What to Know About Shih Tzus

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on April 10, 2022
7 min read

Known for being cute, charming, and just plain adorable, the Shih Tzu is a dog breed that’s fairly new to the U.S. The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized the breed officially only as recently as 1969. The Shih Tzu originates in China and is thought by some people to be a cross between a Pekingese and a Lhasa Apso. The name Shih Tzu comes from a Chinese word that means "lion".

The Shih Tzu is a tiny dog with a distinctive look. They have long silky hair, short legs, and large soulful eyes. A friendly and affectionate personality coupled with a preference for smaller living spaces makes the Shih Tzu a popular choice for dog lovers.

If you’re thinking about becoming a dog parent to a Shi Tzu, here’s what you need to know. 

Shih Tzus weigh between 9 to 16 pounds and their height usually ranges from 8 to 11 inches. The Shih Tzu's life expectancy can vary but on average they live 10 to 18 years. 

Physical Appearance

The Shih Tzu has long silky hair and their double coat can be seen in various colors like gold, dark or light brown, white, gray, black, and red. You can also see the coats in color combinations like gold and white/black or gold and white.

Because the hair on the top of their head can be long, remember to pin it up so it doesn’t fall into their face and irritate their eyes. You can even cut it short if that’s easier to manage.  

Shih Tzu Personality

The Shih Tzu has a friendly, sweet, and playful nature. They adapt well to humans and other pets in your home because they're very social. The Shih Tzu temperament is appreciated by dog owners looking for warm companion dogs who love to stay by their side. Mentally they can be bright, curious, alert, and active.

Shih Tzus don't need a lot of space which makes them ideal for pet owners with living spaces of all sizes. Make sure they have enough place to play so they’re happy.

Like any beloved pet, your Shih Tzu needs regular care and maintenance to keep them healthy and happy. Help your dog stay clean and tidy and make sure they eat all the right types of foods. Also, take your dog for regular exercise to help them stay fit and healthy. 

Grooming Tips

Follow a regular grooming schedule to help your Shih Tzu look and stay healthy:

  • Grooming. Brush your dog’s hair daily (including their mustache) with a good quality dog brush that has flexible pins. They have a double coat, so daily brushing is essential to keep their fur free from tangles and looking beautiful.  
  • Bathing. Bathe your dog every 3 to 4 weeks. Remember to clean their eye corners regularly.
  • Oral Hygiene. Brush your Shih Tzu’s teeth 3 times a week as this breed is prone to dental problems.  
  • Ear Cleaning. Clean their ears weekly. 
  • Nail Trimming. Trim their nails every 3 to 4 weeks. If you’re not sure whether your dog is ready for a nail trim, check the length of the nails. If they touch the ground or make sounds when they touch the floor, they’re ready for a trim.

Feeding Your Dog Right

Feed your Shih Tzu high-quality nutritious meals. Use commercially available dog food or prepare these at home yourself. Check back with your vet to make sure you’re giving your dog the right types of foods and the right amounts.

Your Shih Tzu’s diet should take into account their age and any medical conditions they have. There are puppy, adult, and senior versions of dog food available. Don’t give your dog "people" food.  

It's recommended to give your Shih Tzu two meals a day. If you give your dog treats either as a snack or for training, remember to include the amount when you’re calculating their daily food allowance. Your Shih Tzu shouldn’t have more than 10% of their daily intake coming from treats. Otherwise, they can easily pile on the weight and become obese.

Keep mealtimes consistent so your dog settles into a familiar routine.


Your Shih Tzu doesn’t need much exercise because they were bred to be indoor dogs. Originally they were kept as royal pets and spent most of their time inside palaces. 

Some daily exercise is needed for fitness and to maintain a healthy body weight. Aim for short walks and plenty of playtime indoors daily. 

Your Shih Tzu is sensitive to heat. Make sure your dog isn’t outdoors in warm temperatures for too long. Avoid strenuous exercise that can make your dog’s body heat up.

Because your Shih Tzu is an intelligent dog, you want to keep them engaged to prevent boredom. Try teaching your Shih Tzu new tricks so they get a good mental workout too.

Your Shih Tzu can develop problems that are common to other dog breeds like bacterial and viral infections. Following through with vaccinations and making sure they’re taken on time can help to prevent the more common infections like rabies, parvo, and distemper. 

But some Shih Tzu health issues are unique to the breed. Health problems can be caught early and treated effectively through regular vet visits and checkups.

Problems With the Teeth

Your Shih Tzu is more likely to have dental problems than other dog breeds. If the teeth are not looked after properly, infections can progress, causing teeth loss and damage to the internal organs. 


Your dog can get infected by parasites like worms, fleas, or ticks that can cause health problems for your dog.   


Your Shih Tzu can have multiple health problems when they’re overweight just like humans. Remember to control their diet and limit their treats.

Portosystemic Shunt (PSS)

Shih Tzus are more likely to get a liver condition called Portosystemic Shunt (PSS). In PSS, blood doesn’t flow normally to the liver the way it should. If your dog has PSS, they won't grow to the normal height for their age and may have seizures. This condition is treatable but sometimes your dog may need surgery.

Bone and Joint Problems

Your Shih Tzu can develop bone and joint problems. Conditions like Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD), Patellar Luxation, and Hip Dysplasia are common. Contact your vet immediately if you notice any abnormality in the way your dog moves and signs of pain and discomfort. If you see sudden paralysis, which is when your dog struggles to get up or use their back legs, get emergency medical care.

Cushing's Disease

This condition is common in many dogs, especially the Shih Tzu. The body produces more of the steroid hormone than needed. It can be easy to miss this condition because it progresses slowly. Watch out for signs like increased drinking and urinating and wanting to eat more than usual. Your dog may also not be as active as normal. Their skin becomes thinner and they start to lose more fur than usual.  

Eye Problems

Your Shih Tzu can develop the following eye problems:  

  • Glaucoma. Glaucoma is a dangerous and very painful condition that can lead to blindness if not treated in time. In glaucoma, the pressure inside the eye called intraocular pressure or IOP increases. 
  • KCS. In the medical condition aptly called "dry eye," also known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca or KCS, your dog doesn’t produce enough fluid to keep the eyes moist. 
  • Cataracts. Cataracts are a medical condition that can cause blindness in older dogs. When your dog has cataracts, their lenses start to become more and more cloudy until they start to look like white discs. 

Have your dog checked immediately by your vet if you notice any kind of abnormalities in their eyes. 


Skin and ear allergies are common in the Shih Tzu. Check with your vet if you notice any of the following which could be signs of an allergy:

  • Frequently licking the paws and rubbing the face.
  • Scratching and shaking the head a lot, a bad smell coming out from the ears, or if there’s pain in the ears — these are all signs of ear infections that may be caused by an allergy.

Respiratory Distress Syndrome

This condition is common in short-nosed dogs like your Shih Tzu. The airway can get blocked causing breathing difficulties. Look for signs like not wanting to exercise, loud breathing, or coughing. The gums may turn bluish and your dog may have a fainting spell. Surgery may sometimes be needed to clear the airway. 

Other Conditions

Shih Tzus are more prone to heart disease than other dogs. They’re also more likely to get a blood clotting disorder called Willebrand’s disease. Kidney stones can be common too. If your dog has difficulties urinating or you see blood in the urine, contact your vet straight away. Shih Tzus can develop cancer in the later stages of their lives. Early detection can help your dog get effective treatment and prevent complications.

Shih Tzus need attention and a lot of patience to help them overcome challenges that are common with this dog breed.

Start puppy training and socialization early to prevent excessive barking, aggression, and fearful behaviors. Use a praise and reward system for training your dog. They don’t respond well to aggressive training methods. Be gentle but firm when training your Shih Tzu to get the best results. 

Your Shih Tzu can be very delicate. Look after them like you would a child. Part of your daily Shih Tzu care should be making sure your dog is safe at all times. Block off areas so your dog doesn’t get into places where they shouldn’t and injure themselves. 

Keep your spaces clear of objects that can injure your Shih Tzu’s eyes. They may even put these objects into their mouth and choke.