Shih Tzu - Breed Facts & Characteristics
With a name that means ‘little lion’ in Mandarin, there can be few dogs more aptly named than the Shih Tzu. As well as their magnificent mane of long lustrous locks, they also have a proud, almost regal-like bearing that befits their origins as the pets of Chinese emperors. But the similarity ends there. Bred to be companion animals, Shih Tzus are gentle house dogs who form strong attachments to their owners. Rather than a palace, all they really need is a loving home.
Official name: Shih Tzu
Other names: Shittsu, Tibetan Lion Dog, Chinese Lion Dog, Chrysanthemum
Drooling tendencies1 out of 5
Grooming needs4 out of 5
Shedding Level3 out of 5
Barking tendencies3 out of 5
Energy level*5 out of 5
Compatibility with other pets4 out of 5
Warm weather?1 out of 5
Cold weather?2 out of 5
Suited to apartment living5 out of 5
Can stay alone2 out of 5
Family pet?*4 out of 5
|23 - 26.5 cm
|23 - 26.5 cm
|4.5 - 8 kg
|4.5 - 8 kg
|2 to 10 months
|10 months to 8 years
|8 to 12 years
|12 to 20 years
|Birth to 2 months
Get to know the Shih Tzu
All you need to know about the breed
With their illustrious canine heritage, the Shih Tzu has always held a certain exoticism. Originating in the imperial palace of Chinese emperors, where the breed lived exclusively for several centuries, they were considered by many people to be sacred. As such, there has always been a kind of reverence around them.
Certainly, this sprightly breed does have a special sort of charm. With a temperament that is loyal, affectionate and gentle, the Shih Tzu also has a natural intelligence. Then there are those gorgeous lion-like looks.
Famed for their long silky tresses, it’s true that the Shih Tzu’s coat requires a fair amount of grooming. But it’s all part of the pleasure that comes with having this breed. Also, as they require minimal exercise compared to many dogs, they are lower maintenance in other ways. With a top weight of 8kg (17.5lb), the compact size of the Shih Tzu means they will fit into most home set-ups, too.
They do know their own minds, so training the Shih Tzu can be a little challenging at first. But with a bit of gentle persuasion, and plenty of encouragement along the way, they grow into well-mannered adults. The Shih Tzu also has a good lifespan, too, with a top age of 20.
Given all this, it’s perhaps no surprise that they also seem to be popular with the celebrity community. Among the many well-known names to have owned a Shih Tzu are Mariah Carey, Beyoncé, Colin Farrell, Bill Gates and even Queen Elizabeth II. In summary then, this is a very rewarding breed of little dog – and one that is, indeed, fit for an emperor.
2 facts about Shih Tzus
1. What’s in a name?
Wondering how to say the name ‘Shih Tzu’? Well, in the west, it’s pronounced “sheed-zoo” or “sheet-su”– with not a swear word in sight. However, in China, the word is pronounced as “sher-zer”.
2. A dog with flower power
Another interesting fact about the Shih Tzu is that they are sometimes known as ‘Chrysanthemum’ dogs. This is partly because of their resemblance to the flower but also because chrysanthemums are an important cultural symbol in China.
History of the breed
As a breed that is more than 1,000 years old, the Shih Tzu has a long and illustrious history – and an impressive heritage. For many centuries, they were owned exclusively by the emperors of China, with no one outside the palace allowed to have one.
Going back even further, the Shih Tzu is thought to have its origins in neighbouring Tibet. The story goes that these elegant toy-breed dogs were developed by Tibetan Monks who probably offered them as gifts to the Chinese emperors. In any event, the Shih Tzu appears to be a cross between two Sino-Tibetan breeds, the Lhaso Apso and the Pekingese, and another Tibetan variety.
Cherished by successive emperors, the Shih Tzu lived the high life at the palace for hundreds of years, but were little known outside the imperial court. In fact, the breed all but vanished by the early 1900’s. Brought back from the brink, however, the Shih Tzu finally came to the attention of the outside world in the 1930’s, and hasn’t looked back since.
Initially, breed clubs were formed in Peking and, later on, in England where the breed was refined still further. By the 1940’s and 50’s, their popularity had spread to the US and they were recognised by the American Kennel Club in 1969. Today, they are among the most popular toy-breed dogs in the world.
From head to tail
Physical characteristics of Shih Tzus
Things to look out for
From specific breed traits to a general health overview, here are some interesting facts about your Shih Tzu
Keep a close check for any eye problems
While their bright brown eyes are one of their distinguishing features, Shih Tzus can suffer from a few potential issues in this area. These include cataracts, retinal detachment, corneal dryness, general inflammation and a degenerative condition called progressive retinal atrophy. Also, because of their protruding shape, their eyes can be easily scratched or injured. The best advice? Check daily for anything out of the ordinary and, on the first sign of anything unusual, contact your vet. It’s important to keep their hair out of their eyes by tying it up in a topknot or keeping it cut short.
They can be prone to respiratory issues
Because of the way their heads, faces and airways are shaped, the Shih Tzu is known as a ‘brachycephalic’ breed. This means they can be susceptible to breathing difficulties – and, in some cases, fainting spells. For this reason, over-exercising Shih Tzus should always be avoided. It also means they have a poor ability to tolerate heat. Coupled with their thick coat, the Shih Tzu simply doesn’t cope well in hot weather. As a result, walks in the summer should be taken either first thing in the morning or at the end of the day when the temperature is cooler. To ensure you have the healthiest dog possible, always seek out a responsible and trusted breeder, and seek counsel from your vet if needed.
And watch out for any allergies in your dog
One other thing to be aware of is that the Shih Tzu is among the breeds predisposed to atopic dermatitis: a hypersensitivity to environmental allergens such as pollen and dust mites etc. Also, the itch (pruritus) induced can then be complicated by secondary infections. It is recommended, therefore, to keep a close eye on your Shih Tzu’s skin health. Licking the paws, rubbing the face and recurring ear infections are the most common signs of allergies. If they display any of these signs, it’s best to consult your vet. Unfortunately, dealing with an allergic dog is not easy, but medicated shampoos, a bespoke diet or specific treatments can help to improve the situation.
Healthy diet, healthier dog
When choosing food for a Shih Tzu, there are many factors to consider: their age, lifestyle, activity level, physiological condition, and health including potential sensitivities. Food provides energy to cover a dog’s vital functions, and a complete nutritional formula should contain an adjusted balance of nutrients to avoid any deficiency or excess in their diet, both of which could have adverse effects on the dog.
A Shih Tzu puppy’s requirements, in terms of energy, protein, minerals and vitamins, are much greater than those of an adult dog. They need energy and nutrients to maintain their body, but also to grow and build it. Until they are 10 months old, a Shih Tzu puppy's immune system develops gradually. A complex of antioxidants - including vitamin E - can help support their natural defences during this time of big changes, discoveries, and new encounters. Their digestive functions are different from an adult Shih Tzu’s, too: their digestive system is not mature yet so it’s important to provide highly digestible proteins that will be effectively used. Prebiotics, such as fructo-oligosaccharides, support digestive health by helping balance the intestinal flora, resulting in good stool quality.
Similarly, a puppy’s teeth – starting with the milk teeth, or first teeth, then the permanent teeth – are an important factor that needs to be taken into account when choosing the size, shape, and texture of kibble. The maintenance of skin health requires nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids (EPA-DHA), vitamin A, and borage oil. This intense growth phase also means high energy needs, so the food must have a high energy content (expressed in Kcal/100g of food), while concentrations of all other nutrients will also be higher than normal in a specially formulated growth food. It is recommended to split the daily allowance into three meals until they are six months old, then to switch to two meals per day.
Throughout their life, it is important to avoid feeding your Shih Tzu human foods or fatty snacks. Instead, reward them with kibble taken from their meal allowance, and strictly follow the feeding guidelines written on the package in order to prevent excessive weight gain.
The main nutritional goals for adult Shih Tzus are:
Preserving the health and beauty of the skin and coat with the enriched addition of essential fatty acids (especially EPA-DHA), essential amino acids, and B vitamins to support the
skin’s “barrier” function
Maintaining an ideal body weight by using highly digestible ingredients and keeping the fat content at a sensible level.
Small breed dogs are well known for being fussy eaters. Exclusive formula and flavourings, as well as a kibble size with a special texture, will stimulate their appetite. Small breed dogs are also prone to urinary stones; a diet that supports a healthy urinary system is recommended.
For Shih Tzus living mainly indoors, highly digestible proteins, an appropriate fibre content, and very high quality carbohydrate sources will help reduce faecal smell and volume. Because an indoor lifestyle often means less exercise, an adapted calorie content, which meets the reduced energy needs, and a diet that contains L-carnitine, which promotes fat metabolism, can help maintain an ideal weight. Apart from an indoor lifestyle, neutering is also a factor in overweight dogs.
Text Item 1
Text Item 1
After 8 years old, Shih Tzus start facing the first signs of ageing. A formula enriched with antioxidants will help maintain their vitality and an adapted phosphorus content will support their renal system. Ageing is also accompanied by the modification of digestive capacities and particular nutritional requirements, so food for older Shih Tzus should have the following characteristics:
Higher vitamin C and E content. These nutrients have antioxidant properties, helping to protect the body’s cells against the harmful effects of the oxidative stress linked to ageing
High-quality protein. Contrary to a widely held misconception, lowering the protein content in food brings little benefit in limiting kidney failure. In addition, older dogs are less efficient at using dietary protein than younger dogs. Reducing the phosphorus content is a good way of slowing down the gradual deterioration of kidney function.
A higher proportion of the trace elements iron, zinc, and manganese to help maintain good condition of the skin and coat
A higher quantity of polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6) to maintain the quality of the coat. Dogs can normally produce these fatty acids, but ageing can affect this physiological process.
As they age, dogs increasingly suffer from teeth problems. To ensure they continue to eat in sufficient quantities, the size, shape, and texture of their kibble needs to be tailored to their jaw.
Caring for your Shih Tzu
Grooming, training and exercise tips
Although they were bred to be a house companion, meaning they require less exercise than most, the Shih Tzu is still quite an active little dog. They are also quite social animals. As such, the Shih Tzu will benefit from short walks, a couple of times a day, to keep them fit and healthy and support their mental well-being. Just watch out for other larger dogs who can be more boisterous than they intend. For your Shih Tzu’s own protection, the dog park is best avoided. As this is a breed that does not do well in extremes of hot or cold weather, the Shih Tzu’s exercise should be organised accordingly. Outdoor adventures should be supported with indoor games to satisfy the Shih Tzu’s naturally playful personality.
The Shih Tzu has a luxurious double coat and the amount of grooming required will depend on the length. If you choose to keep their coat long, it will require a fair bit of maintenance. Ideally, your Shih Tzu will need a good brushing every day. To prevent matting, be sure to reach gently to the skin. As mentioned earlier, the hair on the top of the head should also be tied in a topknot or cut short to protect their eyes. Medium-length coats should be fine with some attention every two days and short coats every three. Shedding in the Shih Tzu is no more than average and can be less. A monthly bath is recommended, and brushing teeth, trimming nails and cleaning ears should all be part of the regular routine too.
While it’s true that they’re pretty smart, Shih Tzus can also have a stubborn streak, which can make training a bit of a challenge at times. Puppy classes are therefore a good idea. As they can sometimes struggle with housetraining, too, this can take slightly longer than average. However, with a little patience and plenty of positive reinforcement, they’ll soon get the hang of things. When you’re as small as a Shih Tzu, the world can seem like a big place, so early socialisation with new people, pets and places is also recommended.
All about Shih Tzus
It’s true that the Shih Tzu can be a breed that’s prone to barking. But that’s only because they like to communicate what’s going on. As Shih Tzus will often bark at people or dogs passing the window, investing in some curtains or shutters may help. On the bright side, it does mean these little lap dogs also make good watchdogs.
The answer is yes, absolutely. As the Shih Tzu was bred to be a companion animal, and that has been the case for centuries, they form close bonds with their human families. The Shih Tzu also has a friendly and affectionate temperament and will thrive on attention from their owners.
Other breeds that might interest you
Read more on this topic
- Veterinary Centers of America https://vcahospitals.com/
- Royal Canin Dog Encyclopaedia. Ed 2010 and 2020
- Banfield Pet Hospital https://www.banfield.com/
- Royal Canin BHN Product Book
- American Kennel Club https://www.akc.org/
Like & share this page