Shih Tzu Health Problems

This page looks at common shih tzu health problems, such as eye problems, Brachycephalic Syndrome, luxating patella, and hip dysplasia.

Shih Tzu Health Problems

The Shih Tzu ("Lion Dog") is a small brachycephalic breed (short muzzled) dog. They have their origin in Tibet and are of a very ancient dog type. They have a soft, long, silky double coat.

The Shih Tzu is a friendly lap dog. They tend to be sweet, playful, and trusting. They are loyal and devoted to their family, but need a lot of attention and human companionship.

Because of their short muzzle, Shih Tzu's should not be left outdoors for long, especially on hot summer days. They may have difficulties breathing in the heat. For the same reason, Shih Tzu's should not be allowed to exercise too much in the summer.

If you are thinking of getting a Shih Tzu, you need to know about the common Shih Tzu health problems that may affect this dog breed.

Of course, not all Shih Tzu's will be affected by the common health problems as described below, but keep in mind that they are more predisposed to these illnesses.

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Shih Tzu Health Problems - Eye Problems

Shih Tzu's have big and somewhat protruding eyes. Therefore, it is easy for them to sustain injuries to the eyes and develop eye problems. Some common Shih Tzu health problems related to the eyes include:
  • Dry Eye: Dry eye (keratoconjunctivitis sicca) is a disorder of the tear glands in which there is inadequate tear production and a resulting dry cornea. As a result, the affected eye becomes irritated, and the conjunctival tissues becomes red. A thick, stringy, mucoid discharge covers the eye. The cornea eventually will become dry and brown. Blindness can result.
  • Entropion: Entropion is a condition where the bottom eyelid rolls inward and causes the eye lashes to rub against the cornea, resulting in pain, tearing, and inflammation. It can be present in both eyes. Entropion can be treated by eyelid surgeries.
  • Corneal Ulcers: Corneal abrasions and ulcers are injuries to the cornea caused by trauma, such as scratches. Ulcers are deeper wounds that involve the middle and sometimes even the inner layer of the cornea. Corneal ulcers are very painful and cause severe tearing, squinting, and pawing at the eye. Dogs with corneal ulcers usually avoid the light.

    Prompt treatment is essential to avoid complications and even loss of the eye. Therefore, if your Shih Tzu shows the above symptoms, take him to the vet immediately.
  • Cherry Eye: Cherry eye (prolapse of the gland of the third eyelid) is believed to be a congenital defect characterized by a weak connective tissue that attaches the gland of the third eyelid to the surrounding structures of the eye. Due to this weakness, the gland comes out of its normal position and is exposed to the air, coming into contact with airborne irritants which can cause infection to the gland. As a result, the gland often becomes irritated, red, and swollen. The preferred treatment of this eye condition is to surgically reposition the gland.
  • Progressive Retinal Atropy (PRA): PRA is a group of eye diseases in which there is destruction of retinal cells in both eyes, leading to blindness. The initial sign of PRA is night blindness. The dog may not want to go out at night. As the disease progresses, the dog will develop other signs of impairment, such as unwillingness to go down a flight of stairs. PRA can be early onset with slow progression, early onset rapid progression, late onset, or sudden retinal degeneration.

    There is no treatment for PRA. Fortunately, with their acute senses of smell and hearing, dogs who have lost their vision can compensate very well, particularly in familiar surroundings.
  • Cataracts: Congenital cataracts, also called juvenile cataracts, affect many dog breeds including the Shih Tzu. They appear in puppies younger than 6 years old. Surgery may be possible but expensive.

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Shih Tzu Health Problems - Dental Problems

  • Dental Problems: The Shih Tzu tends to have tooth and gum diseases - the small size of their mouth leads to overcrowding of teeth, which in turn makes it easy for dental problems to arise. For example, food tends to be trapped between the teeth, causing plaque and tartar buildup which, overtime if left untreated, can result in periodontal disease such as gingivitis and periodontitis, as well as premature tooth loss.

    Keeping your Shih Tzu's teeth clean by daily brushing and regular dental check-ups are essential. Also avoid snacks rich in starch and sugar.

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Shih Tzu Health Problems - Ear Problems

Shih Tzu health problems related to the ears include:
  • Ear Infections: Ear infections are common in the Shih Tzu because of their long, floppy ears. A typical sign of canine ear infection is a foul-smelling, waxy or pus-like discharge from the ear. The ear will be painful so the dog will scratch the affected ear incessantly and rub it against furniture or on the floor. There will be a lot of violent head-shaking, and the dog will tilt his head to the painful side, and cry out if the ear is touched.

    To avoid ear infections in your Shih Tzu, keeping his ears dry and regular ear cleaning are essential.

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Shih Tzu Health Problems - Joint Problems

Common Shih Tzu health problems that affect the joints include:

  • Luxating Patella: Luxating patella is a congenital disease in which the alignment of the bones and joints of the hind leg is abnormal, resulting in a displacement of the patella to the side of the joint. The main symptom of luxating patella is an intermittent hopping on the limb when the patella pops out of place. Depending on the severity of the problem, dogs with luxating patella may need surgical correction.
  • Hip Dysplasia: Hip dysplasia is a genetic disease that is characterized by an abnormal development of the hip joint. The typical sign of hip dysplasia is limping and bunny hopping. The condition can range from "mild" to "severe". Treatment includes medical therapy and/or surgery.

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Shih Tzu Health Problems - Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome

Brachycephalic breeds (short muzzled breeds such as the Pug, Shih Tzu, Pekingese) commonly suffer from a condition known as "Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome" that affects different areas of the respiratory tract resulting in an increase in airway resistance. If left untreated, this can lead to chronic breathing problems. Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome includes stenotic nares, elongated soft palate, and tracheal collapse.
  • Stenotic Nares (Collapsed Nostrils): This is a birth defect in which the nasal openings are small and the nasal cartilage is soft and floppy, causing the nostril to collapse when the dog breathes in, obstructing the airway. Depending on the extent to which the airway is obstructed, stenotic nares can result in excessive snorting, snoring, coughing, and gagging. In severe cases, this condition can lead to an enlargement of the heart, tracheal collapse and chronic bronchitis.

    Stenoic nares can be treated by surgically enlarging the nasal openings.
  • Elongated Soft Palate: This is anatomical problem in which the soft palate is elongated, partially obstructing the airway during breathing. This results in gagging, snorting, snoring, and gurgling, especially during and after exercise.

    An elongated soft palate is treated by surgically shortening the palate.
  • Tracheal Collapse: This condition occurs primarily in older dogs. Obese dogs are especially vulnerable to this health problem.

    Tracheal collapse occurs because the tracheal rings do not possess normal rigidity resulting in the collapse of the trachea wall as the dog inhales. The collapse of the trachea wall leads to a narrowing of the windpipe. Thus, the typical sign of this problem is a goose-honk cough, sometimes accompanied by gagging and harsh breathing, and made worse by stress and exertion. Coughing may also occur when the dog eats or drinks.

    Mild to moderate symptoms can be treated by bronchodilator drugs and a low-stress routine that avoids situations that trigger coughing episodes. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary. To protect the dog's throat and keep pressure off the airway, using a harness instead of a collar is important.

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Other Shih Tzu Health Problems

Other rather common Shih Tzu health problems include:

  • Renal Dysplasia: Renal dysplasia is an inherited problem related to the kidney. Specifically, puppies are born with underdeveloped kidney tissues, resulting in various types and severity of kidney failure.

    Initial signs of renal dysplasia (increased drinking and urination) show when the dog is 6 to 24 months of age. There is no cure for renal dysplasia. Controlling the symptoms of renal dysplasia is the same as controlling kidney failure, which involves dietary management and use of nutritional supplements.
  • Cleft Palate: This anatomical problem is characterized by an opening in the lip or the roof of the mouth due to failure of normal fusion processes when the fetus is developing. Affected puppies are born with the condition.

    A minor defect will cause little or no problem and no treatment is needed. However, surgical repair is required for a more severe defect to prevent conditions such as chronic nasal discharge, poor growth, and aspiration pneumonia.
  • Liver Shunt: Liver shunt, or portosystemic shunting (PSS), is a condition that causes blood from the intestines to flow around the liver, not through it. Most cases of PSS are congenital in nature. Small breed dogs (such as the Shih Tzu) appear to be at higher risks of developing extrahepatic shunts.

    If a dog is suffering from liver shunt, he lacks the necessary materials (particularly protein) to give him a ready source of energy and to help him grow. This causes the dog to be smaller and weaker than normal. Also, the liver is unable to properly get rid of all the toxins, causing toxin buildup in the bloodstream or kidneys. Toxin buildup often causes seizures in dogs.

    Extrahepatic shunts can be corrected by surgery relatively easily.

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