Should I Get A Shih Tzu? – the bare facts you must consider

A cute shih tzu puppy in a basket.

So, you’re thinking of buying or adopting a shih tzu but you’re unsure if you’re going to make the right decision. Is a shih tzu the right addition to join your household? 

Shih tzu are wonderful, loyal and friendly companion dogs that will love you from the bottom of their hearts if you treat them right. They can be stubborn and independent thinking at times, sometimes suffering from “selective deafness” when you give a command they don’t want to comply with but generally all they want to do is please you and to be with you.

But before I help you to provide your own answer to the question, “Should I get a shih tzu?”, I urge you to think it over thoroughly before committing yourself to the acquisition of such a fine animal.

The most important thing to consider is that bringing a shih tzu home will bring demands upon you twenty four hours a day, seven days a week for hopefully the next fifteen years or more.

Think carefully about it, it’s a life changing commitment for you and your family, particularly if you’ve never had a dog as part of the family before. Don’t get me wrong, I want you to be the proud owner of a shih tzu, believe me it’s well worth the effort, but it’s only right for the shih tzu and you that you are ready to make the necessary sacrifices.

Registration and Vaccinations – the essential first steps

Should I get a shih tzu?
Image courtesy of Cynoclub | Dreamstime ID 51270072

In some countries you may need to register your new shih tzu under a licensing system which will almost certainly involve having a microchip painlessly inserted into the loose skin at the back of his neck and a recording of his DNA profile. Usually this registration will not be granted unless your puppy or dog has had the necessary vaccinations.

Even if you don’t have to register your shih tzu it is still a good idea to insert the microchip just in case he one day becomes lost or stolen. The microchip would then allow you, the owner, to be reunited with your dog.

Even if you don’t have to register your shih tzu, vaccinations are still a must to prevent him catching fatal diseases and passing them on.

The obvious one is the rabies vaccination, usually a legal requirement in most countries, which is given at age three months here in Gibraltar, the UK and the EU though this may be later in other countries. Check with your local veterinarian. The rabies vaccination must then be boosted, for legal reasons, every one year although the original vaccination would last for three years.

As well as rabies the other absolutely essential vaccination, though not necessarily a legal requirement, is the combination jab against parvovirus, parainfluenza, hepatitis and distemper. This all-in-one vaccination is usually given in three rounds between age six weeks to age four months. Not only are these jabs essential for a shih tzu’s well-being but also for permission to travel, placing in kennels, joining training classes and similar. This vaccine will need boosting every three years or so.

No puppy can be allowed outdoors until these core vaccines have been given.

Apart from these two essential vaccines there may be one or two localized vaccines that your chosen shih tzu may need. For example, here in Gibraltar and southern Spain vaccination against leishmania, a disease transmitted by a mosquito known as “sand fly”, is necessary for dogs. If you live somewhere where there are a lot of ticks then vaccination against Lyme disease should be considered. If you live where there are wild animals around then it’s leptospirosis to guard against. If your potential shih tzu is attending classes or staying in kennels a vaccination against kennel cough, more formally known as bordetella, is advisable.

These are just a few examples of the vaccinations that may be necessary in certain circumstances. You will have to consult your veterinarian to discuss which your shih tzu needs should you decide to have one.

Going On Vacation – how your holiday choices may change

Shih tzu enjoying being on vacation.
Image courtesy of Chaoss | Dreamstime ID 55658263

Owning a shih tzu means planning your vacations very carefully. While you are gone you will either have to put him or her in kennels, have a dog sitter come to your home or take him on vacation with you. 

Let me tell you, and I speak from personal experience here, that it is heartbreaking for both you and your dog when you part at the kennels. On top of this, he will be pining for you all of the time you are gone.

If you choose to leave your shih tzu at home with a dog sitter popping in to feed him and take him for walks, this can be a professional or a family member, neighbour or friend. Whoever you choose, it must be someone your shih tzu trusts and you trust to administer doggy care to the same standard as you.

If you take him with you, you will need to go camping or book dog friendly accommodation which narrows your choice considerably. Going to another country involves a lot of organization, a pet passport proving the necessary vaccinations have been administered  and, in some countries, may even require a period of quarantine. If your trip involves crossing the sea you may need to take a ferry instead of flying.

Shih Tzu Potty Training – time consuming but necessary

If the shih tzu you are considering acquiring is a puppy then you will need to take him outside for him to do his “business” every two hours or so to minimize the inevitable incidents of indoor soiling before your puppy is potty trained. Shih tzu have small bladders anyway and that of a puppy is even smaller so cannot hold much liquid and therefore he has to discharge often. As the puppy matures the frequency of having to go outside for a pee diminishes.

Shih tzu are notoriously difficult to potty train but with persistent and consistent training it can be done. For more information, click on the link below to see my article on potty training:

Are Shih Tzu Easy To Potty Train?

Taking a Shih Tzu For a Walk – twice a day is the right way

Once a shih tzu puppy reaches fourteen months he has reached adulthood, his bladder will be stronger and he will only need walking then twice a day. A shih tzu doesn’t need much exercise but in an ideal world you need to take your shih tzu for a walk of at least twenty minutes duration every morning and the same every evening, every single day. That’s a massive time commitment that will make you miss out on a lot of events and opportunities. On the plus side, you will be getting some healthy extra exercise that you may not have got otherwise.

For further and more detailed information relating to when you should walk a shih tzu and for how long, please see my post “How Often Should You Walk a Shih Tzu?“.

Coping With Separation Anxiety – a common problem with stay-at-home shih tzu

Shih tzu that are left alone in the home all day, every day while their owner is at work or school are prone to suffer from separation anxiety.

A shih tzu with separation anxiety becomes extremely distressed when his owner leaves the house, leaving him all alone. When he knows his owner is going to leave he will make an awful fuss, jumping up, barking and whimpering, even trying whatever he can  to stop the owner from leaving. Then for around the first forty minutes after the owner has left there will probably be a period of incessant barking and whimpering plus perhaps some destruction of furniture and clothing, maybe even some defecation, this even if he is house trained. Then when the owner comes home he, the owner will be subjected to the same fuss that was made when he left.

Owners not being able to cope with separation anxiety is the most common reason why a dog will end up being abandoned or passed on to a rescue centre or sanctuary. Forewarned is forearmed and if you know before you become a shih tzu owner how to prevent separation anxiety or at least to minimise the symptoms, then hopefully you will be more than able to cope with it. My post “Shih Tzu Separation Anxiety” explains the symptoms, bad behaviour and what you can do to alleviate the situation.

Medical Conditions That May Develop 

Shih tzu getting a checkup from the vet.
Image courtesy of Eduardo Gonzalez Diaz | Dreamstime ID 96625441

Most shih tzu are healthy specimens and I sincerely hope that if you do go ahead and enjoy the delights of owning a shih tzu that yours turns out to be a healthy dog, that you have many years of happiness together and that he never suffers from any of the conditions below.

You need to bear in mind, however, that the shih tzu is susceptible to the same health problems as any breed of small dog with an unnaturally short snout and unnaturally short legs.

You should never use a collar on a shih tzu as the windpipe, or trachea, is made of cartilage and is easily flattened by the pressure. This leads to difficulty in breathing and in severe cases may need surgery. Breathing problems can also be caused by a shih tzu being born with narrow nasal passages. Again, surgery can fix severe cases.

Shih tzu are at risk of heatstroke in extremely hot conditions. Because of the way their respiratory systems are designed they cannot pant fast enough to keep their body temperature normal. In these conditions it’s best to cut their hair short, keep them in an air conditioned room or at least in cool shade and give them iced water to drink plus ice cubes to chew on.

You will need to watch out for eye diseases; at the first sign of inflammation, redness or abnormalities, consult your veterinarian immediately. It may be nothing but swift action could save your dog’s sight. 

Mainly because shih tzu have short legs and a proportionally large back, there can be problems with hip joints, knee joints and even the possibility of a slipped disc. Most of these conditions can be treated, the most severe by surgery.

Shih tzu have comparably very long and narrow ear canals which are covered by furry ear flaps. This creates a warm and moist environment that bacteria thrive in and make painful infection likely. For this reason a shih tzu’s ears need cleaning on a regular basis.

Shih tzu can develop very itchy allergies that manifest as skin rashes and as a waxy substance inside the ear. Their paws and snouts may discolour due to scooping out this wax followed by licking the paw. These allergies can be treated by experimention in change of diet or products such as shampoo, for example, or by medication.

Hypothyroidism is another condition that can affect shih tzu. The thyroid does not function correctly in a shih tzu affected by this illness resulting in varying appetite, weight gain, excessive urination, fatigue and hair loss. Hypothyroidism can be treated with medication. It needs to be diagnosed early otherwise the patient can fall into a coma.

Another condition that can send a shih tzu into a coma if not diagnosed and treated early enough is Addison’s disease, a deficiency of the adrenal glands that inhibits  hormone production. This condition is hereditary, so as long as you get your shih tzu from a reputable source you should never encounter this disease. Bruno was diagnosed with Addison’s disease after falling into a coma and almost dying when a puppy. Since then he has lived a happy life thanks to his twice a day medication. He is one laid back shih tzu!

If you’re speculating about choosing a female shih tzu she will need to be spayed either at an early age, around age six months, this is before she comes on heat for the first time, or, if she is going to be used for breeding, as soon as she has ended her breeding duties. Shih tzu come on heat usually twice a year from age seven months. During these times there will be a small discharge of blood that you might like to contain in a doggy diaper.

All of these conditions and more I will be going into in greater detail in future posts. So if you do become a proud shih tzu owner, do please bookmark this site and come back again. 

Although the chances of a shih tzu developing anything nasty are slight, treatment for most of the above conditions can turn out to be very expensive and it only makes sense to take out pet insurance to dampen the shock of any sudden, unexpected strains on your finances.

Grooming -it’s not just about making your shih tzu look pretty 

Shih tzu having his beard trimmed.
Image courtesy of Pavel Siamionau | Dreamstime ID 30102033

Many people, including some “experts” are under the misconception that shih tzu are hypoallergenic. Fact: they’re not! You generally don’t see any shed hair from a shih tzu on your carpet or furniture as they have a double coat. When they shed hair it tends to get caught between the two layers.

This is evident when you brush a shih tzu, the loose hairs will attach themselves to the brush. If you keep a shih tzu’s hair long like the show dogs you would have to brush him every day to avoid his hair becoming a tangled mess.

I, personally, prefer to take my two to the groomers every four to six weeks to maintain a short hairstyle. This not only prevents problems with matting but helps to keep them cool in the hot Gibraltar climate.

I also ask the groomer to pluck the hairs from inside their ears and cut the hair from between their toes. This is for hygienic purposes as these are areas prone to infection. The groomer will also wash the dogs and cut their toenails, the latter being necessary every four weeks or so.

There is some routine grooming, apart from the regular brushing, that you will need to do at home. One bath a week with a dog friendly shampoo should be sufficient unless the shih tzu has been rolling around in dirt or worse. Of course, then he would need a bath as soon as possible.

A shih tzu’s ears should be cleaned out weekly with special dog ear cleaning fluid and sterile cotton wool. Every time he eats or drinks you need to wipe his face with a clean, damp cloth. This is to prevent a build up of food particles and spilled drink water in the creases, another bacterial breeding ground.

In the near future I will be writing about all aspects of grooming in greater detail. Be sure to bookmark this site for all things shih tzu.

I hope you now have the answer for “Should I get a shih tzu?”

If you have read all of this post you will now be aware of the commitment, both financially and in time, that you will have to make if you want a shih tzu in your home. You will know the way you will have to change your daily routine and be aware of what could, however unlikely, affect your chosen shih tzu during his life.

I sincerely hope that after considering the points covered that you go ahead and get your shih tzu and you have a warm, happy, loving relationship together. The companionship and affection you get back from your chosen one is well worth the time, money and effort invested a million times over!

If you have any questions that you would like to ask regarding shih tzu dogs or you have any comments about this post or this website, please use the space below or use our contact us form.

PS: Don’t forget to bookmark us so that when you have your new shih tzu puppy you can come back for more tips on how to successfully raise your newly acquired friend.

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