Shih Tzu – Everything You Need To Know

Shih Tzu Breed Overview

Shih Tzus were lap dogs of the Chinese royals and still continue to be lap dogs. They are extremely friendly and treat their family and strangers alike. They can adapt well with people. Shih Tzu is not guarding dogs, but they are active and alert. They can be helpful as watchdogs and the best companions. Shih Tzu is the best option if you are looking for a loving companion.

However, Shih Tzu requires a lot of attention and their coat is hard to maintain. They are safe to be allowed near children and other pets, but Shih Tzu needs more attention as they might get hurt easily. As many other small dogs, Shih Tzus are susceptible to many health problems. Regular checkups and grooming are necessary for a healthy dog.

Shih Tzu Pros and Cons

Best CompanionsHigh Grooming Needs
Moderate EnergyProne to many health issues
Alert, Active, IntelligentDifficult to Housebreak

Shih Tzu Highlights

  • Imperial Shih Tzu or Teacup Shih Tzu are only size variants and not Shih Tzu breed types.
  • Shih Tzus are not made for hot weather and are prone to heatstroke. They should be kept indoors at cold temperatures.
  • Shih Tzus grooming needs are high to maintain. Regular brushing and grooming are essential.
  • Shih Tzus are great with children above the age of six.

Shih Tzu Basic Information

  • Name: Shih Tzu (Pronunciations: Sheed-Zu, Sheet-Zoo) 
  • Size:  Small
  • Height: Males: 9 to 11 inches & Females: 8 to 10.5 inches
  • Weight: Males: 9 to 16 pounds & Females: 9 to 15.5 pounds
  • Coat: Double-layered, long, fluffy
  • Hypoallergenic: Yes
  • Lifespan: 10 to 17 years
  • Color: White, Black, grey, red, liver, blue
  • Energy: Normal
  • Origin: China
  • Activities: Companion dog
  • Barking Level: Medium
  • Shedding Level: Normal
  • Litter Size: 2 to 7 puppies
  • Group: Toy Group
  • Other Names: Chrysanthemum dog, Lion dog
  • Breed’s Original Pastime: Companions

Shih Tzu Types

Based on their coat color, Shih Tzu is classified into five breed types. Some breeders might add breed types like Imperial Shih Tzu and Teacup Shih Tzu. There are no such breed types, but they are only size variants.

  1. American Shih Tzu
American Shih Tzu

American Shih Tzu is often recognized as a pure breed. They have straight legs with their shoulders facing front. The neck of an American Shih Tzu is short. They have small eyes, nose and chest. Their head is wide and squarely shaped with eyes set in a distance from each other. American Shih Tzu was recognized and accepted by American Kennel Club in 1969.

  1. European Shih Tzu
European Shih Tzu

European Shih Tzu is also recognized as a pure breed type of Shih Tzu. They are differentiated from American Shih Tzu based on the shape of their legs. Their front legs are slightly bent. The shape of their head is round, whereas, for an American Shih Tzu, it is square. European Shih Tzu has a longer neck, big eyes, and a broader chest than an American Shih Tzu. The United Kingdom Kennel Club accepted them in 1946.

  1. Brown Shih Tzu
Brown Shih Tzu

As the name suggests, brown Shih Tzus have a fluffy brown coat. Some brown Shih Tzus have a solid brown coat, while others have pigmented coats. The color of their coat ranges from beige to dark brown.

  1. Black Shih Tzu
Black Shih Tzu

Black Shih Tzu is the rarest of the Shih Tzu breed types. They have a thick black coat, but it is often pigmented. Solid black Shih Tzus are the rarest among Black Shih Tzu breed types. Some Shih Tzu’s colors can change from black to silver as they grow up. The black color of the coat needs special care as it might fade with sun exposure.   

  1. Brindle Shih Tzu
Brindle Shih Tzu

Brindle Shih Tzu is not classified based on its coat color. Their coat is a mixture of colors like gray, hay, black, brown, white, and any one of the colors as a base. This breed type is considered the most beautiful Shih Tzu breed type. They are preferred for their beauty.  

Shih Tzu History

These cute little lap dogs have originated in China, developed from two Tibetan breeds: the Lhasa Apso and the Pekingese.  Shih Tzu became the royal dog of China during the Ming Dynasty. Many paintings and documents stand as evidence for Shih Tzu’s existence in China between the 14th and 17th centuries.  

Reports from Marco Polo suggest that during the 13th Century, Kubla Khan, a Mongolian emperor, used Shih Tzu as companions for his trained lions. Shih Tzu was gifted to royals, nobles in China and the Dalai Lama had gifted Shih Tzu to the Empress Tzu Hsi. The breed reached popularity during the reign of Empress Tzu Hsi. The Shih Tzu was the Empress’s favorite and remained as a lap dog inside the palace for a long time.

The first Shih Tzu pair were taken to England in 1928 and to Ireland in 1933.  Shih Tzu was imported to the US after the world war and by 1960, there were three Shih Tzu Clubs in the US. The AKC recognized Shih Tzu in 1969.

There are many legends involving Shih Tzu and Buddha. Some say that these charming Shih Tzu’s were Buddha’s travel companions. There is a story that when Buddha was about to be robbed during one of his travels, Shih Tzu took shape like a lion and chased the robbers away. Some attribute the adorable white spot on Shih Tzu’s head to be formed because Buddha kissed the dog for helping him. 

Shih Tzu Personality

Shih Tzus are small, loving, adorable, active, alert, intelligent lap dogs. The females and males grow up to 9 to 11 inches and weigh between 9 to 16 pounds. Shih Tzu’s coat color can be white, black, grey, red, gold, or a mixture of these colors. Shih Tzus belong to brachycephalic breeds because of the shape of their heads. While they may have some undesirable qualities like jumping on people, licking, growling, snapping, this can be avoided with proper training.

Friendliness Overview:

Affection Level                           High
Kid-FriendlyMedium to High
Pet-FriendlyMedium to High

Adaptability Overview:

Good for New Pet OwnersHigh
Good for Apartment LivingHigh
Sensitivity LevelMedium 
Tolerates being aloneMedium
Cold ToleranceMedium 
Heat ToleranceLow

Trainability Overview:

Easy to TrainMedium 
IntelligenceMedium to High
Prey DriveMedium to High
Tendency to Chew, Nip & Play-biteMedium to High
Tendency to Bark or HowlLow to Medium 
Wanderlust AbilityLow to Medium
Tendency to DroolLow 
Tendency to SnoreLow to Medium
Attention/Social NeedsHigh

Shih Tzu Physical Features

Shih Tzu have a well-rounded, broad head with space between their eyes. The size of the head is in the perfect size to balance the size of the Shih Tzu’s body. The eye color can differ for blue and liver pigmented Shih Tzu. The small face and large, wide eyes of Shih Tzu give them a friendly, affectionate look. In the shows, broad-headed Shih Tzu or small eyes closer to each other are disqualified. Special attention is given to the head during shows and the head is examined beyond the coat to avoid any illusions created by grooming. Shih Tzu has a dome-shaped skull with large ears below the crown. The nose is usually black, small with wide and broad nostrils. Except for blue and liver pigmented Shih Tzu, the black nose is a mandatory classification in shows.  The jaw of a Shih Tzu is also broad and has an undershot bite. Their teeth and tongue are not visible when they close their mouth.  

The neck must be of perfect length to balance the body and hold the head high. Shih Tzu is slightly longer than its height. The focus must be on maintaining the balance of the body and head. The neck ends smoothly to the shoulders.

Shih Tzu’s topline is adequately leveled. The shoulder of the Shih Tzu is well angled and laid in. The shoulders run smoothly to the elbows. 

The chest of Shih Tzu is broad and deep. The rib cage is deep and extends just below the elbow. Like big dog breeds, the chest of Shih Tzu is not tucked to the stomach. The length between their elbow and their withers is longer compared to the length between the elbow and the ground.

The legs are thick-boned and muscularly built. They run straight to the ground below the chest. The legs of a Shih Tzu are wide and perpendicular to the ground. Their elbows are placed close to their body. When seen from the back, the front and back legs should be on the same line, perpendicular to the ground. The stifles are usually bent and the hocks let down. Any disproportion in the hocks is disqualified in shows. The feet must be well-rounded, padded and pointing straight. Dewclaws can be removed.

The tail of a Shih Tzu is curled to its back. They must be plump and high from the body. The tail must neither be loose nor tight. They must be at the correct height. Any deviations in the positions and structure of the tail will be penalized.

The coat is double layered and fluffy. Shih Tzu requires high maintenance for their coat. The coat is thick and flowing, so that it might get tangled easily. Excessive hair falling on the face might irritate the eyes so the hair must be tied to a knot on the head. Regular trimming is recommended. Excessive trimming except for the feet, bottom and anal region, will be penalized. The fur of a Shih Tzu is naturally dense and flowing. It could also be wavy. Single-coated Shih Tzu, extra wavy or curly, sparsely grown fur will be penalized. When the Shih Tzu puppy grows into an adult, the coat also changes. During this period, the coat will be mated frequently and so extra care is advised.

The color of the Shih Tzu varies from black, white, grey to pink and blue pigmented coat. Shih Tzu can also be a combination of these colors. Generally, any coat color is accepted in shows.

The Shih Tzu must move at its natural speed straightly. The evaluation will be based on how smooth and natural the movement is. The movement must not be disturbed or fastened. During the movement, the topline must be leveled with the head held high. The curve of the tail to the Shih Tzu’s back will also be evaluated.

Shih Tzu Temperament

Shih Tzu is a small, playful, lively lap dog. They love to greet and entertain everyone. Shih Tzu are not bred for guarding or herding and they belong to the toy group. They are affectionate towards their owners and can get along well with other pets and children. 

Their energy level is moderate and they only require simple short exercise sessions every day. Socializing them early and more often is necessary for their proper behavior. Patient and consistent training is recommended. 

Shih Tzu requires extra care as they might get hurt easily. Their small size is their disadvantage. Shih Tzu usually has wheezing problems and is susceptible to many health problems. They often showcase stubbornness and persistence. It is necessary to train them with various meals, or else they will stick to one meal and be stubborn with their diet.

Like babies, Shih Tzu’s need to be wiped clean after their meal. Their eyes might get watery and that needs proper care also. They only want their constant attention to live happily. When you are busy, they can entertain themselves with their toys. Shih Tzus can adapt to any living condition as long as they are with you. They should be kept indoors in an air-conditioned room as they are prone to heat exhaustion.

 Shih Tzus should not be left alone outdoors except for some playtime. They can be kept busy indoors with toys to play and be with you.  Shih Tzus tend to jump from heights which can lead to injuries. Be cautious while holding them, and don’t let them jump from your arm or furniture. Socialize Shih Tzus as early as possible with other dogs and people to avoid timidity. Housebreaking a Shih Tzu is difficult, so crate training is recommended to make that process easy.

Shih Tzu Exercise Needs

The energy level of Shih Tzu is moderate. These fluffy balls do not require much of your time and energy. Short walks and regular moderate exercise every day are sufficient for a Shih Tzu. Shih Tzus don’t do well with heat. They might get heat strokes. Therefore, indoor exercise and training are best suited for them. 

Shih Tzu needs to be crate trained to avoid any injuries inside the house. They must be potty trained early before they make a habit of it. Once they are done with their business, the place must be cleaned because Shih Tzu’s have the habit of eating their own waste. 

Consistent training can ensure their proper behavior. Avoid punishing the Shih Tzu while training. Positive reinforcement like treats and rewards will work well in training Shih Tzu. Keeping them mentally stimulated with games and tricks is recommended. 

Exercise Needs Overview:

Energy Level                                Low to Medium
Exercise Needs                           Low to Medium
Playfulness                                  Medium to High

Shih Tzu Grooming

Shih Tzu needs proper care and regular grooming. Their coat is double layered and flowing. Shih Tzu doesn’t shed frequently. The falling fur gets tangled in the coat, so they need to be brushed twice every day. Make sure to reach the skin through the coat while combing. Pay more attention to grooming while they are in their transition phase from puppy to adult. Bathing a Shih Tzu once a week is sufficient. 

 Proper care should be given to cleaning their eyes and ears also. Clean the ears once a week and remove extra hair in the ear region d to avoid any ear infection. As Shih Tzus have watery eyes, wiping eyes often is necessary. Dental care is equally important as Shih Tzus are prone to many dental problems. Nails should be trimmed and hair must be tied in a knot over their head to avoid eye irritation. 

It is better to make Shih Tzu used to grooming since puppyhood. Grooming should be carefully done with Shih Tzu’s full cooperation if done at home. Trained professionals are a safe option for grooming Shih Tzu.

Grooming Overview:

Amount of Shedding                  Medium 

Shih Tzu Health

The small size and dense coat of the Shih Tzu make them vulnerable to many diseases. Because of their small mouth, they are easily affected by dental issues. Their watery eyes cause eye infections and are prone to ear infections. Many Shih Tzus have wheezing and respiratory problems. 

Health Overview:

Basic HealthMedium
Weight Gain PossibilitiesMedium to High

Some of the common health conditions prevalent in Shih Tzu are, 

  • Hip Dysplasia: Hip Dysplasia is a painful, life threatening condition caused when the bones of the rear legs don’t fit properly in the joints. While some dogs show symptoms, most dogs won’t have any visible symptoms. Though Hip Dysplasia is mostly hereditary, factors such as injuries, excessive weight gain, wrong exercises can cause hip dysplasia. Treatments range from medication to replacement of the hip through surgeries. To prevent this condition, avoid breeding boxers with hip dysplasia parentage, undertake regular checkups. 
  • Intervertebral Disc Disease: Intervertebral Disc Disease is also similar to hip dysplasia. In Intervertebral disc disease, the cushion-like joints of the vertebrae slip or break, causing the vertebrae to press hard on the spine. This will be painful and the dogs will show some symptoms. Symptoms are that the dog will have no interest in jumping or climbing the stairs and stay in one place without moving. They will cry out in pain and will refuse to eat. Get medical help immediately as this condition can lead to paralysis in dogs. The treatment varies from supplements to surgeries, depending on the state of the affected dog. Wrong exercises, injuries and obesity can cause intervertebral disease in Shih Tzu. Including ramp training and staircase training from puppyhood can avoid Shih Tzu from hurting their back.
  • Patellar Luxation: Patellar Luxation is the slipping of the knee cap from its position in the legs. Symptoms are that while running or walking, the dog might feel uncomfortable and kick its leg to set the knee cap back on its position. Mild symptoms and patellar luxation on one leg can be easily treated with medication. 
  • Glomerulonephropathy: This is a condition that causes kidney failure in Shih Tzu. It usually affects puppies. The main cause of this condition is the lack of protein. Treatments involving medications for protein deficiency can be used to treat glomerulonephropathy. There are no such symptoms but this condition can be diagnosed during regular health checkups. As glomerulonephropathy is hereditary, it is recommended not to breed Shih Tzu with this condition.
  • Bladder Stones: Shih Tzus are more prone to bladder stones than other dog breeds. Excessive supply of protein, phosphorus and manganese can cause bladder stones.  Blood in urine, pain while urinating or struggling to urinate are some of the symptoms. Regular health checkup is necessary to detect and remove any bladder stones at an early stage. 
  • Juvenile Renal Dysplasia: Juvenile Renal Dysplasia is a defect in the functioning of the kidney. This is transmitted genetically and is most prevalent in Shih Tzu puppies. There are no tests to detect this condition. Symptoms include vomiting, excessive thirst and frequent urination. The puppy can also lose weight and be lethargic. 
  • Hyperadrenocorticism: Hyperadrenocorticism also called Cushing’s disease is a defect in the functioning of the adrenal glands resulting in the excessive production of steroid hormone. This condition is more prevalent in Shih Tzus than in any other dogs. Excessive thirst, frequent urination, lethargy, increase in appetite are some of the symptoms to detect Cushing’s disease. Consistency with the treatment and frequent veterinary check ups can cure this condition.
  • Cataracts: Cataract is the growth of white film-like layer covering the eye lens. The eye will look opaque. It is genetically transmitted and is more prevalent in old Shih Tzus. This condition, if ignored, can lead to blindness. It can be treated through surgery. 
  • Glaucoma: Glaucoma is an eye condition which can lead to blindness. It can affect both dogs and people. Symptoms like pain, squinting, watery eyes, redness can indicate glaucoma in a Shih Tzu. It requires medical attention. Regular health checkups can help identify and cure glaucoma at an early stage. 
  • Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca: This disease, also called, dry eye, affects and reduces the tear production in the eye’s tear gland. It will dry out the eyes resulting in soreness, itching. This condition can be very painful due to the lack of moisture in the eyes. This is more prevalent in Shih Tzu and the dog has to be on medication throughout his life.
  • Proptosis: In proptosis, the eye balls will be displaced from the eye socket resulting in the eyelids being trapped behind the eye. This condition is often seen in small dogs with shallow eye sockets like Shih Tzu, Pugs, Terriers. Proptosis can be cured by surgeries. 
  • Ear Infection: Shih Tzu are prone to ear infections because of the canal-like shape of their ears. Cleaning ears with moist cotton once a week can help. Pay special attention to the ear area during grooming sessions. Hair growth inside the ear should be groomed and plucked by professionals to avoid ear infections. 
  • Umbilical Hernia: Umbilical hernia is caused when there is a delay in the closing of abdominal midline of Shih Tzu. Smaller hernia will close naturally as the puppy grows into an adult. If the condition is bad, the Shih Tzu might need surgery.
  • Oligodontia: This is a condition in which only a few teeth are present in the Shih Tzu. This should be noticed and reported to the veterinarian.
  • Retained Baby Teeth: Shih Tzus baby teeth will remain intact and might require the help of veterinarians to remove it. 
  • Misaligned Teeth: As Shih Tzus are undershot bite breeds, they sometimes miss a tooth or their teeth will not be properly aligned. This can be treated with dental braces and extractions. Regular brushing of the teeth and reporting any abnormalities will avoid many dental problems.
  • Portosystemic Liver Shunt: Portosystemic liver shunt is a condition in which the liver does not get blood supply to purify it. As the name suggests, blood flow to the liver will be shunted. This condition can be cured through surgery.
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome: Respiratory distress syndrome, also called brachycephalic syndrome affects small nosed dogs like Shih Tzu. Because of their small nose and narrow trachea, the airflow is not smooth. Obstruction in the airway needs medical attention as it will affect the dog’s normal breathing. Symptoms include intolerance to exercise, blue gums, heavy breathing and fainting. If the condition worsens, the Shih Tzu might need surgery.
  • Allergies: Allergies are common in Shih Tzus as in other dogs. Allergies can be due to food or environment. Allergies can cause breathing issues and skin itching. Identifying the allergens and making the necessary diet and environmental changes will help the Shih Tzu.
  • Dental Disease: It affects 80% of pets by the age of two. It causes tartar build-up on the teeth, infection of the gums and roots, and in extreme cases, loss of teeth and damage to the kidneys.
  • Infections: Shih Tzus are prone to certain bacterial and viral infections such as rabies, parvo, and distemper. The viral infection can be prevented by giving a vaccination based on the dog’s age.
  • Parasites: Shih Tzus can be infested with worms, bugs, fleas, and ticks that can get into their systems through unclean water, contaminated soil, or bitten by an infected mosquito. It can also be transmitted to you and your family. Symptoms include discomfort, pain, and even death.
  • Obesity: It is a significant health condition in Shih Tzus. Excess weight can cause joint problems, back pain, digestive disorders, and heart disease. The best way to prevent this lifestyle disease is a healthy diet and regular exercise.
  • Spay or Neuter: In spay, the ovaries or uterus in females is removed, and in the neuter, the testicles of the male dogs are removed. It is done to eliminate the possibility of pregnancy or fathering unwanted puppies and also decreases the likelihood of certain types of cancer.

Shih Tzu Diet and Nutrition

A high-quality dog food is recommended to provide enough nutrition for a Shih Tzu. Homemade food is also a suitable substitute. The quantity of food depends on the height, weight and activeness of the dog. Be cautious while rewarding the Shih Tzu with treats while training. Compensate treats with the quantity of food. Overfeeding might cause obesity in Shih Tzus. 

Don’t let your Shih Tzu favor a particular food. Provide them with different varieties of food. Otherwise, they will stick to one variety and will be stubborn about being fed the same food. 

Shih Tzu Required Living Condition

Shih Tzu can adapt to living in almost any environment and are suited for apartment living. They are satisfied with indoor games or a small walk in the backyard. Their small nose and thick coat make them unsuitable for living in hot regions. Avoiding hot environments and limiting outdoor activities for Shih Tzu is important as they might suffer heat strokes. They are not good swimmers, so it is safe to avoid water bodies. 

Did You Know?

  • In Buddhism, Shih Tzus mean lions and their deity has association with lions. 
  • During the Ming Dynasty, Shih Tzus were house pets.
  • Shih Tzus are also called Chrysanthemum-faced because of the round hair growth on their face.
  • Shih Tzus were added to the American Kennel Club Stud Book in 1969.
  • Earlier Shih Tzus were classified as Apsos.

Shih Tzu Club Recognition

  • ACA = American Canine Association Inc.
  • ACR = American Canine Registry
  • AKC = American Kennel Club
  • ANKC = Australian National Kennel Club
  • APRI = American Pet Registry, Inc.
  • CCR = Canadian Canine Registry
  • CKC = Canadian Kennel Club
  • CKC = Continental Kennel Club
  • DRA = Dog Registry of America, Inc.
  • FCI = Fédération Cynologique Internationale
  • KCGB = Kennel Club of Great Britain
  • NAPR = North American Purebred Registry, Inc.
  • NKC = National Kennel Club
  • NZKC = New Zealand Kennel Club
  • UKC = United Kennel Club

Adding a Shih Tzu to Your Family

Shih Tzu Rescue Groups: There are countless Shih Tzus in need of adoption and/or nursing, and there are several breed-specific rescue associations across the country that are listed below:

  1. US Shih Tzu Rescue
  2. Tzu Zoo Rescue
  3. Shih Tzu Rescue, Inc
  4. Shih Tzus and Furbabies Small Dog Breed Rescue

These groups can provide proper guidance with respect to adoption, and if you aren’t sure which breed is right for you, foster care to test if the breed is a good fit for your home.

To Buy a Shih Tzu Now: Buy a Shih Tzu Pup Online

Leave a Comment