It seems likely that a dog whose name translates as "lion dog" is probably going to be pretty tough and strong. Indeed, these cute dogs are relatively long-lived, but without doubt, keeping your shih tzu in good health is the best way to maximize his life span.
Your shih tzu pup will love spending time with you and you won't find him straying too far from your side. This doesn't mean he's clingy, he just loves company and his entertaining, sometimes cheeky, personality will ensure that you enjoy having him hanging out with you. Although the shih tzu may look dainty and delicate, with his long, flowing coat, he really is a tough little dog. The shih tzu has an above-average life span of around 14 to 16 years, according to the Continental Kennel Club, so with good health care, your shih tzu will be your buddy for some time.
Daily Health Care
Apart from keeping up with vaccinations and giving heartworm, flea and tick preventive treatments on a regular basis, there are a few other preventative steps you can take to keep your shih tzu fighting fit. It's quite normal for a shih tzu to have a clear discharge from the eyes and you only need to wipe them regularly and gently with a clean cloth to keep his eyes healthy. If the discharge thickens, visit a vet immediately. Keep his nose clean in the same way. The shih tzu needs about 30 minutes to one hour of exercise daily to keep him in shape, although don't take him out in extreme heat because this breed is at risk of heatstroke. Regular grooming helps to prevent skin allergies. Some shih tzu owners have the coat clipped, but if you want to keep his hair long, you'll need to put aside time to keep it slick. Otherwise you'll end up with a matted mess.
Serious Health Issues
Every breed is susceptible to particular health issues. The shih tzu, like some other breeds with short legs, such as the basset hound, is at risk of a slipped disk, which puts pressure on the spinal cord. This is more correctly called intervertebral disk disease (IVD). While some other serious health problems are often discovered in the first few months of a shih tzu's life, IVD is only likely to occur after the dog is 2 years old. For example, a shih tzu may be born with stenotic nares, or very narrow nostrils, a condition which puts pressure on his breathing, and you should notice this problem pretty quickly. The shih tzu is also at risk of eye problems and hypothyroidism, but all these conditions, including the narrow nostrils, are treatable with surgery and medication.
Like pugs and other breeds with short nasal cavities, your shih tzu is likely to snort and sneeze, especially when he's a puppy. This is not life threatening and by the time your puppy is 8 months old he will probably have stopped making these noises, however he is prone to breathing difficulties. One way to help your shih tzu is to walk him using a harness and leash rather than a collar around the neck. Certainly you should never use a choke chain on your shih tzu. Using a harness prevents any damage to the dog's breathing passage through pulling on the leash and makes sure your shih tzu is comfortable when he's walking with you.
Based in London, Eleanor McKenzie has been writing lifestyle-related books and articles since 1998. Her articles have appeared in the "Palm Beach Times" and she is the author of numerous books published by Hamlyn U.K., including "Healing Reiki" and "Pilates System." She holds a Master of Arts in informational studies from London University.