The Shih Tzu

The internet’s most practical guide to your favorite dog breed

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*Learn more about the breed below and some of the products recommended by our team of experts, which include veterinarians, explosive detection dog handlers and the dog obsessed.

Shih Tzu Overview

Shih Tzus, also sometimes known as chrysanthemum dogs, are small dogs that will tend to weigh just 9-16lbs when fully grown. They are believed to have originated from the Tibetan Plateau but have a long history of ownership in China.

Shih Tzus have a very distinctive look and are quite unlike really any other breed! While they are very small, they aren’t quite as delicate as the tiny and fragile Chihuahua. Rather, they are quite sturdy. They are low to the ground and they have soft, long coats. Those coats are often groomed into some elaborate styles that include long fur that sweeps to the ground, or shorter teddy-like cuts. They are often white and red haired, though they may also have brown, grey, or black patches. Another distinctive aspect of their fur is that they will often have long beards and moustaches!

Famously, the composer James Mumford described Shih Tzus as being “a dash of lion, several teaspoons of rabbit, a couple ounces of domestic cat, one part court jester, a dash of ballerina, a pinch of old man, a bit of beggar, a tablespoon of monkey, one part seal, and a dash of teddy bear.” That paints a rather colorful picture, so it should tell you something about just how unique these dogs are that it is also actually quite an accurate portrayal!

Shih Tzus are popular at least partially for this unique look, but they are also well-liked for their great personality. Shih Tzus are outgoing, affectionate, and alert – though they need to be socialized and trained early in their life as they can sometimes be known to be a little bit stubborn.

Shih Tzu Food and Health

Dog food

When feeding your Shi Tzu, you should aim to tick many of the same boxes that you do when feeding yourself.

Getting the correct dog food will ensure that they have a healthy and complete diet. Just like us, dogs need to have a balanced diet with protein, carbs and vitamins and minerals which can affect everything from the shine on their coat to the strength of their bones.

The best way to ensure that your dog is getting those things, is to feed them a dog food brand that has been made using natural ingredients and that doesn’t have an overabundance of unwanted additives. Particularly dangerous for small dogs are large amounts of sugar, and for that reason you should try to avoid any products that have a lot of it added. And this goes tripled for Shih Tzus in particular, as this breed is prone to hypothyroidism. You need to make sure that your little dog doesn’t get too many sugar spikes as this can lead to a slower metabolism which causes weight gain and resulting joint issues.

Try reading the back of the packaging and this should give you some idea.

Two examples of brands that will tick these boxes and provide a health balance for your Shih Tzu include:

taste of the wild grain free high protein dry dog food

This is a grain-free formula which makes it ideal for a Paleo puppy diet. It is also filled with particularly bio-digestible energy that your dog needs while growing and includes lots of fruits and vegetables to fortify your dog with antioxidants and micronutrients. These can help to combat cancer as your dog gets older. Puppies love this mix and overall, it’s ideal for supporting an active lifestyle.

merrick lil plates grain free small breed recipe

Another excellent choice if you want to give your dog a more natural diet. The key ingredient in this specific recipe is deboned chicken, which makes it a convenient way to give your dog the protein it needs to build muscle. What’s more, is that the food contains ‘industry leading’ levels of glucosamine and chondroitin, which can help to support your dog’s joint health and happiness as it grows!

Also important is to consider the size of your dog and the type of food that you give them. Smaller dogs need food that is aimed at smaller dogs. This makes a difference because not only will the pieces be smaller to chew, but the contents will be better designed for their smaller stature.

Keep in mind though that there is no evidence to suggest that ‘breed specific’ foods will have any benefit.

Dog Supplements

If your dog has a specific problem, or even if it doesn’t, a supplement such as cod liver oil can help keep your pet’s joints pain free while even giving them an intelligence boost (so they can think of new ways to cause trouble).

Supplement can also provide a useful way for you to ensure that your Shih Tzu is getting all of the nutrients that they need in their diet. Things like omega 3 can help to reduce inflammation and help your dog to keep healthy joints even as they age.

That said, the best way to ensure your dog gets all of its nutrients is instead to feed it one of the healthy and natural food brands that we listed above. These should contain all of those natural elements in the right balances for your dog to absorb and use.

Other Food

Your dog won’t likely just consume the food you give it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In all likelihood you will also feed it treats, things from the table, etc.

If you are wondering whether it is safe to provide your dog with food from the table, then the answer is a ‘yes’ for the most part – as long as you are sensible.

Think about what your dog would normally eat in the wild. Is this something that you can share with your dog? For instance meat off the bone is actually very healthy for your dog, and especially because they can also benefit from some of the cartilage and the other nutrients found in the bones. Just remember that Shih Tzus have small jaws and you should avoid anything that might have small bones. Fish can be dangerous for this reason.

Do NOT feed your small dog foods that have a lot of added sugar.

Chocolate is man’s best friend right alongside dogs. Unfortunately though, dogs and chocolate don’t go well together and if your pup gets ahold of that box of Thorntons, then this can actually be very dangerous indeed for them.

This is of course because eating that much sugar can cause all kinds of internal damage. If a human ate an entire box of chocolates in one sitting then they wouldn’t feel very well either but humans are much larger than dogs and are able to stop when they feel sick. Dogs on the other hand will inhale food so quickly that they don’t feel ill until it’s too late. And because they’re so small, this amount of chocolate is highly dangerous and potentially even lethal.

Leashes and Collars for your Shih Tzu

When choosing a leash or collar for your Shih Tzu, there are a number of different things to consider. The two biggest considerations though are the comfort and the look.

While the former is most important of course, it is also true that a lot of people choose Shih Tzu for their unusual appearance, and it is therefore understandable that they may want to get them to look their best with a cute collar!

Try to find something colorful that will express your dog’s personality!

You can also consider using a harness for your shih tzu. These harnesses will allow your dog to pull against the leash without it digging into their necks. This makes them much more comfortable, though it is advisable to start them off with a regular collar in order to get them used to being walked – this is much easier for training purposes.

As for the leash itself, your little dog can make do with practically any piece of rope or leather leash such as fairwin leather dog leash and mendota products dog slip lead. Just keep in mind that they can be a little flighty and are easily scared – so it’s useful to have something that you can use to keep them under control. A retractable leash is good for this, and is well suited to the small size of your dog.

Best Crates, Beds, and Doghouses for Shih Tzus

Another useful purchase for dog owners is a crate, bed, or house – or perhaps all three.

The crate is something you will keep indoors and this will serve as their home in your home. It gives your shih tzu a space that is theirs to relax in and where they will feel safe, and you can use something called ‘crate training’ to make life around the home easier too. For instance, by teaching them to go to their crate when told, you can avoid them jumping up at strangers who come to the door.

Likewise, a bed is a useful space for your Shih Tzu to relax and unwind and you can again use this for training – when they’re on their bed they will know that it is quiet time and this is helpful when trying to get them off to sleep as well.

Finally, a house is somewhere for your dog to stay outside where they will be dry and able to stay out of the sun. You can also keep dog food here and not worry about it getting rained on. This is great if you want your Shih Tzu to spend lots of time in the yard, but don’t make this their permanent home – they are social indoor dogs, and they won’t be happy!

Shih Tzu Toys

Dog chews are great for two reasons. The first is that they keep the dog quiet for at least two minutes which may seem like nothing short of a miracle if you’ve got a high-energy marauder on your hands. The other benefit however is that chews will strengthen your dogs teeth and encourage the flow of saliva (which has antibacterial properties).

When choosing dog chews, there are lots of good products out there to select from. One that we like though is the conk like kong extreme dog toy, which is designed using a proprietary rubber that provides just the right amount of resistance when biting. You can get these in different sizes for different sized/aged dogs, so pick the right one for your pup!

There are several other types of toy that a Shih Tzu will really enjoy. Anything social they can play with you with is always going to be a hit for instance, so look for toys that you can play tug of war with. Ropes like chewers play dog rope toy are highly versatile as these can also be used for chewing.

Air squeaker tennis balls are also a lot of fun for small dogs – but try to gravitate toward those that will be small enough to fit into your little Shih Tzu’s mouth!

Grooming Insights for Shih Tzu owners

One of the big ‘selling points’ of the Shih Tzu as we have seen is their lustrous coat which can often be groomed in all manner of fun and attractive ways. This is great but it also means that these dogs can be a bit more effort than it would be for other pets.

Like a poodle then, it is often useful to get your Shih Tzu professionally groomed. This will not only keep them looking great, but will also give your groomer a chance to clip their nails regularly and to clean their teeth which will help their health.

But that said, you should also do some of these things yourself. You can clip your dogs toes yourself and you should also brush them regularly. Buy a soft dog brush and then try to brush them every few days. This will help to keep their skin healthy underneath, it will prevent matted and mottled fur, and it will make them very happy as they enjoy the attention!

You should also bath your dog fairly regularly. Our recommendation is once every three weeks. This will help to keep them clean and prevent the dirt and grime from getting caught in their long coats. If your dog comes home from a walk and looks especially messy, then you can of course give them an extra wash!

With that said though, you should avoid washing your dog too regularly. While you might think you are doing good, the truth is that frequent washing can actually remove the ‘skin barrier’ layer of oils that the dog secretes naturally. This leaves them more prone to flaking, dry skin, and also infections.

Problems to Look Out For

If you notice your Shih Tzu starts scratching or itching then this could be one of many things. Fleas and ticks are of course common problems that you can address with specialist products. You can get special tick removers that will help you to pull them out without leaving the legs behind (which can otherwise lead to infection). Likewise, you can use flea shampoos to kill off the fleas.

But this scratching can also be a sign of other problems. Look out for signs of worms and other issues in the stool and be sure to look through the fur regularly – the sooner you find these problems the better. Actually though, maintaining a healthy diet is also one of the very best ways to prevent your dog from getting skin problems.

Useful Products

Frontline – Frontline and frontline plus are great ways to protect against. These products will not only kill the current infestation but will also smother eggs and prevent new fleas from hatching.

Worming tablets – Worming your pet is important not only for you own health but for yours. If your dog has worms and you or someone else touches the feces it’s possible for them to spread to humans and live inside the stomach, or even feed off flesh and cause damage.

Dog Shampoo – Your dog may not like it, but bathing is another way to ward of flees and mites and to make sure their coat and their skin remains healthy.

Shih Tzu Accessories

There are lots of useful accessories that you can get if you own a Shih Tzu and this can make looking after them that little bit easier. Here are some useful options:

Hair Roller: This isn’t for them but for you! When your Shih Tzu starts to malt they can leave fur all over your clothes (and visitors’ clothes, more embarrassingly). Using a hair roller, you can attach the hair to the double sided sticky surface and that way go out looking normal!

Dog Sedatives: Dog sedatives are for when there are fireworks outside or thunderstorms. These can be scary for your little furry friends, so why not help them to feel calmer?

Dog Strollers: For small dogs like Shih Tzus, strollers like paws & pals pet stroller give you an option to keep walking when they get tired! They might look ridiculous, but they are in fact very useful!

Clicker: A clicker is something you can use for training your dog, which will help you to reward them without relying constantly on treats.

Clothes: Finally, consider the climate you’re in and get some clothes suitable for walks. And while you’re at it, a coat for your little Shih Tzu can also be a nice option!