a smaller version.

Around the 16th century, this breed was introduced to Europe and, in 1888, was given recognition by the American Kennel Club (AKC). Since then, this breed has become increasingly popular as a cherished companion all over the world.


Japanese Chin Large Photo

The most striking features of the Japanese Chin is its profuse silky long coat and oriental features. Their single coat tends to stick out slightly from the body and especially around the frill of their neck and shoulders. This cutesy breed has an adorable baby-like face and are often described as having an ‘astonished’ expression, due to the exposure of part of their whites in the corners of their large wide-set eyes.

They have a large wide head and small floppy v-shaped ears, which they carry slightly forwards and are covered with long silky fur, giving the illusion that they are longer than they are. Because they are a ‘brachycephalic’ breed, they have a flat-faced appearance due to their short muzzle and slightly undershot lower jaw. Their nose is slightly upturned and is on the almost the same level as their eyes.

Their body is compact, square-shaped and covered in dense silky fur, which can be white and red or white and black. Their tail is carried high and curled over their lower back so that their long fur cascades down each side. Finally, they have well-feathered small cat-like feet that make them exceptionally agile and are often described as having a ‘stylish’ and ‘lively’ gait when on the move.

Character & Temperament

The Japanese Chin is a sprightly and dainty breed that is gentle, sensitive and affectionate, making it a wonderful and trusted child’s companion and family pet. They are loved by all and will love all, getting along famously with other family pets, dogs and people in general. With their cheerful and happy predisposition, this breed is a pleasure to spend time with.

The word ‘chin’ means ‘cat-like’, which is befitting given this breed’s tidy and clean nature and desire to the look their best at all times. They can also be ‘fussy’ eaters, which is another trait that may have inspired this feline reference.

Besides curling up on your lap, this playful breed will delight in a boisterous play session and enjoy a ‘minute of madness’ when they tear around the house. Their natural agility and cat-like elegance means they can be excellent climbers, so don’t be surprised if you find your Japanese Chin perched up high.

They are also loyal and affectionate and will adore your company, wanting to stay close by you at all times – becoming your ‘furry shadow’. However, this dependency also means that they can be anxious when left alone and are a breed that is predisposed to severe separation anxiety.


Photo of Japanese Chin puppy

The Japanese Chin is a smart little dog that can be mischievous at times and benefits from training. Because they love to learn, they quickly pick up new tricks, house training and commands, making them a moderately easy breed to train.


The Japanese Chin is predisposed to a number of health problems, mainly caused by their conformation and include:

Eye Problems

Due to the protrusive nature of the Japanese Chin’s eyes, this breed is prone to getting corneal abrasions and eye infections. They are also predisposed to developing Kerato-Conjunctivitis Sicca (KCS) (also known as ‘dry-eye’), which is caused by the inadequate production of tears.

Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS)

Like other brachycephalic breeds, they are susceptible to developing BOAS. This is due to the air-flow through their upper-airways being impeded by their conformation. Despite having a shorter more compact skull, they often have the same amount of soft-tissue as a dog with a long muzzle – it’s just squeezed into a much smaller space.

This extra soft tissue can physically obstruct their airways and over time, lead to secondary anatomical changes arising, due to difficulties getting enough air into their lungs. This further exacerbates the condition and depending on the severity of the signs, many individuals will need surgery to help manage this condition long-term. Those affected by BOAS may experience difficulties with breathing, excessive snoring, exercise intolerance, collapsing episodes and go on to develop secondary heart problems.

Heart Problems

This breed is predisposed to Mitral-Valve Disease (MVD) and often develop heart murmurs. Over time, this condition can lead to Congestive Heart Failure (CHF), as the heart struggles to pump as efficiently as a healthy heart would.

Heat Intolerance

Dogs only sweat through their paws and instead use panting as their main mechanism of cooling down. Due to their brachycephalic conformation, the Japanese Chin can struggle to effectively cool down due to their ineffectual panting, making them vulnerable to quickly overheating, which can be life-threatening. Therefore, it’s vital to keep the Japanese Chin out of the sun during warm and hot weather to avoid them getting heat stroke. Exercise should also be moderated during hot weather.

Patella Luxation

This is a congenital condition that many small breeds, like the Japanese Chin, can be predisposed to. It is linked to the development of a shallow patella-groove (this is where the knee-cap (patella) usually sits on top of the thigh bone), which allows the kneecap can to become easily displaced outside of this groove. This can hinder the movement of those affected, and because this is a progressive condition, over time, it can lead to the kneecap sitting permanently out of position. The excess movement in and out of the groove can also damage the cartilage and bony structures, resulting in early-onset osteoarthritis.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Due to the Japanese Chin’s small size, it is relatively low-maintenance in terms of exercise. Daily play sessions and a small 30-minute walk daily is perfect. This breed can happily live in a flat or apartment and do not require a garden. However, they still love to go out and about and should be taken outdoors for a walk every day.


The Japanese Chin has a single coat, which is silky, straight and of reasonable length – it is their crowning glory! To keep this beautiful coat free from any matts or tangles, they need to be groomed twice to three times weekly (more frequent grooming may be required when they are shedding), preferably using a bristle brush. Particular attention should be paid to the fur behind their ears, which is prone to matting.

Due to their dense fur around their ears, it’s a good idea to clean their ears regularly. This will help keep them free of wax, dirt and prevent infections.

Famous Japanese Chins

Famous followers of this enchanting breed, include Sharon Osborne, who until a few years ago owned a Japanese Chin called Maggie.


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