Old Shih Tzu? – How To Care For Yours

An old shih tzu sporting a fine, two-tone brown and white coat.

How Old Is Old? – Shih Tzu Senior Problems & Care

It doesn’t matter if you have a year-old shih tzu or a sixteen-year-old, it’s never too early or too late to take the precautions and the action to help your dog live a longer life and be more comfortable in his or her senior years.

Just as with us humans, when a dog reaches a certain age it stops growing and the metabolism gradually starts to slow down. The age at which this happens varies from breed to breed and dog to dog. This depends upon the average lifespan of the breed and the health of the individual dog. 

With the shih tzu breed the change from adult to senior begins usually at age 9 to 10-years. This can happen as early as 8-years-old in dogs with other health issues. It’s the vet who will declare if a dog has reached his senior years, though any shih tzu over 10 is considered a senior regardless of this.

The change is gradual. It happens at such a slow pace that you probably will not notice its onset. Read on to find out what these changes are and what you can do to keep your senior shih tzu healthy beyond the average shih tzu life span of 13-years and perhaps up to 16-years and more.

The Changes To Look Out For

A grey and white shih tzu senior citizen resting on the sofa.

There are several changes that can happen to a shih tzu when reaching senior status. These changes may appear to happen all of a sudden but will have actually been establishing themselves over some months.

All of the symptoms of aging could also be symptoms of several serious illnesses. So when you notice that your dog has one or more of these symptoms, especially if they have come on rapidly over a day or two, it’s best to take him to the vet to ensure that it is old age and not something more serious.                    

Your shih tzu, on reaching seniority, may experience one or more of the following changes:

Decreased Level Of Hearing

When every time you call your shih tzu by name or give him a routine command and he doesn’t respond, he is not deliberately disobeying you. It’s probably because his sense of hearing is not as sharp as it was.

Hearing difficulties usually start at around 13-years of age, can affect either or both ears, and the condition can deteriorate quite rapidly.  

Diminishing Eyesight

A senior shih tzu’s hearing and eyesight may not be what it was.

Your senior shih tzu’s vision may be on the decrease. This could be affecting one or both of his eyes. You’ll notice it’s happening if he starts walking into objects. His eyes may become cloudier.

Reduced Mobility, Agility, And Flexibility

The joints, particularly the hips and the knees, become stiffer, perhaps arthritic, leading to slower and shorter walks, less energetic play, and the inability to jump up onto raised surfaces such as sofas and beds.

TIP: If your shih tzu used to be allowed to jump up on the sofa or your bed and can no longer manage this, you might like to install a doggy ramp or doggy steps so that he can continue to do so without your help.

Loss Of Muscle Mass

This is more of a side effect of reduced mobility. The lack of or reduced amount of exercise means that the muscle groups do not get their full daily workout and so begin to shrink back, leaving your shih tzu feeling “boney” when you pick him up.

Less Or No Control Of Bladder, Bowels Or Both

Sniffing around trying to find the “bathroom”.

You may start to find “little presents” of pools of pee or feces in inappropriate places around the house. Your senior shih tzu will not be doing this on purpose, it will be because he cannot hold it long enough until his next walk or to get to the appropriate toilet place.

Problems With Teeth And Gums

Teeth can become chipped, broken, or fall out. For an old shih tzu this can cause difficulty with eating properly.

Changes In Behavior

There are some behavioral changes that can indicate that your shih tzu has reached his senior years.

You may find that he is sleeping for longer, sleeping more often, or both.

There could be changes to what he likes to eat, how much he wants to eat, and how often he wants to eat.

Sometimes he may want to be close to you more often than usual and other times he may disappear into a quiet corner for long periods of time. The latter is more likely if you live in a noisy household, perhaps with children or other pets.

Old Age For A Shih Tzu Means More Check-Ups

Have your vet give your senior shih tzu a health check every six months.
ID: 162214034 © edu1971 | Depositphotos

Ever since your shih tzu became an adult at around eight to ten months, he should have been having regular annual check-ups at the vets to monitor his health. When your vet has officially declared that your dog has become a senior, these check-ups should be made more frequently, which is every six months for an otherwise healthy dog.

Old shih tzu are subject to the same health issues that can affect a younger dog. However, the immune system of a senior is weaker, meaning that the affects of any health problems can be more severe.

The more frequent examinations will help detect any of these potential health issues at the first opportunity, allowing a course of treatment to be determined early to give the best chance of recovery.

For more information on shih tzu health issues, see:

Shih Tzu Common Health Problems

During the six-monthly check-ups, as well as the routine examination, the vet should check for heart, liver and kidney function, bone and joint problems, and vision and hearing efficiency.

This should involve extra blood, urine and stool tests, extra biochemistry profiles, and ultrasound tests to check if the major organs are functioning as they should.

Caring For Your Senior Shih Tzu

Continued exercise, but on a smaller scale, is important.

Exercise Is Important

It would be all too easy to let your elderly shih tzu wile away his time sleeping and resting indoors all day every day, but this would contribute to bringing about his premature demise.

Regular exercise, albeit not as intense as previously, will help reduce the rate of muscle degeneration and that includes the heart muscle. It will help keep the heartbeat regular and keep the circulation healthy.

Exercise will also help maintain the immune system as sound as possible and help keep stiff, arthritic joints lubricated and moving.

Try and keep up the same number of walks per day as your senior shih tzu enjoyed through adulthood, though they may need to be slower and shorter. He may start to struggle with steep hills, so a flatter route may need to be planned.

Dealing With Arthritis

It’s a fact that around 80% of dogs over the age of 8 suffer from some degree of osteoarthritis, usually to the hips, knees, or both. But it doesn’t have to be that way if you start taking preventative action at an earlier age.

Around when your shih tzu reaches 6 years of age, start adding joint supplements to his food at least once a day. The best supplements to maintain joint lubrication and flexibility include ingredients such as glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM. This is the best combination for maintaining the lubricating gel between bones, in my opinion. Supplements may also have an extract from the yucca schidigera plant, and hyaluronic acid, a naturally occurring acid that lubricates the cartilage.  

Something like this from NaturVet would be ideal:

NaturVet Glucosamine DS Plus MSM & Chondroitin Dog & Cat Soft Chews, 120 count - Chewy.com
This is an affiliate link. Click on the image to go to the product page at Chewy.com

Even if your shih tzu is not yet a senior but is older than six, if you begin using these supplements now, they are going to help alleviate the symptoms of osteoarthritis to some degree. These supplements will never cure the condition, but they will help keep the joints lubricated, more supple, and less painful.

If you notice your shih tzu struggling to stand up, unable to walk as fast as he used to, sometimes his back legs fall away when walking, can’t jump up, or he has difficulty sleeping, then, subject to confirmation by a vet, he probably has arthritis. If this is the case, there are two things that you can do to help him be more comfortable with his condition.

  1. To manage this illness, introduce the supplements described above to his diet, if you haven’t already done so.
  2. Treat him to a quality, orthopedic bed. As a senior, your shih tzu will require more sleep than when he was an adult. Ordinary beds can create pressure points that can be very painful on arthritic joints. An orthopedic bed with a memory foam base of at least 2-inches (50mm) thickness for total support and substantial side bolsters for neck support, will provide a warm, comfortable, pain-free place for him to sleep.   

This is the best bed that I can find that satisfies ALL of these requirements. It’s a little more expensive than the average bed, but then it is an above average bed:

Carolina Pet Comfy Cup Memory Foam Bolster Dog Bed
This is an affiliate link. Clicking on the image will take you to the product page at Chewy.com.

Keep Your Aging Shih Tzu Warm

As your shih tzu enters his senior years he will find it more difficult to regulate his body temperature.

Shih tzu of any age find it difficult to cope with very hot temperatures, so you probably already have the facilities, such as air conditioning, fans, raised beds, cooling mats, etc., to deal with this.

For the cold weather an orthopedic bed similar to the one described above will help, together with a fleece blanket on top.

For trips outdoors, depending upon the weather conditions, a thermal, wind proof, or waterproof vest or jacket will keep your shih tzu snug and warm.

This jacket is a good all-rounder – thermal, wind proof and water resistant:

Frisco Reflective Insulated Dog Coat With Thermal Lining
This is an affiliate link. Click on the image to go to the product page at Chewy.com.

Coping With Your Shih Tzu’s Hearing Loss

When you first notice that your shih tzu is having difficulty hearing, it’s best to have his condition diagnosed by a vet to confirm that it is due to old age and not because of an infection, especially if he is under 13-years-old.

Your shih tzu can be quite startled if you suddenly appear after approaching him from behind and he can’t hear you coming. So, always approach him from where he can see you, that is in front of him or from the side.

He won’t be able to hear clearly when you call him or give him a command, so start using hand gestures along with spoken words. Be consistent and use the same gesture each time for a particular command and a different gesture for each individual command.

Switching the lights on when you enter the room that your shih tzu is in and switching them off again when you leave will help let him know whether you are there or not.

TIP: There are in-ear hearing aids available for dogs but they are very expensive, very cumbersome, unreliable, and dogs generally don’t like to wear them. My advice is to steer clear of these devices, at least until the technology improves and the price comes down.

Making Accommodation For Your Shih Tzu’s Weakening Eyesight

You can expect your shih tzu’s eyes to appear cloudier in his senior years. However, if you do notice this starting to happen it is still a good idea to consult your vet to make sure it is not anything more serious such as cataracts or glaucoma.

There are ways that you can help your shih tzu cope with his less sharp vision.

Avoid moving furniture around as he is less likely to bump into anything that is sited in its usual place where he is expecting it to be.

In any case, cover with soft padding anything around the house that could cause him harm if he collided with it.

Think of places that you would place a baby gate if you had an infant toddling around the house, such as a staircase, and do the same for your senior shih tzu.

If you move his food and water bowls to a different spot, he may not be able to find them, so always keep them in their usual place.

To enable him to consistently find his toys, keep them all together in a box that is always kept in the same place, a place where he can access them.

As with hearing issues, don’t sneak up on your shih tzu from behind where he can’t see you as this could startle him and stress him out. Always approach him from the front or the side and give him time and a chance to see you coming. Even if his eyesight is really bad he will probably be able to make out your silhouette.

When out for walks, use familiar routes that you’ve both been on together many times before. 

An old shih tzu out for a familiar walk.

How To Cope With Reduced Bladder Or Bowel Control

As your shih tzu moves further into his senior years he may develop less control over his bladder, his bowel movements or both.

Whereas in his adult years he may have been able to go the whole day between his morning walk and evening walk without needing a toilet break, his older and weaker bladder and bowel muscles mean that he may need to “go” one or more times in between walks.

When you do notice this happening, first have your vet rule out anything more serious, such as kidney disease, or bladder or urinary tract infections.

If you have a backyard that your shih tzu can access during the day, try and train him to use a particular spot as his toilet. If not, try placing a puppy pad in perhaps your bathroom or other appropriate place for him to use.  

If that doesn’t work out you could try using doggy diapers to prevent messy floors. However, this will mean that you have a messy dog that will need bathing more often. Bear in mind that excessive bathing can exacerbate another shih tzu age-related problem, that is dry skin.

Treating Dry Skin And Coat

As a shih tzu reaches his advanced years, his skin cannot retain moisture on the same scale as when he was an adult. The skin becomes less supple, dry and itchy.

This can, in turn, lead to skin infections, especially if the skin becomes cracked or peeled, or the dog tries to scratch it a lot.

Dry skin will cause the hair of the coat to become thin and brittle, some of it may even fall out.

You can help alleviate dry skin and its effects by bathing your shih tzu using a shampoo that matches his skin’s pH level of 7.5.  A shampoo rated anywhere between pH 6.5 and pH 7.5 will suffice. It should also be soap-free with plant-based cleansers and paraben-free so that it rinses out easily.

Treat dry skin with pH7 shampoo and conditioner.
ID 161134312 © edu1971 | Depositphotos

After rinsing out the shampoo, a wash-out conditioner with similar pH values should be worked in and left in for five minutes before again rinsing out.

Then, pat your shih tzu with a towel to rid his coat of excess water and allow him to completely dry in air, if possible. If not, blow-dry on the lowest heat setting.

If there are then any rough or dry patches of skin, rub in some moisturizing cream.

There’s more about bathing here:

How To Bathe A Shih Tzu Dog For Healthy Skin And Coat

While bathing your elderly shih tzu you may notice a lump on his skin that you’re sure wasn’t there before. While you should get this checked by a vet to confirm that it isn’t anything malignant, don’t worry too much as any such lumps are probably just tissue building up due to old age.

Pay Attention To The Paws

Dry skin problems can be at their worst around the paws as they bear all of your shih tzu’s weight when walking and running on sometimes abrasive surfaces.

Keep the skin around the paws supple by massaging in some good quality moisturizing paw wax. Make sure you pay attention to the areas in between the paw pads, in between the toes, and where the nails bed in to the toes.

Keep the nails trimmed back while being careful not to trim so far back as to cause bleeding. A shih tzu’s nails can become brittle in old age and keeping them trimmed back will help prevent painful breakages.

Read more about keeping a shih tzu’s paws in the best condition here:

Shih Tzu Paw Problems – How To Cope With Them

The nails may become less brittle if you introduce some food rich in vitamin B12 into your shih tzu’s meals. Such food includes liver, lean beef steak, tuna, salmon, eggs and cheese. If you also add a few drops of Omega-3 oil this can help improve the dry skin and coat issues.

If you notice abrasions around the nail beds, or a musty odor, or both, this could indicate a yeast infection. If so, this should be checked out by a vet. 

Pay attention to your old shih tzu’s paws.
ID: 106919766 © vchalup2 | Depositphotos

Keep Track Of Your Senior Shih Tzu’s Weight

As your shih tzu moves into his senior years his metabolism slows down. He will probably not want to exercise as much or walk as far as he used to and he will be sleeping more.

All of this means that he needs less calories day by day to sustain him. If he continues to eat as much as he did as an active puppy and adult, he may start putting on weight. 

Extra weight means that his heart will have to work harder to pump his blood around his body and there will be more stress on his joints.

If significant weight gain occurs, you will probably need to cut down on portion sizes at feeding times and hand out less treats during the day. If the weight gain becomes chronic you may need to use weight control formula kibble or wet food.

It can also go the other way. Your senior shih tzu may start losing weight. There are several reasons why this might happen. These are the most common ones:

  • If he is on medication, it may cause him to lose his appetite.
  • There may be an illness causing him to lose his appetite.
  • He may have problems with his teeth or gums making it difficult or painful for him to eat.
  • It may just be that his appetite is not as big as it once was.

If you find that your shih tzu is losing weight, you will need to take him to your vet to have the exact cause diagnosed in order that the correct course of action can be planned.

Whatever the cause, it may be a good idea to make his food easier to eat. Use only the tenderest cuts of meat, cut up into bite sized pieces mixed with soft boiled vegetables and white rice. 

Bruno tucks into his special diet.

TIP: If your shih tzu will only eat kibble, try softening it first by pouring some warm water over it. This will make it easier for him to chew.

Watch Out For Canine Dementia

Hopefully, it won’t happen to your shih tzu, but dogs, particularly elderly ones, can suffer from a canine form of dementia, known technically as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome or CDS for short.

All of the symptoms for this disease could also indicate a completely different issue, so if you notice that your shih tzu has any of them its best to have your vet assess exactly what the problem is.

The symptoms of CDS can include one or more of these:

  • An inability to find the way around familiar areas, such as around the house.
  • A failure to respond to his name, familiar commands or events occurring close to him.
  • He has become easily startled.
  • He appears to be confused.
  • He appears to be depressed.
  • He stares into space or appears withdrawn.
  • He paces around the house aimlessly.
  • There is little or no enthusiasm to interact with his owner or other humans and pets in the household.
  • His appetite has changed, or his eating pattern has changed, or both.

CDS cannot be cured but there is medication available that can improve the quality of life of an afflicted shih tzu. The most popular is selegiline which is also used to treat humans for major depression and Parkinson’s Disease.

The top brand name of selegiline prepared for canine use is Anipryl, which is also used to treat Cushing’s Disease. In tests, over 70% of dogs with dementia showed at least some improvement after one month of selegiline treatment.

Live Long And Prosper

Old Father Time catches up with us all eventually but our little furry friends seem to reach their pensionable age all too soon.

However, with a little extra effort and care from us we can make sure that the little fellas and little ladies carry on to live as long a happy and active life as possible as comfortably as possible.

I hope that you and your shih tzu(s) go on to have many more happy times together.

Bruno looking very handsome.

I dedicate this report to my eldest, Bruno, who was also the inspiration for writing not only this page, but also the whole website. 

13-years-old at the time of writing, he still soldiers happily along despite suffering a heart murmur, an enlarged heart, Addison’s disease, arthritis in his hips, epilepsy, being blind in one eye, being hard of hearing, and now the onset of kidney failure. 

I have to force him to have seven different medications per day, some of them twice a day, yet he still remains my good friend, pleased to see me when I come home, and for that I will be forever grateful.  

Until next time,

Shih Tzu Steve.

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