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Oh, that luxurious hair! Shih Tzus (pronounced SHEED-zoo) are famous for their long flowing locks, although they look just as adorable sporting a short and sassy haircut. Bred for Chinese nobles, they make fabulous family pets and are known to love their humans to the moon and back.

Shih Tzu History

A Shih Tzu is a purebred dog thought to have originated in Tibet over 2,000 years ago. That makes them one of the oldest breeds on the planet. Tibetan lamas bred the Shih Tzu (possibly from a Pekinese and Lhasa Apso) to look like tiny lions and are often associated with Buddhism. In fact, the name carries the meaning of “little lion.” However, these little balls of fur are much safer than an actual lion!

The lamas presented these “little lions” to Chinese royalty who had their furry friends sleep at the end of the bed to keep their feet warm. Who can blame them? So soft and cuddly! These royals also referred to Shih Tzus as “chrysanthemum dogs” because the hair growing from their faces resembles the petals of this particular flower.

The Shih Tzu almost disappeared as a breed after Chinese imperial rule came to an end and people wanted to forget about the old days, a time period the dogs came to represent. Luckily, some foreigners had been given some Shih Tzus, and 14 of them survived. All of today’s Shih Tzus can trace their ancestry back to these seven males and seven females who were able to reestablish the breed.

Shih Tzu physical appearance and traits

Physical Appearance

What’s not to love about the little mug of a Shih Tzu? They have big, round eyes set far apart, a short muzzle, fur-covered ears, and the cutest furry mustache and beard.

Body Type

These small and sturdy dogs are a bit longer than they are tall. They typically measure about 8-11 inches in height and weigh between 9 to 16 pounds. They also have a furry tail that curls back over their bodies.

Shih Tzu Hair

Shih Tzus are best known for their show-stopping hair, which actually has two layers. The topcoat, which can grow to be quite long, is fine and silky, while the undercoat is soft and feathery. In spite of all that hair, Shih Tzus are said to shed less than other breeds and often only when washed or brushed.

There is one exception to this lack of shedding, which occurs when Shih Tzu puppies change their coats. This happens around the time they turn one and start shedding like crazy. If this happens to your Shih Tzu, you’ll need to make time for a thorough brushing at least once a day, but don’t worry! This phase is relatively short, and you can expect to be out of hair purgatory in about three weeks.

Coloring

That famous hair can come in a variety of colors: black mask gold, black and white, solid black, solid liver, liver and white, brindle, white, red and white, and gray and white. Gray and white is one of the more common color combinations for Shih Tzus.

Shih Tzu personality traits

Personality

Shih Tzus are very friendly in nature. They may bark furiously at people when they first walk in the door, but they usually warm up to them quite quickly. They definitely make better lap warmers than security guards! And, boy, do they enjoy soaking in all that love and returning it right back to you. They also tend to live happily in pretty much any kind of space—from small apartments to spacious homes.

Shih Tzu Care

Like other dogs, Shih Tzus need good nutrition, exercise, training, and other basic care to live happy and healthy lives. They also need a bit of grooming—obviously!

Nutrition

You should feed your Shih Tzu a healthy, high quality, age-appropriate dog food. If you’re confused by all the choices, check with your veterinarian for a recommendation. You should also ask about how much and how often to feed your Shih Tzu. Because they’re such small dogs, it can be easy to overfeed them, which can result in an overweight or obese pooch. Obesity can lead to many health issues, including joint pain, heart problems, and liver and kidney disease.

To help your Shih Tzu maintain a healthy weight, be careful not to go overboard with the treats. Many store-bought treats are full of fats and sugars, which can cause weight gain. Try some healthy do-it-yourself doggie treats or offer your Shih Tzu pet-safe fruits and veggies cut up into small bite-size pieces to avoid choking.

In addition, you should know what not to feed your dog. This list includes chocolate, onions, garlic, and desserts sweetened with Xylitol. Because of their small size, it only takes a small amount of these substances to cause problems for Shih Tzu.

Exercise

Unlike large breeds, Shih Tzus can make due with one good walk per day. Since they are so small, they can even run laps around your living room for exercise in a pinch. Shih Tzus will also enjoy a good game of fetch, tug of war, or chase, which can be played inside or outdoors. Exercise not only helps Shih Tzus stay in shape, but it can also fend off boredom, anxiety, and frustration, which can lead to unwanted behaviors and chewed up shoes.

All dogs including Shih Tzus should have a yearly check-up and preventive care to help them stay healthy.

Preventive Care

All dogs including Shih Tzus should have a yearly check-up and preventive care to help them stay healthy. This can include vaccines, testing and preventative medication for heartworms, and a safe flea and tick prevention program. Talk to your vet about your dog’s overall healthcare needs, and remember you can get help managing the costs of these treatments with wellness coverage (get a quote now).

Training

These dogs are known to be clever, but stubborn, and it can take longer to train them. It’s best to start training your Shih Tzu as early as possible, but make sure to be patient. You may need to run through a lot of repetitive behaviors before they master a new command. You can also try clicker training, which is a technique that uses positive reinforcement to help your dog learn specific tasks and promote good behavior.

Grooming

Many Shih Tzus get their hair clipped short in what is known as a “puppy cut.” A puppy cut needs to be trimmed about every 4 to 6 weeks, but otherwise requires less maintenance than longer styles. Shih Tzus who have long locks, like those seen at dog shows, need to be brushed more frequently. Regular grooming helps keep their hair from becoming matted.

To groom longer haired Shih Tzus, you should comb out the tangles before putting them in the bath. Tangles can get tighter and harder to get out once they’re wet. After combing, you can wash your Shih Tzu in a small tub or right in the kitchen sink if you like. Make sure the water is a nice temperature and have a towel ready to dry your pup.

Tips for Shih Tzu Care

In addition to brushing and grooming, Shih Tzus need other regular care. For instance:

  • For Shih Tzus with longer hair, comb their mustache and the hair on top of their head daily.
  • If you tie the hair on top of their head in a “topknot,” use a sturdy band bought from pet stores or groomers rather than an elastic band, which can easily break.
  • Trim their nails every week or two. Ask your vet or groomer for help if you have trouble with this task. You don’t want to cause bleeding by cutting the quick, the vein that runs into the nail. You can find nail care tips at the ASPCA’s website.
  • Clean the inner corners of their eyes with a soft, damp washcloth each day to reduce staining.
  • Keep the fur around their hindquarters clean and neatly trimmed.
  • Brush their teeth regularly, especially since they are prone to periodontal disease.

Not sure how to keep your dog’s smile gleaming? Get tips on brushing your dog’s teeth.

common health issues for Shih Tzu dogs

Common Health Issues

While they are generally considered a healthy breed, Shih Tzus can be prone to certain congenital conditions and health issues, many of which are related to their size and shape.

Difficulty Breathing

Like other short-headed (also called brachycephalic) breeds, Shih Tzus can have trouble breathing. This is known as Brachycephalic Syndrome and is caused by an obstruction in the airways. Not all Shih Tzus will have this issue, but it’s very common. More severe cases may require surgery to correct the blockage.

Other brachycephalic breeds include Pugs, English Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, Pekingese, French Bulldogs, and Lhasa Apsos. There are even some cats, such as Persians, that can be affected by Brachycephalic Syndrome.

Luxating Patella

A luxating patella is a prevalent problem for small dogs like Shih Tzus. It’s caused when the bones around the knee don’t form properly, allowing the kneecap to pop out easily. Some dogs can fix this issue on their own by straightening out and flexing their legs. You may have seen Chihuahuas do this from time to time. If your dog has a luxating patella, ask your vet what you should do if the kneecap slips and doesn’t go back into place.

Intervertebral Disk Disease (IVDD)

This is another common condition in small breeds. It happens when the disk bursts or bulges into the spinal cord, and can cause severe back pain and even paralysis.

Dental Problems

Shih Tzus have small mouths that can have overcrowded, misaligned, or missing teeth. They’re also prone to periodontal disease, which is why it’s so important to brush their teeth regularly at home. You’ll also need to have their mouths checked for other problems and get an annual dental cleaning at the vet, which can be covered by wellness coverage (get a free quote).

Another interesting fact about their teeth is that they tend to come in a bit later and fall out earlier than other breeds. In addition, they can have an underbite, which is also called an undershot bite. An underbite might not cause any problems, but can be an issue if it interferes with the dog’s ability to eat or causes injury to the soft tissues in the mouth. In this case, your veterinarian might recommend orthodontic treatment. Yes! Doggie braces are a thing!

Shih Tzu dogs and kidney disease

Kidney Issues

Shih Tzus are prone to Renal Dysplasia, an inherited condition where the kidneys don’t develop normally. Since this condition is passed down from the parents, you should ask about the kidney function of mom and dad before you bring home a Shih Tzu puppy. Signs of Renal Dysplasia include excessive thirst, an inability to gain weight at a normal pace, and a general failure to thrive.

Eye and Ear Issues

With bulging eyes and fur-covered ears, Shih Tzus can be prone to certain eye and ear issues. For instance:

Eye Injury

Those big and protruding eyes can be more likely to get scratched or injured. Some injuries can cause the eyeball to come out of the socket, which is called proptosis and is a medical emergency. Get to the vet immediately if this happens to your dog.


Dry Eye

This condition is caused by inadequate tear production. It can be painful and cause an eye ulcer. Your vet will probably recommend prescription drops if your dog is suffering from dry eye.


Cataracts

Shih Tzus commonly develop cataracts as they get older, which need to be corrected through surgery to prevent blindness.


Ear Infections

Like other breeds with furry ears, Shih Tzus can be prone to ear infections. Be sure to keep their ears clean to help avoid these infections.

You should also check your Shih Tzu’s eyes and ears regularly for discharge, redness, or inflammation. If you notice anything concerning, contact your veterinarian.

top pet insurance claims for Shih Tzu dogs

Top Claims for Shih Tzus

Not surprisingly, the list of top pet insurance claims for Shih Tzus contains many of the health issues that are prevalent in the breed. Here are the seven claims* most commonly submitted for these dogs:

  1. Ear Infections
  2. Skin Irritations
  3. Allergies
  4. Eye Conditions
  5. Tummy Issues
  6. Dry Eye Syndrome
  7. Corneal Ulcers

Whether you have a Shih Tzu or another breed, you may end up paying quite a bit for their healthcare over the years. From accidents like swallowing a toy to common skin irritations, to serious medical conditions like bone cancer, you just never know what you and your dog will face—but you can make sure you’ll have help covering the vet costs. Get a quote for your dog now!


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