Shih Tzu

Vital stats

  • Breed type: Companion
  • Size: 20 - 30 cm
  • Weight: 4 - 8 kg
  • Lifespan: 10 - 16 years


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  • Intelligence
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  • Trainability
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  • Exercise needs
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  • Good with kids
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  • Levels of shedding
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  • Good for new owners
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A guide to Shih Tzus

The Shi Tzus is a friendly, happy and outgoing companion dog. The breed has a long history and can trace its roots back to Tibet and China.

The Shih Tzu we see today was originally bred in China during the 17th Century and descends from a cross between the Pekingese and Lhasa Apso breeds. In Mandarin Chinese, the name Shi Tzu translates as ‘little lion or lion dog’ and popular within the Chinese Royal court.

The breed remained largely unknown to the West, and it wasn’t until the 20th Century that the first Shih Tzus arrived in Europe. In 1933, the first Shih Tzus was shown in England alongside the Lhasa Apsos.

In China, the breed almost became extinct during the 20th Century following the takeover of the Chinese Communist party in 1949. A small number survived, and 14 Shih Tzus became the foundation of all Shih Tzu that now exist.

Shih Tzu temperament and characteristics

Shih Tzus are an affectionate, lively and sweet-natured companion breed. They love to be petted and pampered, and are happiest spending time with their family giving and receiving lots of attention.

As a small dog they’re suitable living in a variety of different homes; from small flats to larger suburban houses. They don’t mind where they live as long as they’re with their owner. As a companion breed they shouldn’t be left alone for long periods of time and can develop separation anxiety.

They make great family pets and are loyal and affectionate towards their owners. Good with children they are perhaps better suited to older children but regardless of age, it’s important to introduce pets and children in a positive way so they can interact safely with each other.

Shih Tzus aren’t always an easy breed to train. It can take some time and plenty of patience to socialise and toilet train them. Because they’re companion dogs, training should always involve lots of praise and rewards.

When it comes to exercise Shih Tzus are not an overly active breed. But like all dogs, they do need some form of exercise. 20 - 30 minutes of play and exercise each day should be enough. It's a breed that isn't always thrilled to go on long walks, and you may find that after 30 minutes, they’ve had enough and want to go home or do something else.

Shih Tzus are a flat faced breed and dogs with this feature are known as brachycephalic. Shih Tzus and other flat faced breeds are known to be loud snorers and can sometimes have problems managing their own body temperature which leads to heavy panting.

Shih Tzu coats and colours

The Shih Tzu's glossy double coat makes them instantly recognisable. Their coats come in a variety of colours. The most common breed standard colours include:

  • Black and White

  • Brindle

  • Brindle and White

  • Gold and White

  • Gold Brindle

  • Gold Brindle and White

  • Grey and White

Grooming a Shih Tzu

Owning a Shih Tzu can involve a lot of grooming, so be prepared!

The coat and undercoat require a lot of daily grooming to keep it in good condition. Their hair grows quite quickly and they will need regular haircuts. Keeping their coats trimmed and relatively short makes it much easier to maintain and groom.

This short style is known as the ‘puppy cut’ and is a popular choice for Shih Tzu owners. There is also the ‘teddy bear’ which is similar to the ‘puppy cut’ but accompanied with a rounder face.

You may want to take your Shih Tzu to the groomer. How often you do this will depend on the length of their coat. As a general rule, you should be taking them to a groomer once every four to six weeks but ultimately it will depend upon your dog and personal circumstances.

When it comes to grooming, there are lots of different cuts and styles to choose from depending on how long or short you want your Shih Tzu’s coat to be. A groomer can give you some ideas on a style that suits both you and your pup.

Pet insurance for Shih Tzus

Shih Tzus are cheaper than many other breeds to insure. The average cost in 2021 was just £347.18, which is below our average pet insurance cost for all dog breeds of £474.77.

They’re in fact one of the cheapest dog breeds to insure in the UK. This is a good indicator that they’re a pretty healthy breed as well, which is good news for owners of Shih Tzus.

However, it’s always best to start insuring Shih Tzus when they’re puppies. With lifetime pet insurance policies any health conditions and illnesses can be covered throughout their life, for as long as you keep renewing.

Pet insurance only tells one part of the story in terms of the cost of owning a Shih Tzu. You can learn more about which breeds are cheapest and most expensive to buy, feed and insure.

Shih Tzu health conditions

Despite being a breed low insurance costs for the size of the breed, Shih Tzus do still have a few common conditions to look out for. In 2021, the top three conditions claimed for were:

  • Vomiting

  • Corneal Ulcer

  • Gait abnormality - lameness

Despite having pretty low insurance costs for the size of the breed, Shih Tzu suffer from certain health conditions that you should be aware of.

It’s common for Shih Tzus to develop eye problems. Many brachycephalic breeds are prone to Corneal ulcers. The eyes can be easily be scratched and injured by dirt and debris. If you notice your Shih Tzu is squinting or their eyes look red and are tearing; this is a common sign they’re suffering from this condition.

Corneal ulcers can be easily treated with medication but if left unchecked can lead to more serious eye problems and even blindness.

Shih Tzus can suffer from some mobility issues. Conditions such as luxating patella and hip and elbow dysplasia can often lead to lameness. In 2021 with paid 18 claims for luxating patella with the average claim costing £1070.68.

The condition is where the kneecap (the patella) slips in and out of the groove it’s meant to sit in. When the patella dislocates out of this groove, it can stop the knee from extending properly. You will find many small breeds are affected by the condition.

Hip and elbow dysplasia occurs when the ball and socket in the joint don’t fit or develop properly. They rub and grind instead of sliding smoothly and the joint starts to deteriorate and lose function.

Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS)

The short-nosed shape of the Shih Tzu causes breathing difficulties and this condition is called Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS). Symptoms include:

  • Problems with breathing and exercising

  • Making a lot of noise while breathing, even when resting

  • Difficulty with sleeping (often snoring while sleeping)

BAOS is linked to the brachycephalic head shape and normally affects other flat-faced breeds like Pugs, French Bulldog, and British Bull dogs.

If you get a Shih Tzu puppy, you should ask the breeder if the parents have been health tested. A reputable breeder will be able to provide you with health screening results and advice about your pup and its parents so you’re aware of any conditions that may affect their health.

Frequently asked questions about Shih Tzu

How many puppies can a Shih Tzu have?

On average Shi Tzus will have three to four puppies at one time.

Are Shih Tzus hypoallergenic?

Shih Tzus shed very little and are as hypoallergenic as any dog can be. No dog breed is 100% hypoallergenic.

Hypoallergenic means those dog breeds with low shedding coats which produce less dander. Dander is material shed from the body of animals with fur. The allergens found in dander can cause allergic reactions for people with allergies.

Do all Shih Tzus bark a lot?

Shih Tzus have a reputation for barking a lot. Although they’re considered a companion breed, they were also bred to alert their owners to any visitors and this natural instinct remains.

The amount of barking will depend on their individual personalities and training but in most cases, barking is trigged by a particular situation.

Common barking triggers include passing other dogs when out walking or when a visitor knocks on the door. If barking becomes excessive, you can introduce training methods to help your Shih Tzus stop barking when it isn’t necessary.