Dog Breed Profile: Health and Fitness Tips for Shih Tzus
Bringing lots of love and happiness, the Shih Tzu is a toy dog breed, a term used to describe small breeds who weigh less than 15 pounds.
They originated from Tibet in South Asia and were highly prized for thousands of years by Tibetan monks. Known as loyal and trustworthy watchdogs, Shih Tzu's were given to the Emperors of China as gifts.
The Chinese called them ‘Chrysanthemum dogs’, which refers to how their hair grows in all directions, similar to the petals of the flower. Just like the pug breed, Shih Tzu's are Brachycephalic, which means they have relatively broad and short skulls and as a result, they have tendencies to experience breathing difficulties and health problems.
‘Little Lion’ in Mandarin, Shih Tzu's are energetic little dogs who thrive on human companionship and are very popular with families around the world and in the U.K. With prominent dark eyes and adorable faces, Shih Tzu’s are charming breeds who are highly adaptable and don’t mind living in an apartment or a house.
Size & Colour
Weighing 9 to 16 pounds for both male and females, Shih Tzu's stand between 8 to 11 inches tall. Just like with any toy breeds, Shih Tzu's generally mature and reach adulthood after 10 months but it does depend because all dogs are different.
Their muzzle is short and square but without any wrinkles which differs from the pug breed. All dogs have black noses but Shih Tzu's who have a liver colour coat, commonly have liver coloured noses which match their fur. A fun fact, referred to as the ‘Star of Buddha’, many Shih Tzu's present a white spot on their foreheads which has a legendary story behind it.
Shih Tzu's have many colours and combinations, they can be a solid colour of black, white, gold, blue, red (orange in most light), silver or liver (brown). They can also present a combination of two colours which is known as double coloured Shih Tzu's. They also can appear brindle, which is mainly a solid colour with streaks of another. On rare occasions, Shih Tzu's can even present 3 colours which are called Tri-Coloured Shih Tzu's.
Famous for their beautiful silky, long coats, Shih Tzu's have heavily-furred curved tails and a double layered coat consisting of a dense, outer layer and a soft, inner layer.
It is very common for their coats to get tangled together which is why regular grooming is necessary and you should take note that their inner coat should never be woolly in texture.
Their coat also grows continuously which is why you will often see owners tie their hair in top knots or bows so it doesn’t irritate their eyes. Haircuts might be needed every couple of weeks and you can keep it short and curly or some like to leave it silky, luxurious and long. While this is quite fashionable, a Shih Tzu’s comfort must come first, which is why the length of their coat should never be that long that it interferes with their movement or blocks their vision.
Shih Tzu's do shed but less frequently than most breeds, which is why they are a great pet choice for allergy sufferers because they shed very little. The allergy-causing dander that sticks to their hair is not released into the air, the furniture, on your clothes or furniture as it commonly would with a breed that sheds a lot.
Daily grooming should include a new top knot and you should brush your Shih Tzu’s coat at least twice a week. However this does depend on the length of their coat.
The longer the coat, the more grooming is necessary because it will get tangled more frequently. Although, try to avoid brushing every single day because this can wear the hair out.
It is also important to be thorough when grooming, especially the armpits, behind the ears, inside the legs and the neck and sides which are the most common areas which are missed.
Their nails should be trimmed once a month and as a general guide you should bathe your Shih Tzu between 3 to 6 weeks depending on how dirty they are.
Bathing your Shih Tzu too often is not recommended because bathing washes away essential, natural oils in your dog’s skin and frequent bathing will cause the oils to leave at a faster rate than your dog can produce them.
If they do get particularly dirty during their daily walks, rinsing or spot cleaning would be best to keep your Shih Tzu’s coat clean and healthy.
A moderate energy level, Shih Tzu’s need daily exercise like all dogs do. They should have at least one walk a day for a minimum of 20 minutes.
Relatively minimal, they can have two walks, one in the morning and one in the evening between 15 to 30 minutes long. However, the amount of exercise does depend on many factors including their age, health and character. Most often, they will get a lot of exercise walking around the house and in the garden if they have access to one, but they do need at least one walk a day to maintain health and wellbeing.
Shih Tzu's would benefit from both physical and mental stimulation to keep them happy and healthy. As a highly intelligent, sharp, witty breed, Shih Tzu's love puzzle games like the Nina Ottosson Dog Casino, Nina Ottosson Brick Game or The KONG Gyro.
Mental stimulation is just as important as physical stimulation and they will most likely want to play with you as they are social beings who prize love off their owner. So making sure you put in the time to play with your dog is highly important with Shih Tzu's.
The lifespan of a Shih Tzu is typically 10 to 16 years and due to being brachycephalic, they do have some common health issues because of their thin nasal passages.
They are prone to heat stroke in the summer months and some may think this is due to their long coat but actually it’s due to their short faces which makes it difficult for them to breathe. That’s why special attention should be taken when looking after your Shih Tzu in the summer months. Make sure you don’t over exercise your dog and try to take them out on their daily walks in the evenings to prevent heat exhaustion.
Large eyes and shallow eye sockets, Shih Tzu's are also prone to eye problems like corneal ulcers, cataracts, entropion and eye infections. Retina Dysplasia is an unfortunate health condition in Shih Tzu's which is when the two eye tissue layers become folded in the eye which causes mild vision impairment and in some cases, blindness.
Ear infections are also common with this breed because of their long hair which can hang down in their ears over their ear canal. This then stops air circulation and helps to trap bacteria which causes ear infections.
Would You Suit A Shih Tzu?
Nevertheless, while there are a lot of health problems prone to Shih Tzu's, they are very caring, adorable and surprisingly highly intelligent breeds.
Ideal for people who have allergies, Shih Tzu's shed less often than most breeds, but they still need a lot of grooming to help them thrive and will reward you with lots of kisses and cuddles which will definitely make up for it.
Their small size makes them ideal for apartments and small living areas but they still need both physical and mental stimulation. An ancient breed that has been around a long time, they make wonderful companions if properly looked after and trained.
Remember to do your research before getting a dog to figure out whether or not they will fit well within your lifestyle so you can properly look after them. If you’re looking to find out more about dog breeds, check out our Labrador Retriever and Pug breed profiles.