Shih Tzu Information and Health Problems
Welcome to our Shih Tzu information page. Is this dog breed the right one for you? Are you caring for one right now? The information here might be a big help for you.
Shih Tzu Characteristics
The Shih Tzu is one of the oldest dog breeds. It has been around for many centuries originating from the Tibetan Plateau. This ancient breed was actually first developed in China and is otherwise known as the Xī Shī quǎn, which translates to Xi Shi dog. The name literally means “lion dog.” Due to the general cuteness of this breed people find it difficult to understand why ancient Chinese emperors called them that.
Here are a few important stats about the Shih Tzu breed:
- Origin: Tibet and China
- Year recognized: 1969
- Date of origin: within the 17th century
- Purpose: show dog, companion dog
- Group: toy class, toy dog
- Maturity: 1 year towards adulthood
- Popularity: 3rd most registered dog in the AKC, 17th most registered dog in the world
- Litter size: 1 to 8
- Colors: all colors are permissible and there are Shih Tzu’s with multiple colored coats. Most common coat colors include grey, white, black, white, dark brown, light brown, and gold.
- Lifespan: average lifespan is 12 years but often live anywhere from 10 to 15 years.
Shih Tzu Size
The Shih Tzu is classified as a toy dog. It weighs anywhere from 4 kg (9 lbs.) to 7.25 kg (16 lbs.) when it is fully grown. The females will be slightly bigger than males.
Males usually weigh 8.8 lbs. to 16.0 lbs. or 4 kg to 7.25 kg. Females on the other hand weigh 8.8 lbs. to 15.7 lbs. or 4 kilograms to 7.10 kilograms.
There isn’t much of a difference when it comes to height range. Both males and females range from 7.9 inches to 11.0inches or 20 cm. to 28 cm. in height.
A dog’s personality will specifically differ from one to another. However, the Shih Tzu does have some general temperaments that can be easily observed.
Shih Tzu’s are usually very affectionate and loyal. They may even appear to be overprotective and possessive of their humans in the presence of other dogs. You will also notice that they are quite alert and outgoing. They are fun to have in the family and home.
Now, of course a Shih Tzu can be used as a watch dog as well. They are very alert to their surroundings but were not bread for this particular purpose. They generally prefer to be close to their companions (i.e. other dog friends and humans) rather than socializing with strangers.
They can tend to be temperamental towards larger dogs and other dogs that are nervous or hyper. Nevertheless, Shih Tzu’s are usually well behaved and are suitable for families and households with other pets.
The Shih Tzu was bred as companion dogs for royalty back in the 17th century. That means they were intended for indoor living without much activity even though they can be quite active at times.
However, just like any dog, this breed requires at least some exercise every day. They need to be active in order to release any stored up energy. It is recommended that they live indoors with a yard to run around in from time to time.
Studies have shown that if you do not allow them some exercise each day they can develop undesirable behaviors. For instance, they may bark excessively if kept indoors all the time.
It is advisable to walk them for 20 to 25 minutes. Studies have shown that your Shih Tzu may require at least two walks each day to keep it in optimal health keeping the walk at a brisk pace.
Make sure to take a break halfway through each walk. Give them a drink of water during these short rest periods. You can take them out for a walk at the beach or allow them to run through the fields.
You can also play games when you’re outside. A lot of owners have observed that their Shih Tzu’s prefer playing fetch with a small ball (e.g. tennis ball) over other games.
Shih Tzu’s have an aristocratic demeanor about them but they can have a stubborn streak just like any other dog, which makes a slight challenge to training. They don’t get into a lot of trouble, which makes their stubbornness quite forgivable.
House Breaking and Crate Training
Crate training your Shih Tzu is part of house breaking your pet. You don’t need a lot of space since your toy dog doesn’t require it—but get a crate that is big enough for them to turn around in and stand up straight. There should also be enough ventilation on all 4 sides.
Training Tips and Ideas
You need to work with your Tzu’s stubbornness. Be patient if they don’t obey from time to time.
Here are a few training tips:
- Make going inside the crate a rewarding pleasant experience
- Always keep your Tzu in the crate when you sleep
- Don’t make them go inside as a punishment
- Puppies need to eliminate every 20 to 30 minutes outside
- Adults can hold it in much longer—you’ll know they want to go if they sniff, scratch, and squat a lot. You can establish a schedule when your pet gets older.
- Praise for good behavior and then reward immediately (there should be only 1 to 2 seconds in between praise and reward )
- Use healthy and tasty training treats, you can also use a clicker when you train
- Shih Tzu’s react best to positive reinforcement—punishment style training doesn’t show much promise.
- Make sure to repeat and be consistent with your commands when you train. Be generous with your praise when your Shih Tzu does the right thing.
There are several theories when it comes to the origin of this dog. Some people believe they are a cross between the Lhasa and Pekingese Apso breeds. These were breeds given to Chinese emperors from the Dalai Lama at the turn of the 17th century.
Dogs during this time were selectively bred and they are usually depicted in many Chinese paintings. Shih Tzus were prized by Chinese royalty for many years. They rarely gave them away, traded them, and they vehemently refused to sell them.
The first Shih Tzus to reach foreign lands were those that were exported to Norway and England back in the 1930’s. They were classified as Apsos by the Kennel Club.
The Shih Tzu Club of England was later formed in 1934. In 1935 a new standard breed was created. These dogs were called the Shih Tzu. This dog breed spread throughout Europe after World War II. However it wasn’t officially recognized until a few years later.
The Shih Tzu was officially recognized by the UK Kennel Club on May 7, 1940. However, challenge certificates were only issued beginning in 1949. By the mid-1950s US troops brought these dogs to other parts of the world and was then recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1969. This was the time when the Shih Tzu was officially classified as a toy dog.
There is no single dog breed that is completely immune to disease and illness. However, each breed will be susceptible to certain types of medical conditions. This vulnerability is usually carried through the bloodline of each breed and is passed on through centuries.
Shih Tzu’s have some serious health issues and the guidelines that you will find below will help you prepare for them. That way you can know what to keep an eye on since early detection is a big step on the road to recovery.
Here are the health issues that you should watch out for in your Shih Tzu:
IVD stands for Intervertebral Disk Disease. This is a condition that is quite common in dogs that have shorter legs and longer backs. IVD is commonly observed among basset hounds, beagles, as well as in Shih Tzu’s.
When IVD occurs, a disc on the dog’s back slips and rubs hard against the spine. This condition can occur in Shih Tzu’s even as early as 2 years old.
Its symptoms include:
- weakness in the limbs
- muscle spasms
Sadly, if left untreated IVD disease can lead to paralysis. IVD is usually treated using medicine, which includes anti-inflammatory drugs as well as muscle relaxants. A lot of rest will also be recommended by your vet. Surgery may be recommended in severe conditions of IVD disease.
Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome
This is a name given to a breathing condition that usually occurs to smaller dogs. The breathing issue is related to their body structure.
Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome actually includes several issues that can cause breathing problems for dogs.
The conditions include the following:
- Issues with the trachea (e.g. collapsed trachea, smaller trachea)
- Collapsed larynx
- Elongated soft palate
- Stenotic nares
It has been observed that 50% of all Shih Tzu’s have airway syndrome have both stenotic nares (we’ll go over this in detail a little later) as well as an elongated palate.
Each of the above mentioned conditions can contribute or cause some form of airway syndrome. Some dogs have 2 or 3 of these conditions. And when that happens their breathing can be severely impeded.
In the case of stenotic nares the nostrils of the dog are pinched which also keeps the nasal passage narrow. In some cases the cartilage in the neck tends to get weakened which leads to a collapsed trachea.
The following are the symptoms of Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome:
- Trouble breathing
- Noisy breathing
- Gums and lips turn blue
- Loss of consciousness
The symptoms may get worse after the dog has exercised. Some dogs of this breed may be born with these conditions but the symptoms will only occur later in life. Symptoms usually appear any time within the range of 1 to 6 years of life.
How is Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome treated?
- Do not use leashes on your Shih Tzu, but you should use a collar instead when you go out for a walk.
- Limit the time and type of exercise that your dog will have
- Your vet can also prescribe certain medications to help reduce certain symptoms
- Surgery may also be recommended by a vet especially when there is more than one contributory condition
Hip dysplasia is a joint disease that is degenerative in nature. It is actually an abnormality in the ball and socket joint of the hip. This condition is where the ball joint slips and falls out of place.
Most of the time, if a dog has hip dysplasia, it means that the dog was born with it. In many instances it is actually a genetic disease. In other cases the dislocation and weakening of the joint is due to other factors. Either way, the surrounding tissues of the problem joint tend to develop abnormally. This development occurs as the puppy grows older. This abnormal growth affects how the bones in the problem joint are held together. They tend to move apart instead of staying together.
In some cases the condition develops as early as 4 of 5 months after the birth of the Shih Tzu pup and the condition can be diagnosed that early. However, this condition is degenerative and the symptoms sometimes become more evident later in the life of your dog.
Here are the symptoms of hip dysplasia in Shih Tzu dogs:
- Loss of muscle tone
- Intermittent stiffness in the legs
- A narrowed stance
- Mobility trouble
- Trouble or difficulty getting up
- A funny or odd walk
How is hip dysplasia treated?
The treatment for this condition may include the following:
- Medications for the pain and swelling
- Food supplements
- Controlled play and exercise
- Weight management
The word patellar is the medical term for a dog’s knee cap. This is another bone condition that occurs more frequently in Shih Tzu and other toy dog breeds. It occurs more frequently in dogs that weigh less than 25 pounds. However, it should be noted dogs of any size can develop this condition.
In simple terms, when a patellar luxation occurs the knee cap of a dog slips out of place. Your dog could have been born with this condition or it could have developed in time.
Take note of the following symptoms:
- Walking on 3 legs (the dog actively reduces the amount of stress on the affected knee to relieve pain).
- Raising of the affected leg when standing or even when lying down (again this is a tell-tale sign that your dog is in pain)
What is the treatment for this condition?
In minor cases of patellar luxation your vet may prescribe anti-inflammatory medication as well as enough bed rest. If the condition is more severe, then your vet may prescribe steroids. With the help of medication the symptoms may go away and your dog’s health will improve within 3 weeks.
Some light exercises may also be recommended for rehabilitation. In severe cases your vet may suggest surgery. A prognosis will then be made after the operation.
There are other medical conditions that are associated with this breed such as hypothyroidism, eye issues, and other forms of breathing problems. Please check with your vet for specific related diseases not mentioned here.
How To Care For Shih Tzu
You should shovel a path outside when it is snowy so your dog can eliminate. You should make the cleared area as large as possible. Limit the time you spend on the snowy ground.
Don’t use ice melt chemicals where your Shih Tzu will be walking in the snow. It can affect their delicate paws. There are specialized ice melt products you can use on the areas where dog may roam around.
Speaking of winter, you may want to get your Tzu some winter doggie shoes in case you need to go outside. You should also get some nose balm to keep their nose from drying due to the cold dry winds.
Summer Time Care
When playing outside, your dog should always be supervised. Even if you’re only going out for 15 to 20 minutes, there should be someone looking out for your dog.
Remember that Shih Tzu’s and the heat of summer don’t mix well. Don’t take your dog out for a walk when the temperature outside reaches anywhere from above 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29.4 Celsius) and higher.
Any time you notice that your Shih Tzu is panting heavily or seems to be acting confused you should take immediate action. Take your dog to a cooler place and give it plenty of water to drink. Any extremes in temperature, whether it is too cold or too hot, is bad for a Shih Tzu.
Caring for an Immobile Dog
If you are caring for a rescued dog or one that has been crated for an extended period of time, you should expect some form of muscle atrophy to have taken place. In such cases you should work closely with your vet and follow any instructions given to you.
This will help to put your Shih Tzu back on track. Exercise and play time should start slowly. Gradually increase the duration and intensity of the activities. Exercises, stretching, and some massage may help with rehabilitation.
Snorting and Snoring
Sometimes you will notice that your Shih Tzu will snort or even snore during sleep (well, they make funny snorting noises too when they’re awake). Some of it is normal but there are times when it is an indication of a health condition.
It is common for your Shih Tzu to snore at night and snort from time to time. This is due to their smaller nasal cavity and smaller parts of their heads. However, when your dog’s snorting and snoring becomes more frequent it may mean any of the following:
- Its palate is swollen
- There may be an obstruction
- Weight gain
In such cases you should take your Shih Tzu to the vet as soon as possible.
Nutrition and Feeding for Shih Tzu
Feeding your Shih Tzu with healthy and quality meals is essential to keeping them healthy and to ensure a long and happy life. You can opt for home cooked meals or you can purchase specially prepared formulas for small dogs.
Some of the great and wholesome food options that you can include in your Shih Tzu’s meal include the following:
- Brown rice
- Whole yogurt
- Cottage cheese
- Baby carrots
- Sugar snap peas
- Sweet peas
- Green beans
- Sweet potatoes
- Lean beef
- White chicken meat
There are foods that you should avoid feeding to your dog. They include the following:
- Xylitol (artificial sweetener)
- Fruit pits and seeds (some of these can be fatal)
- Macadamia nuts (can cause paralysis and tremors)
- Salt (feed only small amounts or else it can cause kidney issues)
- Coffee and caffeinated drinks (can cause comas, seizures, and death)
- Onions (destroys red blood cells)
- Chocolate (causes seizures, coma, and death in small dogs)
- Grapes (causes kidney trouble)
- Raisins (causes kidney trouble)
How do you choose the right food formula for your Shih Tzu?
Here are a few guidelines when you’re in the market for food for your Shih Tzu:
- Choose food formulas that have ingredients that are easily digestible (check list of wholesome foods above)
- The serving should be specifically sized for smaller dogs
- Check the list of added supplements (e.g. omega 3 and 6, antioxidants, probiotics, chondroitin, glucosamine, etc.)
- All natural preservatives included—usually a vitamin blend that helps preserve the quality of the food. Other natural preservatives include green tea extract, rosemary, and spearmint.
- Wholesome and all natural foods—this includes human-grade meats, grains, whole grains, healthy fats, and veggies. You can also choose to put your dog on a grain-free diet.
Coat Color and Grooming
The coat of a Shih Tzu can come in a variety of colors as mentioned above. The coat is typically straight and it is described as being hypoallergenic. They do not shed as much as other breeds. The coat requires a good amount of brushing and regular baths.
Take note of the following schedule:
- Face and eye wiping should be done on a daily basis
- Coat brushing can be done every 1 to 3 days depending on the length of the coat
- Baths can be given every 3 weeks
- Nails need to be trimmed every 6 weeks
- Touch up body wiping should be done as needed
- Paw and nose care should be done depending on the season of the year
Children and Other Pets
Shih Tzu’s are generally safe around children and other pets. They can be over protective of their human family when they are around other dogs – especially large breed dogs.
Rescue Groups and Breed Organizations
There are number of rescue groups and breed organizations especially dedicated for the Shih Tzu breed. They include the following:
You should check with your state to find out which kennel club or rescue organization is dedicated to small dogs or for Shih Tzu’s specifically.
Fotografiert und zur Verfügung gestellt von Tanja Tepe Shih Tzu from Chinese Paradise [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]