The Shih Tzu is quite the dynamic toy dog. They have one of the oldest lineages of all dog breeds in existence (and a history which is deeply rooted in Chinese royalty) and yet still remains similar to even their earliest depictions. The actual name Shih Tzu translates to ‘little lion’ which most likely derives from the fact that they have ‘manes’ around their face.
They’re an adorable breed filled with spunk and energy, and think extremely highly of themselves. However they’re not dignified to a fault and instead of arrogance, this little dog is simply happy and confident in their own skin. The Shih Tzu breed’s entire existence is to love and be loved and make wonderful companions for any home.
Shih Tzu’s are known for their longevity as they live on average anywhere from 10-16 years. Even though they are traditionally a pretty healthy dog breed, Shih Tzu’s are prone to a few health issues. It is important to understand these issues so that you can look out for symptoms and help keep your pup healthy.
If there’s one common thread between the range of Shih Tzu health issues, it’s that their eyes can fail. Keratitis is an inflammation of the cornea which can eventually result in an ulcer. In the case of a corneal ulcer, your Shih Tzu will often need to undergo surgery. Unfortunately, Keratitis does indeed cause blindness if the condition is severe enough.
Another eye-related disorder, this occurs when the eyeball actually dislodges from the socket and the eyelid shuts behind it. It’s incredibly painful, often time requires surgery, and can indeed cause blindness.
Often the first symptoms begin with an inflammation of the eye, and overtime you’ll be able to notice the your dog’s eye begin to move forward. Thankfully, there are surgeries available for this condition.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)
This disease occurs when the photoreceptors in the back of the eye begins to fail. At first it begins with night blindness. Your Shih Tzu will have a hard time navigating in the dark, and often seem clumsy.
As it progresses, it begins to affect their daytime vision as well. In most cases, PRA will eventually lead to complete blindness. While there’s no treatment available for this condition, veterinarians can diagnose it years before blindness ensues, which allots a reasonable amount of time for the dog to adapt to the blindness.
With these three conditions in mind, be sure to always be keen on the way your Shih Tzu’s eyes develop. If they’re ever red or swollen or if you notice your dog itching them frequently, it’s best you take your pup to see a veterinarian so they can diagnose the problem. Many eye-related problems have to be caught early in order to be fully repaired.
Hip Dysplasia is one of the most common conditions that affect dogs in general. Usually it’s seen in bigger dogs that grow too quickly into their bodies, but it can also occur in smaller canines like the Shih Tzu.
Hip Dysplasia can occur in Shih Tzu’s because they love to jump around, particularly in their youth. Often they overestimate their capabilities and land too hard, causing an injury that develops into Hip Dysplasia years later.
It affects the hip joint, and creates a displacement between the joint and thigh bone. Hip Dysplasia varies in degrees of severity, and often the dog will walk with a bit of an abnormal gait and joint paint but live a completely healthy life.
If it’s bad enough, this issue can require surgery. Symptoms include an abnormal gait, lameness in the leg(s), difficulty walking or moving the leg, and at worst immobility.
Lots of smaller dogs can be affected by allergies. Allergies in the dog world are quite similar to allergies that affect the human anatomy.
Often the allergies are food-based, and the problem is solved by playing a game of elimination with your dog’s diet.
But your dog can also be allergic to certain products like shampoo or flea powders. While less common, some Shih Tzu’s are allergic to airborne allergens like pollen or dust.
The structure of the Shih Tzu’s ears makes them prone to ear infections. The floppy ears give way to a warm long canal, which can sometimes be the stomping grounds for bacteria.
One of the telltale signs of an ear infection is odor, or if your Shih Tzu is abnormally jumpy or frantic in the wake of loud noises.
There are treatments and antibiotics available for this condition and it is best to bring your dog to the vet.
This condition is more often found in little dogs, due to the structure of their faces. The trachea (also known as the windpipe) is composed of cartilage. If the cartilage weakens, the structure will flatten, and breathing becomes a difficult and painful process for your little dog.
This can be corrected via surgery if severe enough, but at times your dog will adjust to the collapsed trachea (so long that is not impairing airflow).
Intervertebral Disk Disease
Intervertebral Disk Disease often occurs in dogs with shorter legs but a large back, as this build can be structurally volatile for the spine. It occurs when a disk slips out and presses against the spinal cord. The symptoms include muscle spasms, weakness in the limb(s), difficulty walking, and extreme sensitivity to touch.
Unfortunately, as IVD progresses, it is possible that the canine experiences complete paralysis. There are treatments, medicine, and surgery available to help correct (or at least mitigate) the symptoms of IVD.
You’ll see this in plenty of dog breeds across the board. It occurs when there’s a separation in the dog’s kneecap, causing it to dislocate at random times. The severity fluctuates drastically, as patellar luxation can be as miniscule as your dog having a limp for a couple days in the year, all the way to the need of corrective surgery.
Similar to the aforementioned Hip Dysplasia, the symptoms of Patellar Luxation include an abnormal gait, pain in the limbs, difficulty walking, lameness in the limb(s), and at worse immobility. However, there are tons of different treatments for this condition, and it’s rarely a problem that cannot be fixed.
This condition occurs when a Shih Tzu is born with passageways in the nostrils that are too narrow. Due to their abnormally small size, Shih Tzu’s have difficulty obtaining the proper amount of oxygen they needs to regulate their body. The initial symptom is of course difficulty breathing, and this is often noticed immediately by the owner.
As time goes on, if the problem persists (or worsens), then the dog’s body can begin to fail. However, the surgery available for this condition is nearly always successful. Surgeons will navigate into the nostrils and widen the passageways to allow for a larger volume of airflow.
This condition directly affects a dog’s thyroid, and it’s not as common in smaller dogs. Still, there are some reports of Shih Tzus suffering from this.
It occurs when the thyroid doesn’t function properly, which means they can regulate their metabolism.
Symptoms include extreme fatigue, hair loss, an abnormal appetite, an excessive need to urinate, and weight gain.
If this condition goes on too long without treatment then a dog can fall into a coma. Yet while this is a serious issue, it can often be treated with the proper medicine.
Tips To Keep Your Shih Tzu Healthy
The conditions listed above are simply the health issues which affect this breed most, and it doesn’t necessarily mean your dog will experience any of these conditions. Shih Tzus are known to be a healthy breed with a strong bloodline. But, as the owner it is your responsibility to ensure that you do everything possible to make sure your dog lives a healthy life. Here are some tips to do so.
Take Them To The Vet
Taking your Shih Tzu to the vet regularly is the one most important things you can do to keep your dog healthy. In order to stay on top of any illness or condition that may arise, it’s important to take your canine in for routine checkups. Make sure your dog gets his yearly examinations and has all the shots he needs to live a long healthy life.
All dogs should have their teeth brushed 2-3 times a week, their nails clipped monthly, and a full body inspection done every couple weeks. With Shih Tzus, it’s particularly important that you swab their ears and clean them out weekly.
Their ears can harbor bacteria quite easily, and they’re prone to ear infections. Not only their ears should be examined, but their entire body too.
Check their coats, nose, ears, eyes, mouths, and paws for anything suspicious. This means inflammation, redness, rashes, parasites, infections, and anything that seems at all abnormal.
By grooming your dog consistently, you keep them cleaner and less prone to infection, and you remain aware of their physical state, meaning you can catch something early if it comes.
Your Shih Tzu is not a big dog, nor do they have any ‘hunt’ or working-class traits in their blood. They’re regal, confident little home bodies, but that doesn’t mean they should never get off the couch.
A Shih Tzu needs their exercise to regulate their body and to stay in shape. While these dogs aren’t necessarily prone to obesity they can certainly be lazy. Be sure that they’re experiencing a balanced and stable exercise routine.
Make sure that not only are you feeding your Shih Tzu the healthy and quality food, but that you’re monitoring weight gain. Do note that this breed can be a bit fickle about food choice, thus there’s a bit of work to be done before you’ve ironed out a meal plan that sticks. Feed them well and if they start to gain weight create a balance between food proportions and the amount of exercise they receive.
Choose A Reputable Breeder
Seeing as the Shih Tzu is a popular dog, there’s a higher propensity that irresponsible breeders are out there producing quantity over quality. If you buy a Shih Tzu that was bred poorly, there’s a much bigger chance that he’ll have health and behavioral problems in the future.
That’s why it’s incredibly important to research your breeder thoroughly and meet the parents of your dog. Ensure that the breeder can provide health clearances for both parents and that all the paperwork is in order.
The Shih Tzu is a fantastic dog that sits in the top 20 of the AKC’s most popular list of dog breeds. They’re lovable to no end, spunky and contagious, and make an amazing pet for any household. Naturally resilient, they have long life expectancies and aren’t prone to inheriting disease or falling ill.
So long as the necessary steps are taken in order to ensure a Shih Tzu’s health and lifestyle, then there’s no reason why they shouldn’t live well into their older ages.