How Long Do Shih Tzu Live? Health, Food, Hygiene – Explained

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A new dog in the house means more cuddles, lots of long walks, and endless visits to pet stores for dog food and toys. But above all, a new playful family member and a best friend you want to spend the longest time with.

How long do Shih Tzu live, you ask? Well, the short answer is that an average Shih Tzu has an average lifespan of 10-16 years. However, that depends on various factors, including where your pup was born, its health status, and the amount of care you give to it.

In this article, we’re going to go through these factors and give you helpful tips to extend the lifespan of your canine companion and delay the moment when you’ll have to say goodbye.

The Lifespan and Aging Process of Shih Tzu Dogs

The good news is Shih Tzu are among the top ten longest living dog breeds. Owners of healthy Shih Tzu can expect to enjoy their time with these affectionate dogs from 10 to 16 years. Most of them live till they’re 13 years old only, but if you take extra good care of them, they can fill your life with love and happiness for 20 years.

Their lifespan may seem short when compared to humans. However, in the dog world, 13 years equates to 70 human years, which means these little buddies can actually live till they become grandpas.

It’s a fact that their small bodies give them the advantage of living longer lives but also the reason behind their exposure to many health issues. While your dog will be of the same size for a long time, it’ll be getting older year by year.

A Shi Tzu is considered a pup till it’s 7-12 months old. It calms down and becomes an adult dog from two years of age, but it still won’t be a couch potato. Then, it turns into a senior dog at the age of 9 or 10, after which it starts aging and requires extra care.

Shih Tzu

The Oldest Known Shih Tzu Dogs

At the moment, three famous dogs bear the record of being the oldest Shih Tzu dogs in the world. Among them is the cute rescue dog named Marnie, who used to wander the streets of Connecticut until she was picked up by an animal shelter and then adopted by Shiley Braha to live happily for more than 18 years.

Another example that proves that with a little care, you could make your dog live longer is the story of Teddy, who was adopted by Denise Lamon in Arizona and lived to be 19 years old with few health problems.

Finally, the most popular of them all is a Shih Tzu named Smokey, who was raised in St Petersburg by Joe and Mary Slatton. The dog continued living with its pet parents for 23 years and only suffered from common age-related health issues.

Do the Breeders or the Place You Pick the Pup from Matter?

The thing is, this dog breed is very delicate, and many of them are born with hereditary health problems, of which you should be aware. That’s why the life expectancy of your dog is directly related to the breed’s health.

If you buy your dog from responsible breeders, they’ll give you information about the health record and longevity of the breed, which will help you provide the best care possible to your dog. Moreover, it’s your best chance to have a Shih Tzu who will live to be 16-18 years old.

On the other hand, puppy mills, backyard breeders, and unregistered private sellers may not be honest about the breed having health problems or a serious genetic disease. Hence, pets purchased from disreputable places may not live past 9-10 years.

Health Problems That Affects Your Shih Tzu’s Life Expectancy

shih tzu health

Like all small dogs, Shih Tzu suffers from many health issues during their relatively long lives. Even some purebred dogs are born with heart and conformational defects. If these conditions are addressed and treated early by a vet, dog owners can guarantee their beloved pets a longer lifespan.

Below, we listed some of the significant health concerns that Shih Tzu can have so that you can keep an eye on them and act fast when symptoms appear.

Heart Issues

Most Shih Tzu die due to aging. However, the second leading cause of their death is heart problems such as Congestive Heart Failure, which can occur both early and later in life.

Regular vet visits can help diagnose this issue early and commence a treatment plan that could prolong your dog’s life.

Knee Problems

One of the most common orthopedic defects in this breed is Patellar Luxation. This bulky term means that the dog’s kneecap slips in and out of its place when they move, causing joint pain.

If you notice a skip in your Shih Tzu’s step or a leg bent at an unusual angle, you should take them to the vet immediately, even if they start walking normally on their four legs again.

Most of the time, the vet will just prescribe pain and anti-inflammatory medications, along with some exercise restrictions. However, sometimes, a surgical procedure will be required.

Hip Dysplasia

Similar to Patellar Luxation, hip dysplasia is a condition that causes a loose fit but in the hip joint instead of the knee joint. If your dog’s activity suddenly declines or starts showing a swaying gait, it can be suffering from this condition. Its treatment is usually similar to that of the kneecap slides.

Back Issues

Due to their small build, back problems are common in Shih Tzu. Among these problems is Intervertebral disk disease, a neurological condition that means your dog has a slipped or herniated disc in their neck or back. In a sense, this condition is similar to slipped discs in people that cause lower back pain and numbness in their shoulders.

It can force your dog to hunch its back when walking and cry out in pain when moved. That’s why it requires immediate treatment. Fortunately, most cases can be handled with medications; however, surgery may be needed in advanced cases.

Respiratory Issues and Allergies

The trachea of Shih Tzu has a unique shape that makes it narrower and generally weaker than that of humans. That makes this breed prone to tracheal collapse, which means that their windpipe becomes narrower, blocking the airflow to their lungs.

Dogs with this problem will most probably make snorting sounds and have trouble breathing in cold or hot conditions because their lungs aren’t getting enough oxygen.

These cases are usually mild and can be handled with few medications. However, you should be careful not to exhaust your pet, meaning that sometimes a game of fetch won’t be a wise option.

Moreover, due to this condition, many dogs develop an allergic reaction to pollen and dust. But just like hay fever in humans, it’s manageable with a few drugs.

Obesity

Much like people, dogs need to stay fit in order to be healthy. Of course, sometimes we can’t resist spoiling our little pals with endless food and treats. However, despite the happy faces and waggy tails we get, we’re actually doing them harm.

Packing on the pounds can cause lots of health complications, especially in senior dogs whose activity starts to decline gradually as they age.

Helping them Keep a healthy weight and eat nutritionally balanced meals is essential to prevent heart diseases, which can be fatal in Shih Tzu. What’s more, it reduces the strain on their small bones and weak joints, increasing their chances of having a long and healthy life.

Hypothyroidism

Contrary to the previous point, some Shih Tzu have metabolic problems due to hypothyroidism. This can cause loss of appetite, excessive hair loss, lack of energy, and cold intolerance. Luckily, this complication can be handled by thyroid replacement drugs. Just consult the vet when you see any of these symptoms on your dog.

Liver Troubles

Sometimes a Shih Tzu can be born with a liver shunt. It’s one of the popular medical situations among this dog breed in which the blood bypasses the liver, cleaning it from toxins and harmful wastes. This leaves your dog’s system saturated with these toxins without a proper filtration system.

For treatment, your dog may need to take some medications, but most of the time, a vet will have to perform a surgical procedure to close the shunt.

Eye Diseases 

Those big soulful eyes of your Shih Tzu are also prone to some eye diseases, including dry eye and corneal ulcer in which sores form on the whites of the eyes, causing severe ocular pain. Other common illnesses include cataracts and glaucoma, which cause squinting, inflammation, and bluing of the cornea.

Always observe your dog’s eyes for any changes in the color of their cornea or any signs of colorful discharge since any of these conditions can be extremely painful and leads to blindness if left untreated.

Tooth Issues

Because these little buddies have small jaws and big teeth for their tiny mouth cavities, their teeth can be overcrowded. This makes them catch bad breath easily and sometimes suffer from inflammations in their gums. To prevent these problems, make sure that your dog has a proper dental cleaning regularly and routine check-ups on its mouth.

How to Guarantee Your Shih Tzu a Long and Happy Life?

Shih-tzu dog breed grooming at the salon

Knowing the average lifespan of your Shih Tzu is something and learning about how to improve its quality of life is another. As we said before, while Shih Tzu are generally healthier than other toy dogs, they have fragile bodies, and many of them are born with chronic health conditions. So let’s take a look at these tips to help your pet live as long as possible.

Know More about the Breed

Educating yourself about the traits of your dog will help you create a fun relationship with it and avoid hurting it by mistake. For example, one of the first things you should know is that your furry friend here is more of an indoor pet than an outdoor one. While it would like to play in fresh air from time to time, it won’t the right workout companion.

Actually, forcing your Shih Tzu to run or jog with you for more than half a mile will only cause its short legs to fall behind and its breathing to be shallow and fast. This, of course, can be dangerous considering its tracheal issues.

Also, despite their love for the water, Shih Tzu aren’t built for long and tiring swimming sessions, so anything more than a dip in the pool can be risky for these little buds.

Last but not least, make sure you don’t exhaust them on sunny or extra hot days. As a matter of fact, due to their small snouts, these adorable creatures can overheat quickly and have heat strokes, which can be deadly for them. Thus, make sure to provide them with enough shade and keep their bodies hydrated with cool water.

Manage Its Diet and Exercising Routine

Contrary to popular opinion, regular exercise isn’t good for your Shih Tzu’s heart, nor is it essential to keep its bones and muscles strong. Just a few short walks daily plus some indoor play can improve its health, boost its mode, help it sleep better, and significantly increase its life expectancy.

As for the diet, make sure to provide Shih Tzu puppies with quality meals containing vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Moreover, know that it’s natural for your dog to eat all day during its growing stage as it can’t hold much energy reserve in its small body for long. Yet, fully grown ones should have a specially balanced diet and exercising routine.

Overall, try to steer away from food containing artificial colorings and chemical preservations since it can worsen your dog’s case if it already suffers from asthma, allergies, or thyroid issues.

Have Your Shih Tzu Spayed or Neutered

It’s always a good idea to have your pet spayed or neutered. If you’re not familiar with these terms, the former means surgically removing the uterus and ovaries of females, while the latter refers to removing males’ testicles.

By having your female Shih Tzu sterilized, you’re reducing her risk of acquiring uterine infections, breast tumors, and mammary cancer. On top of that, you’ll prevent the birth of unwanted puppies and eliminate the stress and discomfort she endures during heat periods.

The same goes for male dogs as neutering lowers their chances of having prostate or testicular cancer and minimizes their aggressive behavior.

The best time for these surgeries is before two years old, preferably before the first heat. If your dog is already older, it might be too late, but the vet’s opinion will be all that matters in this case.

Don’t Forget Veterinarian Checks

Even if your Shih Tzu doesn’t show any sign of illness, never miss the vet’s visits. Routine check-ups make it easier to spot diseases that can be fatal if left unattended.

Schedule regular checks and try not to delay sick visits if you find any changes in your dog’s behavior or eating habits. Also, keep its vaccinations up to date and if veterinary costs are an issue, consider signing up for pet health insurance to help with the expenses.

Avoid Using Collars and Leashes

Because Shih Tzu have protruding eyeballs and narrow windpipes, it’s advisable not to use a neck collar or chain when walking with your dogs. These can worsen their collapsed trachea problem and apply extra pressure to their necks, which can cause their eyeballs to pop out of their sockets.

Consider using a harness instead, so even if your dog pulls, its neck won’t be affected, and any damage will be avoided.


Final Thoughts

Whether you’re a dog owner or just an avid animal lover, we hope this information has been of use to you! One last piece of advice we have for Shih Tzu’s parents is to enjoy and savor every moment.

It’s a universal fact that people outlive pets, and while no miracle will extend its life beyond the natural lifespan of its breed, there are some things you can do to ensure that your dog lives longer.

Never stop learning about your dog, and remember that the older your Shih Tzu gets, the more you will need to be patient and forgiving. It’s only natural that they’ll become slower and develop hearing and sight problems as they age. Just continue giving them love and care no matter what.