What To Know About American Hairless Terriers


In this Article

  • Characteristics of American Hairless Terriers
  • Caring for American Hairless Terriers
  • Health Problems to Watch for With American Hairless Terriers
  • Special Considerations for American Hairless Terriers
  • History of American Hairless Terriers

American hairless terriers are the only hairless breed created in America. They’re members of the terrier group. 

These dogs are alert, energetic companions. They love spending time with their owners either out on short walks or curled up on the couch. Plus, their hairlessness makes them one of the best dogs for people with allergies. 

Characteristics of American Hairless Terriers

Body size. The American hairless terrier size is small to medium. The males and females are approximately the same sizes. 

On average, they range from 12 to 16 inches tall at the shoulder. Healthy dogs can weigh anywhere from 12 to 16 pounds. Talk to your veterinarian if you’re concerned that your dog is too far under or overweight.  

Body shape. American hairless terriers have rectangular shapes. They’re slightly longer than they are tall. They look strong and should be covered in smooth, flat muscles. 

They have muscular hindquarters and straight forelegs that end in compact, oval-shaped feet. 

Other American hairless terrier characteristics include broad skulls with slight domes on top. Their heads taper slightly towards the muzzle, which should be the same length as the skull. V-shaped ears sit on the skull’s outside edge. 

Their tails are thick at the base and taper towards the tip. The dogs hold them in slight upward curves when they’re alert or in motion. 

Lifespan. The American hairless terrier lifespan is good for their size. The dogs live an average of 14 to 16 years. This means that you should plan on at least a decade with your pet, especially if you adopt them when they’re still a puppy. 

Coats. There are two varieties of American hairless terrier, one is hairless and the other has a coat. Hairless puppies are born with a short, fine birth coat that falls out by the time they’re eight to 10 weeks old. After that, they’re completely hairless except for protective eyebrows and whiskers. 

Their skin is smooth and warm to the touch. The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognizes over 35 different colors in the breed including: 

  • Apricot
  • Black
  • Blue fawn
  • Chocolate
  • Lemon
  • Red
  • Seal
  • Lilac dilute

Their skin or coat can have eight different types of markings including: 

  • Piebald
  • Tan points
  • Brindle
  • Sable

The coated variety has a short, smooth coat. The coat grows densely and has a sheen when properly groomed. 

Eyes. The dogs have round, expressive eyes. The eye color depends on the dog’s coat or skin color. For the most part, the eyes range from dark brown to amber and hazel. Dogs with blue and blue fawn coats can have blue and grey eyes. 

Personality. The American hairless terrier personality is playful and inquisitive. They’re intelligent dogs that are very protective of their families. This, combined with their alertness, means that they’re fantastic watchdogs. 

They’re also moderately playful and highly affectionate with their loved ones. The AKC rates them a three out of five for playfulness and a five out of five for affection. 

The American hairless temperament should never be overly aggressive. On the other hand, they shouldn’t be too shy.

Caring for American Hairless Terriers

Grooming. Both the hairless and coated varieties of the American hairless terrier are easy to groom. You should brush the coated variety about once a week to help distribute oils and remove any dead hairs. Give both varieties a bath whenever they become too dirty for your liking. 

Check the ears of both varieties for debris and signs of infection. Clean them on a regular basis. Also, trim their nails on a regular basis and brush their teeth daily to complete your dog’s grooming routine. 

Feeding. Make sure that your pet has access to clean water at all times. 

Your American hairless terrier should be fed high-quality dog food. Try to find a brand that your pet enjoys. Make sure that the nutritional requirements are specific to their stage of life, including puppy and senior-specific foods. 

Always consult your veterinarian before choosing to make an at-home blend for your dog. Making your own food is a complicated process. You need to ensure that you’re meeting all of your dog’s nutritional needs. 

Also, be sure that you know what human foods are safe for your dog to eat before feeding them anything from your kitchen.

Exercise and mental stimulation. American hairless terriers have moderate exercise needs. A daily walk or time in a fenced-in yard will be enough to keep them healthy and happy. 

They were bred to hunt rodents. These skills can be put to use in canine sports like agility, rally, and obedience. 

They have intermediate mental stimulation needs. Training for sports or simply playing games with their humans are great ways to stimulate them both mentally and physically. 

Veterinary visits, medications, and immunizations. Your veterinarian is the best person to determine all of the vaccinations that your pet needs. In general, all dogs need a core set. 

This includes vaccinations for:

  • Canine parvovirus
  • Distemper
  • Adenovirus
  • Parainfluenza virus
  • Rabies

Vaccinations can begin as early as six weeks of age. Make sure to discuss non-core vaccinations with your veterinarian as well.  

Dosages for flea and tick medications are based on your dog’s weight. Use them when your pet needs them. Oral and skin-based applications are available from your veterinarian or other distributors.

Many of these medications can be effective against a variety of pests and parasites, so talk to your veterinarian to figure out the best one for you. These days, heartworm medication is also recommended year-round in all parts of the U.S.

Health Problems to Watch for With American Hairless Terriers

There are a number of health problems that can affect your American hairless terrier. Some are inherited while others can develop throughout their lifetime. Keep an eye out for these conditions and bring your pet to a veterinarian if you have any concerns. 

Common American hairless terrier health issues include: 

  • Patellar luxation. This is a common cause of lameness in dogs that’s due to problems with your pet’s knee joint. They could be born with it or develop the problem from an injury. The treatment will depend on how severe your dog’s condition is but could include surgery.
  • Hip dysplasia. This is where the ball and socket of your dog’s hip joint don’t develop properly. The bones grind against each other, eventually wearing down and making it difficult for your dog to move. Your veterinarian can evaluate your dog’s joints and see how likely they are to cause problems throughout your dog’s life. 
  • Hip necrosis. This is a degenerative hip condition that’s formally called Legg-Calves-Perthes disease. For unknown reasons, your dog’s upper thigh bone becomes brittle and can easily break. It usually occurs before your dog is a year old. Signs include pain and lameness in their rear legs. It’ll likely require surgery to treat. 
  • Diabetes. This is a metabolism disorder where your dog either can’t make enough insulin or properly use the insulin that they do make. This means that their bodies can’t properly regulate their blood sugar levels. Signs include increased urination, excessive thirst, and weight loss. Treatment includes daily insulin shots, diet, and exercise. 
  • Idiopathic epilepsyThis is a condition where your dog can have unexplained seizures. Try to keep your dog from injuring themself if they start to have a seizure and get them to the veterinarian as soon as possible. 
  • Allergies. Allergies to dust, mold, and pollen can make your dog’s skin itch. Symptoms usually appear within your dog’s first three years of life and can get worse each year. Your dog may rub their face, lick their paw, or develop frequent ear infections when they have allergies. There are many different treatment options depending on the extent and location of the allergies. 
  • Cushing’s diseaseThis is a hormonal condition that develops slowly. Early signs include drinking and peeing more than normal. Later signs include hair loss in the coated variety and the development of a potbelly. Whiskers and other facial hair could possibly fall out in the hairless variety. Treatment can be difficult but involves the use of medications. 
  • Thyroid problems. A common problem is hypothyroidism where your dog’s body can’t make enough thyroid hormone. Signs can include dry skin, behavioral problems, and hair loss in the coated variety, Whiskers and other facial hair could possibly fall out in the hairless variety. Your veterinarian should screen for this condition on an annual basis. Treatment is usually in the form of a pill to replace the hormones.
  • Primary lens luxation. This eye condition can cause your dog’s lens to loosen. This can create secondary complications. You should have your dog’s eyes examined regularly to detect any signs of eye problems. 
  • Deafness. This is a heritable condition, so pay attention to your pet when they’re young to see if they listen to you. Have your veterinarian check them out as soon as you notice any problems. The condition could be an ear infection that requires immediate treatment.  

Special Considerations for American Hairless Terriers

You need to be especially protective of the skin on your American hairless terrier. They can sunburn easily. Keep them protected with sunscreen or a layer of clothes whenever they’re outside for an extended period of time. They’ll also need clothes to protect them from cold weather. 

Also, although these terriers were bred to hunt rodents, the lack of coat leaves the American hairless terrier too vulnerable to hunt. Normally, their coats keep them safe from cuts and bites. You should only allow the coated variety to hunt rats and other rodents. 

On a positive note, the hairless variety is as hypoallergenic as a dog can get. They also rarely drool and only bark an intermediate amount of the time. 

American hairless terriers are fantastic with young children. The AKC rates them a five out of five for this trait. But they’re only moderately good with other dogs and strangers. They’re rated a three out of five for both of these traits. With early training and socialization, they can become a lot more comfortable with others.   

History of American Hairless Terriers

American hairless terriers are a natural offshoot of the rat terrier breed. Rat terriers are descended from feists, a type of terrier that’s named for their feisty temperaments. 

Feists were bred in England in the early 19th century in order to decimate the disease-carrying rat populations. Rumor has it that a single feist could kill 2,500 rats in a single day. 

British miners brought feists to America and crossed them to other breeds in order to stabilize the rat terrier bloodline. Possible dogs included in the breeding of the rat terrier include: 

  • Smooth fox terriers
  • Beagles
  • Italian greyhounds
  • Miniature pinschers

American hairless terriers were created from a spontaneous mutational event in the rat terrier breed. This means that the first American hairless terrier was born from rat terrier parents in a litter of normal rat terriers. The one hairless puppy had naturally occurring mutations that her parents and siblings didn’t have. 

This hairless puppy was born in Louisiana in 1972. She was adopted by Edwin and Willy Scott, who named her Josephine. Josephine had a number of litters throughout her life but most of her children looked like normal rat terrier puppies. She only made three other hairless dogs in her lifetime — two girls and one boy. 

These siblings were bred together to create litters of hairless puppies in 1983. This was the official start of the American hairless terrier breed. 

The breed received full recognition by the AKC in 2016. The dogs are moderately popular around the world. 

Show Sources

Photo Credits:

1. nickpo / Getty Images


The American Animal Hospital Association: “2017 AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines.”

American College of Veterinary Surgeons: “Canine Hip Dysplasia.”

American Hairless Terrier Club of America: “Breed Health.” 

American Heartworm Society: “Heartworm Medicine for Dogs.” 

American Kennel Club: “American Hairless Terrier,” “Diabetes in Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment,” “Official Standard of the American Hairless Terrier.”

Bridges Animal Hospital: “Rat Terrier.” 

Europetnet: “American Hairless Terrier.” 

UC Davis Veterinary Medicine: “Fleas.”

Veterinary Medicine: Research and Reports: “Patellar luxation in dogs.”

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