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Shih Tzu: Breed info and health advice

Date updated: 12 01 2018

The name means “little lion”, and with that long silky mane and impressive moustache, there’s something very regal about this little guy.

The appearance of the Shih Tzu shouts out “high maintenance”, and it’s definitely true that they demand their fair share of grooming! That said, living day-to-day with this breed can be an absolute pleasure. Lively, playful and social by nature, they can make special companions for the entire family.

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Stats
Average lifespan: Up to around 16 years

Weight: (Males and Female) 4 to 7.25 kg,

Height: (Males and Females) 20-28cm

Colouring: Eight solid colours (black, white, liver, blue, brindle, gold, red, silver) and a wider range of double and tri-colour combinations.

Grooming requirements: high

Average purchase cost: Around £600 for a registered pedigree puppy

Shih Tzu facts…

  • They originally came from Tibet. It’s thought that Tibetan monks were responsible for first breeding these little dogs thousands of years ago. As well as being companions, their loyalty and vigilance made them very good watchdogs.
  • They’re related to the Pekinese and Chinese Pug. From time to time, these dogs found their way to the Chinese court by way of gifts, where they became firm favourites. Cross breeding with the Pekinese and Chinese Pug resulted in their distinctive short ‘Chrysanthemum’ face. 
  • Modern Shih Tzus originate from a population of 14 dogs. By the 1930s, the Shih Tzu’s popularity in China was falling. A few were imported to Britain in the 1930s by a couple of breed enthusiasts. The Shih Tzus you see today are all descended from these dogs.
  • Beware of ‘Tea Cup’ variations! By the 1970s, the Shih Tzu had become one of Britain’s most popular breeds - and these little guys remain a popular choice. Good breeders will always stick to the original ‘standard’, resulting in small but sturdy dogs. But in their search for novelty, some breeders try to produce tiny, designer variations of the dog (with names like Tea Cup and Imperial). Be careful here; the smallest in the litter is much more likely to result in health issues.  
  • Mariah Carey, Nicole Richie, Geri Halliwell, Bill Gates: all Shih Tzu lovers!

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Great for…
As a classic companion breed, these little characters are ideal if there’s someone around for most of the day; less so if the home is empty all day.

When I Heart Dogs polled 250 Shih Tzu owners, 91% said they would recommend the breed for first time dog owners. They are generally quite easy to handle compared to many other toy breeds. That said, they do often have a stubborn streak, so it’s important to devote the time to socialisation and basic training from early puppyhood.

A playful nature also means that they can get on well with children - in small doses! However some of them can be a bit “nippy” when over-excited, so they are not exactly a go-to choice if there are very small kids in the home.

Shih Tzu training and behaviour...
Although friendly by nature, the typical Shih Tzu can be a little stubborn. Right from puppyhood, it’s important to focus on consistent, positive reinforcement and a little-by-little approach (especially when it comes to house training).

For sleeping at night - and for times during the day when you’re not on hand to provide supervision, a Shih Tzu can benefit a lot from crate training, as it provides them with a cosy, comforting place to hang out - and helps to prevent any destructive behaviour. You can get the full lowdown on crate training in our dedicated guide.

This smart little pooch tends to be ‘into everything’ from puppyhood right through to adulthood, so it’s important to puppy proof your home and to make sure it’s generally clear of choking and other hazards from then on in.  

Looking after your Shih Tzu...
Depending on their age, around 30 minutes of exercise a day is usually sufficient for a typical Shih Tzu. A short walk in the morning and a slightly longer one later in the day usually works best. Puzzle and fetch games - along with a supervised run about the garden (if possible) can also go a long way to burn up any pent-up energy between walks.

On the feeding front, always follow the advice of your vet on quantity and type of food to give. Although as with all small dogs (with small bladders and bowels), it’s important to stick to a set feeding routine so they get into a pattern of going to the toilet according to a consistent schedule.

Most Shih Tzu owners opt for professional grooming; it keeps their coat in the right shape and condition and makes it easier to keep your buddy clean in the meantime. This is generally needed every six to eight weeks.

Grow out their coat to the max and it’s especially important to keep it free from tangles. Cutting the fur back can make routine grooming easier, but you’ll still need to brush their hair thoroughly every day and clear out any matting. If a smell develops - or if the coat looks obviously dirty, it’s time for a bath!

The areas around the nose and mouth, the corners of the eyes and inside the ears should also be inspected a couple of times a week for a buildup of dirt and for the signs of infection (redness or discharge).

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 Common Shih Tzu Health problems...

  • Hernias. Shih Tzus are prone to both inguinal hernias (around the groin) and umbilical hernias (around the belly button). Sometimes the problem resolves itself as a puppy matures. In other cases, surgery is needed to correct it.
  • Pinched nostrils. A Shih Tzu puppy can often develop a pinched nostril at about the time they start teething. It makes them sound like they have a cold and can cause some respiratory difficulty. If it hasn’t fixed itself by the time the dog’s adult teeth come through and if it’s causing obvious distress, surgery is sometimes recommended.
  • Hip dysplasia is known to occur in Shih Tzus, whereby one or both hips fail to develop properly. Treatment depends on severity, but can sometimes involve surgery.
  • Canine diabetes means your dog is unable to produce sufficient insulin to properly regulate blood sugar levels. With the right intervention from the vet, it can usually be managed successfully.
  • Ear infections. A common occurrence in Shih Tzus - even when owners are diligent with hygiene and cleaning! Usually, the quicker you spot it and seek attention from the vet, the quicker it resolves.

 

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