Your "lion dog," so properly named, is sweet, playful and courageous -- she's a watchdog by nature. You want your canine companion to live a long and healthy life. She can, if you give her a good diet, regular exercise -- and dental care. Excellent care may increase her life expectancy beyond the shih tzu's projected 15 years.
Usually small dogs will outlive larger dogs. A general way to calculate the comparison of age to humans is to multiply a larger dog's age by 8. For small dogs, multiply by 6. If your shih tzu is 15 years old, she is equivalent to an adult who is 90. Knowing how your shih tzu compares to humans in years gives you an understanding of the aging process and better prepares you for caring for your pet. As she ages, her needs will change.
Your shih tzu is prone to dental disease because of crowded teeth in a small jaw space. The shih tzu also has a slight undershot or underbite, which affects chewing and biting. Stubborn puppy teeth can limit space for the adult teeth causing protruding teeth -- and more chewing difficulties. The vet can extract stubborn puppy teeth. Dental disease starts with tartar buildup and progresses to the gums, where bacteria collect. Eventually the bacteria travels throughout the blood, affecting major organs: kidneys, liver and heart. Dental disease shortens the shih tzu life expectancy. To maintain a healthy mouth, brush your pooch's teeth two to three times a week and visit the veterinary clinic for regular dental cleanings.
Heart disease affects many shih tzus. According to Pet Care, heart disease is a leading cause of death in older shih tzus, and 75 percent of heart disease is the result of heart valve deterioration. To complicate matters, their exercise must be minimal because shih tzus overheat easily. Daily exercise is essential to protect your buddy from piling on the pounds and stressing the heart. A 20-minute walk or even playtime in the house is all your lion dog needs. Decrease the length of exercise, though, when she enters her senior years.
A dry food is best for your pup to help with the removal of plaque that can lead to tartar. You need to regulate food to avoid obesity. Feed your shih tzu a consisted measured amount of kibbles each day. A quality dog food uses lean proteins and no byproducts. Avoid dog foods that contain corn, wheat and soy -- they cause allergic reactions in some dogs and are hard to digest. Shih tzus are prone to food allergies. Look for meat as the first items listed. Senior dogs need senior food, which contains more calcium.
Shih tzus are prone to hay fever that begins around age 2 and can worsen as your dog ages. Your vet can help you with treatment options. Disc disease is a commonality in shih tzus. Watch for a hunched back, an inability to jump, and dragging of the back feet. Surgical removal of ruptured discs can help your pup. Shih tzus may inherit eye conditions. Eyelashes grow abnormally, causing cataracts, dry eyes and damaged corneas. Have your vet check your shih tzu's eyes at each visit. Keeping your pup healthy will lengthen her life expectancy. As she ages, take her to the vet more often. She could possibly live into her 20s.
Pauline Gill is a retired teacher with more than 25 years of experience teaching English to high school students. She holds a bachelor's degree in language arts and a Master of Education degree. Gill is also an award-winning fiction author.