Complete Guide To The Shih Tzu: Care, Grooming, Feeding and More

Shih Tzus are cheerful companions with a delightful temperament, gentle demeanor and celebrity good looks. Affectionate and fun-loving, they’re as content warming your lap as running laps. Are you looking to potentially add one of these adorable bundles to your life? Read further to find out everything you can!

My experience comes from over 20 years of working as a small veterinarian as well as the ten years prior to that in which I worked at a variety of large kennels and veterinary hospitals. Shih Tzus have been one of the most popular little dog breeds and I can see why!

How Big Do Shih Tzus Get?

Their height ranges from 8″-11″ and can normally weigh from 9-11 lbs.

What Do Shih Tzus Look Like?

Shih Tzus can be seen in a very long coat of hair or a short buzz cut (and anything else in between) which sometimes gives them a look that makes them seem bigger than they really are.

Shih Tzus are often mistaken for the Lhasa Apso or Havanese but are usually a little smaller. Their body style features square shoulders, petite muzzle and a long cascading coat.

How Long Do Shih Tzus Live?

Based on the AKC site, they list an age range of 10-18 years. As a veterinarian with over 20 years experience working with dogs, I’d say that the typical life expectancy of Shih Tzus I see are 14-16 years old.

What Coat Colors Do Shih Tzus Have?

Hair comes in a variety of solid or blended shades, including:

• Black
• White
• Tan
• Blue
• Liver
• Brindle
• Gold
• Silver

All colors and patterns are equally embraced for breeding or show and add to the uniqueness of the breed — no two are exactly alike. Common markings include a blaze, a white streak between the eyes, and a saddle, a saddle-like pattern over the mid-back. Solid coats with a spray of white on the chest resemble a tuxedo.

What Type Of Personality Do Shih Tzus Have?

Shih Tzus are best described as easygoing. They need only moderate exercise and are a good fit for both sedentary and active lifestyles. Loyal and patient, they’re perfect friends quiet senior yet lively enough for games in the park. Their sociable temperament is a hit with kids and other pets.

Shih Tzus are playful barkers but can learn to whisper with early training. Their generally good manners and lack of aggression make them apartment-friendly. Devoted to their family, Shih Tzus will alert you of danger but won’t pass as guard dogs — they’re lovers, not fighters.

What Is The Best Dog Food For Shih Tzus? 

Most small kibble dry dog foods will be suitable for a Shih Tzu. Because of their small mouths, smaller kibble will be a better idea than one that may be larger and harder to chew.

Grain-free diets are a myth. Please do not feed your Shih Tzu a grain-free diet unless there are specific food allergies that would benefit from a grain-free diet. Always consult your veterinarian before you decide to make any major diet changes.

Some good brands that I recommend include:

I usually tend to go with the bigger dog food companies because of the amount of time and money they have to research and test their products. They also have a stronger history of safe foods (very rarely will they have recalls) over the newer, more boutique-style dog foods.

What Health Issues Can Shih Tzus Have?

Overall, Shih Tzus are one of the healthiest dog breeds. While they can be prone to any common dog ailment such as allergies and obesity, they are prone to very few issues. The couple areas that I would recommend that Shih Tzu owners watch out for:

  • Patella Luxation
  • Dental Disease
  • Corneal Diseases
  • Dry Eye

The National Breed Club doesn’t even have a list of diseases that Shih Tzus be screened for before breeding. That’s how healthy they generally are.

If you want a more in-depth explanation of the health concerns that Shih Tzus may face, I put together an article here that will help you focus on what’s important when giving your Shih Tzu the healthiest life possible.

How Much Exercise Does A Shih Tzu Need?

As a small dog, the Shih Tzu doesn’t need long walks or the dog park. Some would love that, but the majority would be fine with a solid 20-30 minute vigorous walk (this should be exercise, not entertainment) and a couple play sessions indoors.

While the Shih Tzu does make for a great couch buddy, they won’t be happy without regular exercise. Don’t underestimate your little one as well – they can be fantastic ball fetchers, compete in agility, and even enjoy swimming.

Because of the thick neck and relatively small body size, I recommend a harness instead of a collar for this breed.

What Kind Of Grooming Does A Shih Tzu Need?

Shih Tzus have long double coats — a short wooly layer close to the skin topped with long silky locks. Daily grooming with a flexible wire brush minimizes shedding and keeps their hair clean, shiny and tangle-free.

Coats can be clipped to low-maintenance lengths — a cute “puppy cut” features hair 1–2 inches body-wide. Or you can choose from a wide range of long and mid-length styles that suit your dog’s personality and your lifestyle. Hair on the top of the head should be trimmed regularly or tied in a topknot.

Some Shih Tzus are genetically prone to heavy tearing, resulting in stains on the hair near the eyes. Daily cleansing keeps it clean, but avoid commercial bleaching products — they can irritate the eyes.

Bathing requirements depend on hair length, skin condition and exercise habits. A good rule of thumb is to bathe them every six weeks with a gentle, pH-balanced shampoo. Harsh chemicals can strip valuable oils, leaving hair dry and skin itchy.

Your veterinarian can recommend appropriate products for home care or visit a professional groomer regularly for the best results.

Interesting Facts about Shih Tzus

Shih Tzus have a long and storied history.

Do you know?

• They hail from Tibet.

Long considered to be from China, it’s more likely Shih Tzus were first bred in Tibet, an independent nation until 1950. Prized for their appearance and rarity, they first traveled to England as gifts and then to America with military families.

• They have a royal lineage.

Shih Tzus led pampered palace lives. A status symbol, citizens outside the Imperial Court were forbidden from owning them during some dynasties. Today, they’re a favorite breed among stars from Mariah Carey to Miley Cyrus — even Queen Elizabeth has a Shih Tzu named “Choo Choo.”

Their name means, “little lion.”

“Shih Tzu” translates to “little lion” in Mandarin. The name is associated with the Tibetan God of Learning who is thought to have traveled the countryside with a small dog that could turn into a lion.

They nearly went the way of the Dodo bird.

Shih Tzus were almost wiped out during the Communist Revolution. Their numbers declined to near extinction level in the early 20th century after the breeding program collapsed. Fourteen dogs rebuilt the breed and are the only reason we can enjoy Shih Tzus today.

• They’re surprising athletes.

Shih Tzus seem more glamorous than athletic, but they’re muscular and nimble, making them top competitors in agility trials.

• No one knows exactly when Shih Tzus became purebred.

Guarded jealously by the Chinese, Shih Tzus were rarely seen beyond palace walls for most of their existence as far back as 2000 BC. Thought to be a Pekingese-Lhasa Apso crossbreed, it wasn’t until the mid-1900s that they were accepted by the AKC as purebred.

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