Everything you need to know about: Shih Tzus

Written by Napo HQ
Reviewed by Dr Louisa Lane
20th Jun 2022
6 mins read
Summary
The Shih Tzu is a loving and lively little dog bred to be a watchful companion. Their long fur looks beautiful but requires a lot of care, and this brachycephalic (flat-faced) breed is prone to several health problems due to their conformation.

Key Stats

Height
20 to 28cm
Weight
4 to 7.5kg
Size
Small (Toy)
Lifespan
10-16 years
Coat
Long, soft
Exercise
60 mins
Grooming
Daily / weekly
Temper
Cheerful, friendly, affectionate

Breed history

The Shih Tzu is one of the oldest breeds on the planet, having originated in Tibet around 3000 years ago. Despite this dog’s petite size and sweet appearance, they’re actually one of the dog breeds most genetically similar to a wolf.
Their name means “lion dog” because they were believed to look like lions or Fu dogs revered in China. The breed is linked with Buddhism, and there are multiple legends of Buddha owning a Shih Tzu. That’s why these plucky pups were considered sacred and kept as companions and watchdogs by Buddhist monks and then Chinese royalty.
It was once prohibited for anyone but the Chinese imperial family to own a Shih Tzu. Plus, the breed was never exported outside of China until the 20th century, first appearing in the UK in the 1930s. Nowadays, it’s one of the most popular breeds in the world.

Appearance

Shih Tzus are small dogs but surprisingly sturdy, with a body that’s slightly longer than it is tall.
They have naturally long fur, large dark eyes, and a flat nose. Their floppy ears and tail are covered in long fur, and the tail should curl elegantly over their back.

What colours can Shih Tzus be?

Shih Tzus come in a wide variety of colours including:
  • Black
  • Black and white
  • Brindle
  • Brindle and white
  • Gold
  • Gold and white
  • Gold with black mask
  • Gold brindle
  • Gold brindle and white
  • Grey and white
  • Liver
  • Liver and white
Some Shih Tzus come in other colours including lilac, lilac and white, white, cream, or blue however these are not recognised by their
breed standard
so aren’t seen as acceptable in show dogs.

Temperament

Since they were bred for companionship, it’s no surprise that the typical Shih Tzus temperament is loving and affectionate. They’re also lively and alert little dogs, which made them keen watchdogs.
Shih Tzus are active and love to play, and being a companion breed they love nothing more than hanging out with their owners.
Another reason why people love the Shih Tzu's temperament is because they're usually social dogs that get on with children and other animals as long as they have been socialised properly as puppies.
Despite their small size, they’re typically confident pooches and can have a stubborn streak, which can make training tricky.

How much exercise do Shih Tzus need?

Your Shih Tzu should have about 60 minutes of exercise per day. It’s advised to split this time into two 20-30 minute walks every day.

How to groom a Shih Tzu

Shih Tzus have naturally long, soft fur. If you keep your Shih Tzu’s hair long they will need daily brushing to get rid of any mats and tangles in their fur.
If their fur is clipped shorter, you can brush them once or twice a week to prevent matting.
If you want to keep your Shih Tzus fur shorter and more manageable, you will need to give them a haircut or take them to the groomer every 6-8 weeks. You will still need to trim the fur on their face between haircuts because the hair on their nose grows upwards and can irritate their eyes.
Your Shih Tzu sonly needs a bath whenever they’re dirty or smelly. Although routine baths as directed by your vet with medicated shampoo may be needed to treat skin allergies, which this breed is prone to.
You might also need to wipe their face and eyes more regularly to prevent tearstains, infections, or allergies.
You will need to trim your Shih Tzus claws about once a month to prevent them from overgrowing or splitting.
Finally, you should take your Shih Tzu (or any dog) for regular dental exams and professional teeth cleanings with your vet, and brush their teeth daily at home, to help prevent
dental disease
.

Common Shih Tzu health problems

Eye issues

Shih Tzus have large exposed eyes because of their brachycephalic shape, and they’re prone to dry eye.
They’re also predisposed to cataracts and progressive retinal atrophy which both cause gradual vision loss.

Trichiasis

They often develop eyelash problems including trichiasis where the eyelash grows inwards or entropion where the eyelid rolls inward. Both of these conditions cause the fur to irritate the surface of the eye, are very painful, and contribute to the formation of corneal ulcers.

Allergies

Shih Tzus are prone to allergies that typically present as skin sensitivities or dietary intolerances and allergies.

Ear infections

Allergies in dogs often manifest as chronic or recurrent ear infections.
Long furry ears like the Shih Tzu’s are also prone to ear infections due to their shape because moisture and bacteria can be trapped inside and cause irritation and infection.

Breathing problems

Because they are a brachycephalic dog breed, Shih Tzus are prone to a number of breathing difficulties including respiratory tract infections and brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS).

BOAS

BOAS is a collection of physical abnormalities such as a flat face, an overly long tongue and soft palate, and stenotic nares (tight nostrils) which cause breathing difficulties.
Dogs with BOAS often require surgery to alleviate their symptoms and help them to breathe normally.
The condition is more often associated with breeds like
Pugs
,
French Bulldogs
, and Bulldogs but it can affect any flat-faced breed, including Shih Tzus.

Spinal injuries

Because Shih Tzus are longer than they are tall, their spine is vulnerable to injury.
Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) is common in the breed and causes slipped discs in the spine.

Dental problems

The brachycephalic nature of Shih Tzus means they have very short jaws but they still have the same number of teeth as any other dog breed.
This causes overcrowding and increases their risk of retained deciduous teeth and
dental disease
.

Frequently asked questions

Are Shih Tzus good with kids?
Because Shih Tzus are affectionate, gentle, sociable, and playful dogs they’re generally considered to be good family pets.
They often get on well with older children and other animals as long as the dog has been properly socialised, and children have been taught how to safely interact with dogs.
Are Shih Tzus easy to train?
Shih Tzus are alert and watchful, so they are bright and often eager to learn so they aren’t the most difficult dog to train. They also love to be close to their humans and eager to please, so training can be a fun one on one activity for them.
Positive reinforcement and reward-based training work really well with these sweet dogs.
However, individuals can have a bold or stubborn streak so patience and consistency are key in earning this dog’s obedience.
They’re also notoriously more difficult to housetrain compared to bigger dogs.
What is an Imperial Shih Tzu?
An Imperial Shih Tzu is the same breed as a Shih Tzu. It is the term used to describe dogs smaller than the breed standard, usually under 4kg in weight. (Similar to “teacup” dogs.)
The desire to breed such small dogs has a considerable negative impact on the dog’s health and lifespan, and owners should avoid purchasing puppies that are marketed as miniature, teacup, or imperial.
If you're looking for a Shih Tzu puppy and want to find out how to find a responsible breeder, read
our blog post
or our
Q&A with Emma the Vet
.

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