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Shih Tzu Lifespan Facts You Should Know

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.

Adult Shih Tzu with a smooth haircut and pink ribbon in hair.
Photo by chaoss on Shutterstock

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.

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:

  • Lameness
  • 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.

Fully grown Shih Tzu walking on grass outside.

Tracheal Collapse

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
  • Coughing when pressure is applied to the chest/neck
  • Vomiting
  • Gagging
  • Cyanosis (gums turn blue)
  • Wheezing

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.

Stenotic Nares

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.

Bladder/Kidney Stones

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.

Grooming also includes nail trimming, teeth brushing and ear cleaning.

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.

Disclaimer: This blog post does not substitute veterinary attention and does not intend to do so. I am not a veterinarian or pet nutritionist. If your dog shows any sign of illness, call your vet.

About Danielle

Equipped with 5+ years of expertise as a Rottweiler owner, I partner with licensed veterinarians and trainers to share research-backed and actionable advice for you and your furry friend.

Brian Tourangeau

Monday 31st of July 2023

Much good info. I have a 14 year old big shih-poo. He is white/cream, 30 lbs. solid with no fat. His name is Sham. He is so lovable to everyone and dogs too. He is my buddy. He is going def and shows signs of minor vision issues. Sham has a lot of warts. I have had them removed twice and he is scheduled to go again in early September. Where do I go to find another? I find the $1200 prices excessive.

cee edelbaum

Wednesday 2nd of November 2022

Our beautiful loving 15 year old shih tzu was put down yesterday. She had been diagnosed with a collapsed trachea about 4 years ago. Life expectancy for dogs with this condition is usually 2-3 years. Annie then lived another 4 good years while simultaneously diagnosed with congestive heart failure 2 years ago.. She leaves her room mate, another shih tzu, who is a year younger and 14 years old. Flower has had only a kidney stone last year, and thankfully is otherwise healthy.

We had to put Annie down because her coughing became awful, she refused to take meds which she had been taking for at least 4 years since her diagnosis,(although she did take her vetmedin for her heart). She was mostly deaf. She had numerous(like 20 or more)cysts which ruptured from time to time and required much care. Yet she was alert and still looked great and had a voracious appetite ( which was dwindling in the last few weeks).

I am having trouble not feeling guilty about putting her down. Her quality of life had steadily diminished. She slept a lot or when awake coughed all the time, gagging, choking. It was painful to watch. Also within this last week she would wake up during the night several times, coughing terribly. I tried to console her but nothing worked. Finally she would quiet down. In spite of all this, I am a wreck.I've had many dogs, and it always hurts when you lose them, but this pup was so special ( but aren't they all?). I doubt anyone who puts a dog down feels totally at peace with herself. When I see that a shihtzu lived to 21, I say why not Annie?

Thanks for listening ( reading in this case).


Wednesday 2nd of November 2022

I'm sorry for your loss. It's always difficult to lose our furry companions. If the vet determines that there are no possible treatment options and quality of life is too low, then euthanizing might be the only solution and it's often more humane than letting the dog suffer needlessly.

Hope you'll feel better soon!

Larry Dannemiller

Monday 24th of October 2022

Thanks for info. I am having my Shitzu euthanized on 10/24 after 19 years of a wonderful life. London brought us so much joy but her quality of life is minimal. She can barely see and hear. Must always be in diapers. Only issue we ever had with her were kidney stones when about 9. These are great dogs and i will miss her so much. I am using lap of love in home services and cremation. Hug your dog since there time with us is short.


Saturday 3rd of September 2022

This was the most helpful information I received even from my vet. My dog passed at 151/2 and was a wonderful loving and caring companion, would have lived a few more years

Jan Lee

Monday 20th of June 2022

Our sweet shih tzu, Gizmo is almost 12. We are seeing changes. Hearing loss; more napping. Thank you for this info. He is very loved. Eats well. Walks daily. Still loves to play and cuddle. Think we will be lost when we lose our sweet boy.


Thursday 20th of July 2023

@Rita, I lost my Gizmo June 9, 2023. He was 15. I still cry when I think of him. He was my best friend.


Sunday 14th of August 2022

@Jan Lee, I lost my Shih tzu June 3rd, 2022 He would have been 18 in September I know it is difficult to have to think about the time you have to say goodbye. I wish you more happy years with your precious Gizmo I don’t have dogs because it hurts so much when they go. But my brother bought him for me. The pain is still so painful I don’t think it will ever become less.