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Shih Tzu

Our guide to the breed

My ideal owner | Exercise | Temperament | Health | Appearance | Cost | History

Key facts

Height: 25cm – 27cm

Weight: 4 – 8kg

Life Expectancy: 12 – 14 years

Exercise Needs: Low

About Shih Tzus

Hey there! I’m a Shih Tzu. My name means ‘little lion’ but that’s where the similarities stop. I am the ultimate lapdog, and love nothing more than snuggling up with my people and being showered with love and affection. I’m outgoing and happy, and I’ll make a pawfect companion for a family committed to my training.

My ideal owner

Thanks to my small stature and low exercise needs I can live happily in apartments and mansions alike, and with people from all walks of life. In fact, my general adaptability means I am a popular choice with those who can’t manage a bigger dog with higher exercise needs. My owners need to be committed to my training, but they’ll be rewarded with buckets of affection.

Homes without a garden

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Families with kids

First time owners

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Committed to training

Temperament

There’s all sorts of personalities amongst Shih Tzus – some of us are friendly, whilst others are more shy, some of us are independent whilst others are reliant. It all comes down to our experiences, especially in our early years.

I can be especially gentle and affectionate, and I love to play the lapdog. I’ll happily chill out on the sofa all day, or chase toys around the garden with you. I love company and make friends with everyone I meet – people and dogs!

Health

Whilst many of us lead healthy lives, like many purebred dogs there are some medical conditions that we might be prone to. Many inherited conditions can be tested for – if you’re buying a puppy make sure you check Kennel Club guidelines so you know what testing the breeder should have carried out.

What is a luxating patella?

A luxating patella is a medical term for a slipping kneecap. This can happen as a result of certain ligaments being misaligned.

How is it diagnosed?

If your dog has a bow-legged stance or occasional limping, they may be suffering from luxating patella. A vet will carry out an initial physical exam and, if necessary, refer your dog to an orthopaedic specialist. They may then carry out diagnostic imaging, such as a CT and MRI scan, to establish the extent of movement in the affected joint.

What is the treatment for a luxating patella?

Treatment for a luxating patella depends on the severity of the issue. Treatments include:

  • Weight management
  • Physiotherapy
  • Exercise programs
  • Anti-inflammatory painkillers
  • Surgery

*This information should not be considered to be veterinary advice. Please always consult your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s health.

What is hip dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia is an inherited condition affecting many different dog breeds, including some Shih Tzus. It’s described as a genetic malformation and occurs when a dog’s thigh bone doesn’t fit into the hip socket.

In mild cases hip dysplasia can cause inflammation, eventually leading to arthritis. In the most severe cases, a dog could lose all use of their rear legs.

How is it diagnosed?

Hip dysplasia cannot be evaluated by a vet until a dog is two years of age. Even then the dog will need x rays to determine whether they have inherited the condition. If you buy a Shih Tzu puppy, check that the breeder has had both parents tested, which should reduce the risk of inheriting the condition.

What are the treatments for hip dysplasia?

The only absolute treatment for hip dysplasia is a total hip replacement. This would usually only be used in the most serious of cases. Otherwise, vets may recommend a range of treatments to give relief, including physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, weight management, painkillers, supplements, and brace supports.

*This information should not be considered to be veterinary advice. Please always consult your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s health.

What is a portosystemic shunt?

A portosystemic shunt (PSS) is an issue related to your dog’s blood circulatory system. When a PSS is present, blood that would normally be processed in the liver bypasses it completely. This means that waste products that the liver would normally remove end up circulating around the body. 

Dogs who develop a PSS may suffer from a condition called hepatic encephalopathy which can result in seizures. Puppies born with a PSS may have stunted growth as a result of the liver not receiving vital nutrients.

How is it diagnosed?

Most visible symptoms are the result of hepatic encephalopathy. This can include vomiting, loss of appetite, increased thirst, bladder stones (indicated by blood in your dog’s urine) and seizures.

If your dog displays any of these symptoms, you should visit a vet as soon as possible. If your vet suspects PSS they will take blood samples for testing.

What is the treatment for PSS?

Treatment for PSS varies depending on the type of PSS your dog has. Some can be corrected through complex surgery. 

Other types of PSS will need to be managed with medication and changes to your dog’s diet.

*This information should not be considered to be veterinary advice. Please always consult your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s health.

What is intervertebral disc disease?

Intervertebral disc disease is a condition that commonly affects dogs with a long back and short legs. It occurs when a disc in their spine ruptures or herniated, leaking its contents and causing inflammation and pain. 

How is it diagnosed?

There are a number of symptoms that could indicate that your dog has intervertebral disc disease. If you spot any of these symptoms, you should visit a vet immediately to confirm the diagnosis.

  • Stiff neck
  • Back pain
  • Crying, especially when handled
  • Shivering
  • Reluctance to run and play
  • Inability to walk or an abnormal gait
  • Paralysis
  • Partial loss of movement or weakness

To diagnose the condition, your vet will perform a thorough physical exam. They will be likely to recommend further testing including:

  • Neurological examinations
  • X rays
  • Myelography
  • MRI or CT Scans

What are the treatments for intervertebral disc disease?

Treatment for intervertebral disc disease will be recommended based on the severity of the condition and what is best for your dog. It can include:

  • Medications
  • Rest
  • Surgery
  • Physical therapy
  • Weight management

*This information should not be considered to be veterinary advice. Please always consult your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s health.

What is atopy?

Atopy describes a skin condition caused by allergies to something in the environment, such as pollen, mould, grass, or dust mites. Dogs of any age and breed can develop atopy, but it is particularly prevalent in certain breeds, such as the Shih Tzu, and younger dogs. 

How is it diagnosed?

Atopy can manifest itself in a number of different ways but is always best diagnosed by a vet. If your dog shows any of the following symptoms, your vet may wish to carry out a skin test for allergies:

  • Itchy skin
  • Ear infections
  • Rubbing on your furniture or the floor, including dragging their bottom along the floor
  • Excessively licking or chewing themselves
  • Saliva staining on their fur
  •  Rashes
  • Hair loss
  • Skin infections
  • Weepy eyes

What are the treatments for atopy?

Atopy is a lifelong condition that will affect your dog for the rest of its life. Your vet will recommend treatments for the atopy depending on the severity of your dog’s condition. This may include:

  • Medication to treat the symptoms, such as steroids
  • Antibiotics or drops to treat skin and ear infections
  • Immunotherapy to reduce the allergic reaction your dog has

Reducing the contact your dog has with their environmental triggers is key to preventing regular and severe allergic reactions. Depending on their specific allergies there are certain steps you can take, such as:

  • Reducing exercise outside when the pollen count is high
  • Rinsing your dog after walks, especially if they’ve run through long grass or bushes
  • Avoiding the use of sprays in the home where possible
  • Regular vacuuming and dusting
  • Ensuring your dog never misses their flea treatment

*This information should not be considered to be veterinary advice. Please always consult your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s health.

What are cataracts?

Cataracts occur when part of the eye becomes cloudy. This can cause your dog to have blurry vision. They can become thicker and denser over time, potentially leading to blindness if left untreated.

How are they diagnosed?

If your dog’s eye starts to look cloudy, you should consult a vet. They will conduct a full examination of the eye and be able to confirm the diagnosis and treatment plan.

What are the treatments for cataracts?

For many dogs, treatment won’t be required, or recommended by your vet. They will be able to recommend strategies for helping your dog adapt to their differing vision and monitor them closely to ensure they do not develop glaucoma.

Surgery is an option for some dogs with cataracts. This will be carried out by a specialist ophthalmic surgeon who will usually remove the lens.

*This information should not be considered to be veterinary advice. Please always consult your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s health.

What is dry eye?

Dry eye is a condition that results from the lack of normal tear production. The affected eye becomes dry, red, and sore, and can often become infected.

Dry eye can be caused by a variety of issues including autoimmune problems, disease, side effects of medication, hypothyroidism, and diabetes.

How is it diagnosed?

The symptoms of dry eye included conjunctivitis, redness, or soreness in the eye. You should visit your vet as soon as you notice any symptoms.

Your vet will carry out a basic ophthalmic exam and may conduct a simple test to measure the production of the tear ducts. 

What are the treatments for dry eye?

The most common treatments for dry eye are eye drops or creams that may stimulate natural tear production and supplement artificial tears. Other types of eye drops may also be used to treat infections as a result of dry eye.

In the most severe circumstances, your vet may recommend surgery carried out by a specialist ophthalmic veterinary surgeon. 

*This information should not be considered to be veterinary advice. Please always consult your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s health.

What is entropion?

Entropion is the inversion of the eyelids. It can be the result of excessive eyelid tissue and/or a small or deep-set eye.

The result of the eyelid turning inwards means that hairs on the skin rub directly against the front of the eye. This can be very painful, causing your dog to paw at their eye, making the situation worse.

Without swift treatment the eye can become so badly damaged that corneal ulcers and even blindness can occur.

How is it diagnosed?

Affected dogs will show symptoms by at least six months of age, and even sooner in some breeds. You should look out for:

    • Excessive blinking
    • Over-spill of tears
    • Holding an eye closed

If you notice these symptoms, you should visit a vet as soon as possible. They will carry out an ophthalmic exam and be able to confirm the diagnosis and a treatment plan.

What are the treatments for entropion?

Your vet will recommend a treatment based on the severity of the condition. For many dogs, surgery carried out by an ophthalmic veterinary surgeon is the most effective course of action.

*This information should not be considered to be veterinary advice. Please always consult your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s health.

What is urolithiasis?

Uroliths, commonly known as bladder stones, occur throughout the urinary tract, including the kidneys. 

Bladder stones can be a painful condition for your dog. If bladder stones are not treated there is a risk of blockages in the urinary tract 

How is it diagnosed?

Dogs with Urolithiasis may show a few different symptoms including:

    • Straining to urinate
    • Blood stained urine
    • Painful abdomen

If your dog shows any of these symptoms you should visit a vet immediately. They will conduct a thorough physical examination and take a urine sample for testing. They may also use x-rays or ultrasound to locate the bladder stones. 

What are the treatments?

Treatments for bladder stones will depend on the location and size of the stones, as well as any immediate concerns your vet may have about blockages.

If stones are causing a blockage in the urinary tract, surgery may be required to remove them. 

To dissolve existing stones and prevent them recurring, your vet may recommend a specialist diet combined with antibiotics and drugs aimed at reducing the acidity of your dog’s urine. 

*This information should not be considered to be veterinary advice. Please always consult your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s health.

What is Cushing’s syndrome?

Cushing’s syndrome is a condition caused by excessive cortisol (a hormone) in your dog’s blood stream.

The excess production of cortisol is usually stimulated by a tumour or group of overactive cells in the pituitary or adrenal glands.

Occasionally, Cushing’s syndrome can be the result of use of steroid based treatments for other conditions over a long period of time.

How is it diagnosed?

There are a range of symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome – your dog may not display all symptoms. If you notice any, make sure you consult your vet as soon as possible for an accurate diagnosis.

    • Increased thirst
    • Increased urination
    • Increased appetite
    • Pendulous abdomen
    • Hair loss
    • Lethargy
    • Muscle wastage
    • Obesity
    • Excessive panting
    • Pigmentation of skin in areas of hair loss
    • Thin skin

Your vet will carry out blood tests to confirm the diagnosis and recommend an effective treatment plan.

What are the treatments for Cushing’s syndrome?

Treatments vary depending on the type of Cushing’s Syndrome your dog has. Your vet may recommend:

    • Surgery to remove tumours
    • Lifelong medication and monitoring
    • Discontinuation of steroid based treatments

*This information should not be considered to be veterinary advice. Please always consult your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s health.

Exercise needs

Low

I may be a small pooch, but exercise is still an important part of my day. Usually a couple of brisk walks lasting half an hour each will satisfy my daily needs, prevent me putting on excess weight and keeping me happy.

Get your dog’s tailored exercise goal by downloading the free PitPat app

Appearance

It’s fair to say I’m a high maintenance little pup when it comes to my appearance. You might have seen me in the show ring with my long locks and fluffy tail held well over my back – but those of us who aren’t shown are usually kept with a more manageable, trimmed style.

My owners will need a daily, weekly, and monthly grooming regimen to keep in good health – otherwise my silky coat can quickly become tangled and matted and the hair around my face will stop me seeing so well.

I’m also known as the Chrysanthemum Dog, thanks to the way my hair grows out and around my face, just like the flower. This hair needs to be cleaned on a daily basis to prevent tear staining and to clean up the food particles that can get trapped in my fur.

For the rest of my coat, I’ll need daily brushing, monthly bathing, and a regular coat trims at the groomers.

Colours

Any except Merle

Grooming needs

Daily brushing

Monthly bath

Regular professional grooming

Hypoallergenic?

Yes, depending on the severity of your allergy

Costs

One off costs

£2108

This includes the average cost of a puppy, and all the gear they will need, like their collar, bed and grooming tools.

Ongoing costs

£23 per week | £101 per month | £1210 per year

This includes your ongoing costs such as insurance, food, toys, and standard veterinary care, but not dog sitting, training or veterinary costs not covered by insurance.

History

Us Shih Tzus have been a treasured dog in Tibet and China for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Tapestries from 2000 years ago show small dogs that look similar to us, and a recent study revealed that we are one of the 14 oldest dog breeds in the world.

Our exact origins are steeped in controversy though. Some theories suggest that we started off as the cross between a Lhasa Apso and Pekingese, whilst others suggest that we were developed by Tibetan monks and given as gifts to Chinese royalty.

We were favourite with Chinese royalty – so cherished that they refused to sell, gift or trade us for many years, keeping us as treasured companions for the nobility. We were especially popularised by Empress T’zu Hsi in the 19th century, who ran several breeding programs along with members of the royal family and palace servants.

We were first brought to Europe in the early 20th century and recognised by the Kennel Club in 1940. Since then, we’ve gone on to become popular companion pets thanks to our loving and adaptable nature.

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