Pet Care Blog

Havanese Breed Guide: Characteristics, History & Care Tips

Dr. Lila Batiari
Small Animal Relief Veterinarian
white havanese dog in meadow

The Havanese are known for their affectionate disposition, silky coat, expressive eyes, and signature plumed tail. Funny, affectionate, and clever, these cute pups were bred for the sole purpose of companionship. However, Havanese are more than just lapdogs; they love doing tricks and are highly favored for their trainability, as well as their ability to adapt to almost any type of environment.

Could it be the dog for you? Keep reading to learn more about Havanese’s physical traits, temperament, training, history, and more in order to make the best decision for your family.

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Pro Tip: No matter how much you care for your dog, there is always a chance they could get sick, injured, or swallow something they aren’t supposed to. Pet insurance is designed to help cover unexpected expenses in cases like these by reimbursing up to 100% of the cost of veterinary bills, depending on your plan and the services provided.

Havanese breed history

Although relatively new to the American Kennel Club (officially recognized in 1996), the Havanese is an old breed belonging to the Bichon family. It was developed in Cuba where its ancestors arrived from Tenerife in the 1500s.

In the capital of Cuba, Havana, the breed became very popular as a family pet, especially among the aristocrats. In the 18th century, the Havanese was brought to Europe and soon became a favorite among the British, French, and Spanish nobility.

The Havanese have been in the States since Castro’s revolution in 1959 when only eleven dogs were left. Most Havanese outside of Cuba today can trace their ancestry to these eleven Havanese pups.

Today, the Havanese are popular throughout the world. Famous owners of Havanese dogs include Ernest Hemingway and Charles Dickens. The breed is ranked 24th on the AKC’s list of most popular breeds.

Havanese characteristics

Physical appearance

The average weight of Havanese dogs is from seven to 13 pounds and their height ranges from 8 1/2 to 11 1/2 inches, which makes them “toy” size dogs. They have a sturdy body that is slightly longer than tall, drop ears, expressive eyes, and a tail curled over their back.

The Havanese are known for their long, soft double coat, which can be straight or wavy. In fact, they’re often called "Havana silk dogs" because the coat feels like silk. Havanese dogs come in many colors, including:

  • White
  • Black
  • Black & Tan
  • Black & Silver
  • Cream
  • Chocolate
  • Gold
  • Silver
  • Fawn
  • Blue
  • Red
  • Red Sable
  • Red Brindle
  • Gold Brindle
  • Silver Brindle
  • Black Brindle
  • Fawn Brindle
  • Blue Brindle
  • Chocolate Brindle
  • Black and Silver Brindle
  • Black and Tan Brindle
  • Gold Sable
  • Fawn Sable
  • Silver Sable
  • Chocolate Sable

Temperament and personality

Havanese dogs are affectionate, intelligent, and happy. They are quite active and prefer spending time with their owners, playing games, and learning new tricks.

The cheerful and outgoing Havanese temperament makes them an ideal pet for retired seniors and families. These energetic little dogs are good with children and other pets (especially non-aggressive ones). They enjoy outdoor activities and can easily adapt to any environment, as long as they’re able to be with their owners.

Generally, Havanese are good watchdogs but poor guard dogs because of their small size. Without proper training, some have been known to bark excessively.

Average lifespan

The average life expectancy for a Havanese is 14.5 years with the typical lifespan ranging from 13 to 16 years old. Females tend to live about a year longer than male Havanese.

These cute little dogs can live longer than their average lifespan with the right amount of care, proper exercise, and diet.

wet havanese dog playing with ball

Havanese care tips

Training and exercise

Many pet parents wonder, 'are Havanese smart?' and the answer is yes, they are very intelligent and eager to please. They are easy to train and respond best to positive methods. These cute little dogs can be quite sensitive, so early socialization is important in order to prevent them from becoming timid.

When it comes to exercise, the Havanese have moderate needs. Consider taking your Havanese on long daily walks or keep them entertained with playtime in the backyard. Although Havanese dogs are quite energetic, owners should take care not to go overboard with exercise. If you notice your pet is panting or struggling to keep up with you, that’s your signal to go home.

Diet and nutrition

In general, Havanese dogs should have about one-half to one full cup of dry dog food distributed into two daily meals. Some members of the breed can be prone to getting overweight, so pet parents should avoid giving their Havanese dogs human foods and leaving out food for free-feeding. Treats should be given in moderation.

Be sure to ask for a vet's recommendation specific to your pet.


Havanese requires daily combing and brushing to avoid tangling and matting. Many pet parents choose to have their pet's coat clipped to a short trim in order to reduce grooming time. Professional grooming might be required from time to time.

The Havanese also require occasional baths. Be sure to check their ears and remove excess wax and debris on a regular basis. Clean the corners of the eyes every day to prevent tear stains.

Living with a Havanese dog

Being toy breed dogs, the Havanese do well in both apartments and houses, but they’re not happy if left alone for hours at a time.

The Havanese is a perfect family dog but owners should make sure they have enough time to attend to their training, grooming, and exercise needs.

black and white havanese dog

Common Havanese health problems

Some health problems in dogs are more prevalent in certain breeds than others.

In general, the Havanese are healthy dogs, but just like other breeds, they are prone to certain hereditary health issues. Some of the most common health problems that can occur in Havanese dogs include:

  • Hip dysplasia. While this condition most commonly affects large breeds, it is also very common in Havanese dogs. It has been known to cause pain and lameness. They are also prone to developing elbow dysplasia.
  • Patellar luxation. Like many small dog breeds, the Havenese can suffer from loose kneecaps. Deafness is often a congenital condition in this breed.
  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid glands). This is a relatively common endocrine disorder in dogs that causes bodily functions to slow down. Symptoms include weight gain, lethargy, weight gain, skin changes, etc.
  • Cataracts, especially in older members of the breed. A cataract is abnormal cloudiness of the eye caused by a change in the lens. It’s one of the most common causes of vision loss in dogs.
  • Allergies. The Havanese are prone to skin allergies caused by pollen, grass, and fleas.

Pro Tip: Havanese pet insurance is the best way to address the common genetic issues that affect this breed. If you are looking for pet insurance for your Havanese, Pawlicy can help you compare leading providers side-by-side and make the best choice for your beloved pet.

Adopting or buying a Havanese dog

If you’re interested in adopting a Havanese, start by checking your local rescue groups and animal shelters for pups in need of a home. There’s a number of rescue groups in the US that provide resources and references to help you find a Havanese, such as The Havanese Club of America and Havanese Rescue.

Consider also looking into similar breeds, such as Maltese, Bichon Frise, Papillon, Coton De Tulear, and Bolognese.

Key Takeaways

  • The Havanese is a friendly and cheerful breed. Although they’re highly energetic and enjoy playing around in the backyard, they can be just as happy simply spending time with their beloved owners.
  • These cute little dogs don’t require much space and can adapt to nearly any type of environment. However, they do need daily grooming in order to prevent their coat from tangling and matting.
  • If you’re looking for the perfect companion dog, the Havanese might be a great choice for you and your family.

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Dr. Lila Batiari, DVM

Dr. Lila Batiari
Small Animal Relief Veterinarian

Lila Batiari, DVM is a relief veterinarian located in San Diego, California. She has a special interest in nutrition, pain management, and surgery! Dr. Batiari enjoys working with Pawlicy Advisor to help others avoid everyday situations that some of her clientele experience. She realizes that expensive vet bills for treatment costs could be much easier for patients with pet insurance.

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