The name Shih Tzu is derived from the term ‘Shizigou’, which in Chinese means ‘lion sun dog’.
These little sun lions are sometimes referred to as Chrysanthemum dogs because of the weird way their facial hair grows from their noses.
It’s believed that the breed was developed on the Tibetan Plateau by Tibetan monks.
The first traces of Shih Tzus painted on tapestries date back 2000 years.
Chinese emperors received the pets as gifts from the monks and were quite popular in the Imperial Court in China.
Shih Tzu was purposely bred to appear like little lions because lions are an important element of the Buddhist tradition.
After the Second World War, the American soldiers brought a lot of dogs from England to their families and the popularity of the breed increased significantly.
The Shih Tzu remains one of the most popular dog breeds across the United States even today.
Even though temperament varies from one individual to another, generally all Shih Tzus make loyal and affectionate companion pets.
They will alert when something is fishy and will adapt to the presence of other familiar and unfamiliar people and dogs when everything seems fine.
A common trait they are known for is their stubbornness. Even though it may require extra patience and will, you can eventually turn your Shih Tzu into a well-obedient pet.
Shih Tzus fall under the category of small dogs so their life expectancy is a bit longer than the average.
However, a recent study published in Japan using pet cemetery data showed that the size of the dog is not always the determining lifespan factor.
According to the same data, Shih Tzus have a life expectancy of 15 years.
A report in the Journal of Small Animal Practice states that the average lifespan of purebred Shih Tzu dogs is 13-19 years.
The median lifespan of the breed according to the UK Kennel Club is 13 years and 2 months.
To make your dog’s life as pleasant as possible, we have compiled everything you need to know about breed-related health issues and what you can do to increase your Shih Tzu’s lifespan.
What Health Problems Do Shih Tzus Have?
Shih Tzus are considered a traditionally healthy dog breed.
The fact that they are prone to disease-free lives doesn’t completely exclude few health conditions individually appearing.
Understanding the common diseases, the symptoms, and the ways to prevent them can help your pup reach elderly and comfortable years.
Keratitis & Proptosis
Keratitis is an acute inflammation of the cornea – the outmost layer of the eye.
When left untreated or when the damage to the cornea is grand the condition develops to a corneal ulcer.
Shih Tzus with corneal ulcers will need to have their eyes surgically repaired to fix the defect.
The reason for the initial keratitis is that the eyes of these dogs protrude a lot more in comparison to others so they tend to dry out or become irritated.
This anatomical anomaly is breed-related rather than hereditary.
When the eyeball is completely dislocated from the socket the condition is called proptosis.
The eyelid gets stuck behind the eyeball and the dog is in a lot of pain.
One-sided proptosis can be a result of trauma, orbit inflammation, sinus inflammation, etc.
Orbital tumors and inflammatory pseudotumors can also be the cause.
Emergency intervention is required to get the eyeball back in place. Cases, when the eye protrudes for more than 48 hours, can result in complete loss of vision.
After the surgery, the treatment should be continued at home with anti-inflammatory and antibiotic eye drops.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy
PRA is an inherited eye disorder in Shih Tzus.
The condition starts with night blindness only and the dogs have a hard time moving in the dark; soon after the dogs lose the day vision as well.
Unfortunately, all cases of PRA in dogs end up with blindness.
The condition isn’t painful and won’t affect your Shih Tzu’s lifespan.
Since there is no known cure it will be wise for your vet to perform some genetic tests to see whether your pup has the potential to develop PRA.
This will provide a lot of time to train and adapt him to blindness.
Hip Dysplasia & Patellar Luxation
Hip dysplasia is a rarity in small breed dogs. Shih Tzus are one of the few smaller pups that can develop it.
Mainly this is because they overestimate themselves when they are young and uncontrollably jump around.
Even smaller traumatic injuries from the hopping can lead to hip dysplasia later on in life.
With hip dysplasia, the symptoms become evident the moment the thigh joint becomes inflamed and painful. Typical symptoms of hip dysplasia in dogs include:
- Difficult walking
- Discomfort when walking
- Reluctance to exercise
- Abnormal gait
Because it’s a result of a previous injury, hip dysplasia in Shih Tzus is one-sided in most cases.
Treatment consists of NSAIDs and joint support supplements or surgical intervention in more severe cases.
The condition doesn’t affect the dog’s lifespan but greatly influences their quality of life.
Patellar luxation produces the same or at least similar symptoms.
The kneecap in Shih Tzus can dislocate from time to time, sometimes without the possibility to get back in place.
The solutions for fixing it are pretty effective and it’s one of the easier to treat problems the breed faces.
Tracheal collapse is a potentially fatal disease in Shi Tzus and other dog breeds.
The trachea (windpipe) is made out of cartilage rings and when they weaken the luminous structure of the organ flattens preventing air from getting in or out of the lungs.
Dogs with tracheal collapse are presented with:
- Labored breathing
- Coughing when pressure is applied to the chest/neck
- Cyanosis (gums turn blue)
There are more severe and less severe cases of tracheal collapse in dogs, though none can be cured completely.
Surgeries to apply stents holding the cartilages in place only work temporarily. Antibiotic and corticosteroid treatment helps with secondary issues due to the collapse.
In long term, the dog needs to have a life free of stress, excitement, or too much exercise.
With regular checkups and symptomatic treatment, the dog can have a pretty decent comfort in life.
Intervertebral Disk Disease
IDD is a painful condition in Shih Tzus manifested with weakness in the limbs, walking problems, muscle spasms, and sensitivity to touch.
The disease occurs when one or more disks positioned between the vertebrae slip out of place.
Dogs with short legs and longs spines are especially prone to IDD. Progression can result in complete paralysis.
There is a variety of treatment options both medical and surgical to fix the problem or just alleviate the symptoms.
Physical therapy is often used to make the dog’s life more comfortable.
When Shih Tzus are born with nostrils that are too narrow they have a problem getting enough oxygen in the body.
Difficult breathing is the first sign owners notice. Without sufficient oxygen, the dog’s body starts to fail in time.
All cases of stenotic nares are surgically managed. The procedure is almost always successful and the problem is permanently fixed.
The surgeon will simply navigate inside the nostrils and widen the narrow areas.
Shih Tzus are more likely to have problems with urinary stones than other breeds.
You must test their urine periodically and detect the problem in its early stages.
Bladder and kidney stones can be dissolved with medications and prescription diet or surgically removed.
What Do Shih Tzus Usually Die From?
The main cause of death for Shih Tzu breed dogs is cancer.
Approximately 15% of Shih Tzus die from mast cell tumors, lymphomas, soft tissue sarcomas, bone cancer, etc.
It’s especially important to mention that nearly 50% of all cancer cases within the breed can be prevented if detected early.
About 13% of Shi Tzu dogs die due to diseases involving the kidneys, the bladder, the prostate, or the womb.
The third most frequent cause of death (8% of cases) is an untreatable infection.
Puppies mostly die due to parvovirus or distemper infections which can be prevented with regular vaccination.
What Is the Longest Living Shih Tzu?
The oldest living representative of the breed was named Smokey.
He lived in Florida and got to celebrate his 23rd birthday, passing away soon after. There are a lot of Shih Tzus that made it beyond their 20’s.
How to Extend Your Shi Tzu’s Lifespan?
There are a lot of things you can do at home to prolong and better your dog’s life on a daily basis.
Diet: What you put into your body determines every outcome. A high quality and well balanced diet is the very foundation of a healthy dog or human.
Water: Never give your Shi Tzu water from unchecked sources. This also includes unfiltered tap water.
Their sensitive kidneys can suffer a lot of damage even from a small number of toxins. You can purchase a filtering device to be sure the water is safe to drink at all times.
Exercise: Shih Tzus, just like all dogs, need to be maintained on a regular exercise program.
A strong and fit body can help avoid problems involving the spine and the joints.
Unfortunately, these dogs are mostly kept indoors and have sedentary lives, they tend to become obese.
Obesity makes most of their problems related to breathing a lot more difficult.
The only exception to exercise is when the pup has been diagnosed with a collapsed trachea.
Neutering: Having your Shi Tzu spayed/neutered will potentially prolong her/his life.
No matter how many times you heard this pay close attention – mammary tumors, prostate cancer, and womb infection can all be avoided with spaying/neutering.
But neutering can also come with a lot of risks so do your research before making a decision.
Grooming: A Shi Tzu’s coat is long and uniquely silky. It can reach the floor if properly maintained and comes in a variety of colors with gray and brown being the most prevalent.
They are sort of hypoallergenic dogs that don’t trigger allergic reactions in sensitive people, but that’s not always the case.
Regular grooming will prevent matting and dry skin that is more prone to infections.
By now you already know that most of the diseases causing death in Shi Tzus can be prevented if detected early.
Regular veterinary check-ups are highly advised and beneficial for your pup.
Two general checkups per year won’t influence your family budget much but will make a lot of difference for your dog’s well-being.