Teacup Shih Tzu – The Cute Dog Facts

A teacup shih tzu being exceptionally cute.
ID: 5221267 © thephotoguy | Depositphotos

About The Teacup Shih Tzu

No matter what you may have heard from breeders, marketing people or have read on other websites, there is no such stand-alone breed as a teacup shih tzu. This term for an undersized shih tzu was conjured up by the breeders and marketing people to give the dog a more glamorous name for the purpose of attracting buyers. 

There are upper and lower limits on the standard size of the adult shih tzu, as given by the American Kennel Club (AKC). Other national organizations will be similar, if not the same. These limits are:

  • Weight: 9 to 16 pounds (4.1 to 7.3 kg)
  • Height: 9 to 10½ inches (22.9 to 26.8 cm) at the shoulders.

The occasional shih tzu will grow up to 19 pounds (8.6 kg) but it is more common to find dogs under these limits. These are the ones given the “teacup” tag. Sometimes “Imperial”, “toy”, “miniature”, “mini” or “micro mini” will be used as an alternative to describe an undersized shih tzu. None of these words describe an actual breed.

Some of these undersized dogs occur naturally, there is sometimes an undersized puppy in a litter, or, more often, they are bred deliberately, sometimes ethically, often not so.

The naturally occurring undersized puppies usually grow to between 7 and 8 pounds (3.2 and 3.6 kg) adult weight. They do not usually suffer any extra health problems because of their size.

Extra or compounded health problems may occur, however, with purposefully bred substandard sized dogs. These are usually bred to weigh only 5 pounds (2.3 kg) or less. Under 4 pounds (1.8 kg) is very unlikely as the shih tzu bone structure does not allow for this.

These drastically smaller dogs are bred because of the demand from would-be owners who like to follow examples set by their celebrity idols, like the fact that they can carry them around with them in their bags or just because they like them because they look cuter than the full size dog and will always look like a puppy even when fully grown.

Here’s How Teacup Shih Tzu Are Bred

A litter of four teacup shih tzu puppies.
ID: 92237486 © cynoclub | Depositphotos

There are three main methods used to breed smaller than average dogs. These are by use of genetics, selective breeding and cross breeding. We can rule out the genetic route for shih tzu as this is done by introducing the chondrodystrophic gene, which causes dwarfism by arresting the development of the long bones, and the shih tzu breed already has this gene. You cannot add something that is already there. So let’s take a look at the other two methods.

Producing Smaller Dogs By Selective Breeding

This size of a shih tzu litter is usually between one and six puppies, sometimes more. With the larger litters there is a fair chance that one, the runt, will be noticeably smaller than his or her brothers and sisters.

Breeders will take a male runt from one litter and mate it with a female runt from another litter. The resulting puppies will in all probability be smaller than standard like their parents. Breeders will then mate the runts from these litters of this reduced size, making even smaller dogs. The process then continues until the desired size of dog is being produced.

The main problem with this method is that the runt of a litter is usually smaller than its siblings because of an underlying health problem. Perhaps it is a heart problem or trouble with another organ; or maybe it’s a bone or joint problem. Whatever it is, it will be passed on to the next generation along with any health issues suffered by the other parent, compounding the problem. These issues will then be passed on to the next generation where they will become further compounded, and so on.

Producing Smaller Dogs By Cross Breeding

By allowing a shih tzu to mate with a smaller dog, the resulting litter may turn out to be of smaller sized puppies than a shih tzu, though this is never guaranteed. As long as healthy dogs are used for the breeding process, this is a much safer method of producing a healthy teacup sized dog than the mating of two runts.
The big drawback with this method is that it is all down to luck what the puppies will look like and act like. They could inherit none, some or all of the shih tzu’s looks and also none, some or all of the shih tzu’s characteristics. Whatever traits the puppies inherit they will never look exactly like, nor act exactly like a shih tzu.

Some Popular Shih Tzu Shortening Cross Breeds

A shichi cross that’s more shih tzu than chihuahua.
ID: 31591853 © todsapornw | Depositphotos

As one of the smallest breeds, the chihuahua is often used to mate with slightly larger breeds such as the shih tzu to produce a dog somewhere between the two, usually between 5 and 12 pounds (2.3 and 5.4 kg). The shichi or chi-tzu can inherit the short coat of the chihuahua or the long coat of the shih tzu.

An example of a sichon or zuchon, shih tzu and bichon frise cross.
ID: 73337051 © mgstockphotography | Depositphotos

Despite their similar sizes, crossing a shih tzu with a bichon frise often produces smaller sized shichon or zuchon puppies. As the bichon frise needs more exercise than a shih tzu, prepare to be more active if you adopt one of these mixes.

A fine example of a shorkie, shih tzu and Yorkshire terrier mix.
ID: 55728687 © adogslifephoto | Depositphotos

The shorkie, or shih tzu and Yorkshire terrier mix is another popular cross, the smaller size of the Yorkie bringing down the size of the shih tzu. The similar characteristic of these two dogs means you will probably have a puppy that behaves very similar to a pure shih tzu.

Tracking Down A Healthy Teacup Shih Tzu

Because of the successive breeding of runts, the smaller a teacup shih tzu is, the more likely it is going to have health problems. If you really want a dog that is 5 pounds (2.3 kg) or under, it really is better to go for a breed of dog that is meant to be that small, such as a chihuahua.

I totally sympathize with you, though, if you find adopting a shih tzu difficult to resist. I can also appreciate that if you are living somewhere where you don’t have much space for a bigger dog, that a teacup sized option may be ideal for a shih-tzu-phile, as it doesn’t take up much room indoors, neither does its toys and accessories and, if you don’t have a yard outside, it can be trained to go potty in a litter tray or on a puppy pad.

So, if you are dead-set on a teacup shih tzu, let’s make sure that you get a healthy one from a reputable breeder.

How To Make Sure You’ve Found A Reputable Breeder

A reputable breeder will not sell you the offspring of a liaison between two runts. What you will be able to buy from a bona fide source is a shih tzu, or shih tzu cross if you are choosing this method, just under the breeding standard weight that will reach 7 to 8 pounds (3.2 to 3.6 kg) when fully grown. 

These undersized puppies occur naturally even with the best breeders and will be just as healthy as their larger siblings. If this puppy happens to be the runt, a reputable breeder will inform you of this and the dog will not be allowed to reproduce.

A basket of small puppies for sale.
ID: 74670279 © caonzeper | Depositphotos

Ask questions of the breeder’s practices and methods and if it is possible to see the parents. It may only be possible to see the mother but at least that will give you some idea of how healthy she is, how she is being looked after and cared for and also it will give you an indication of the type of character the puppy may develop.

For extra peace of mind, also ask about the grandparents, how old are they or, if they have passed away, how old they were when they died and what did they die of.

The breeder should be able to provide proof that the puppy’s parents and the puppy have been screened for health issues and, if there are any, what the consequences of such issues will be and what they will mean to the puppy and you.

Avoiding Disreputable Breeders And Puppy Mills

If the breeder cannot answer your questions, cannot or will not show you the parents or cannot supply any health screening information, then you are probably dealing with a disreputable breeder and possibly a puppy mill.

These breeders mate two runts together to make whole litters of under standard sized dogs. Some even keep the puppies looking as small as possible by underfeeding them to stunt their growth. They have no interest at all in the puppies’ or the parents’ health and welfare.

If you have the misfortune to discover one of these establishments, please resist buying any of the puppies, no matter how appealing they look to you. Instead, please inform your local or national animal welfare organization who will hopefully shut the place down and find the dogs new, forever homes. 

Also, beware of buying puppies over the internet, especially if you cannot see them in person before you buy. I’m not saying that all internet breeders are bad, but there are many that are not up to humane welfare standards.

How Much Is That Doggy?

For a teacup shih tzu or shih tzu crossbreed you can expect to pay 500 to 2,000 USD or the equivalent and that is for a responsibly reared puppy. 

Irresponsible breeders will overuse the adjectives like “teacup” and “Imperial” to try and back up their false claims that shih tzu puppies of this size are rare and therefore worth their asking price of 10,000 USD or more. They are not rare and there is no need to pay such an exorbitant price for a puppy.

A miniature shih tzu puppy playing with a rope.
ID: 151602130 © chaoss | Depositphotos

Teacup Shih Tzu Health Issues To Look Out For

The teacup shih tzu can be susceptible to all of the same problems that a standard sized shih tzu could face but one or two health issues can become more prominent because of its smaller size.

For general health problems that may affect a shih tzu of any size, click below to take a look at an earlier post of mine:

Shih Tzu Common Health Problems

Hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia, or a low blood sugar count, is more likely to occur in a teacup shih tzu than in a standard sized one. 

Dogs diagnosed with this ailment will need to be fed more often, say between 3 and 5 times per day. There is only so much room in that small stomach, so the total amount of food consumed needs to be the same but just divided up into smaller portions.

If you have a dog that cannot tolerate solid food, you may need to consult your vet so that he can recommend a formula that will give him all of the nutrition and nourishment he needs to manage this condition.

Brachycephaly

Brachycephalic breeds such as the shih tzu that have a shortened skull and a flat snout still have the same sized palate as if they had a longer snout. This means that some of the fleshy part of the palate partially obstructs the entrance to the throat, causing breathing difficulties.

This problem is further exacerbated for the teacup shih tzu with his even shorter skull and flatter snout. Breathing will be particularly labored at times if he also suffers from another common problem, stenotic nares, a constricted opening of the nostrils.

Fragile Bones

The bones that form the skeleton of a shih tzu under 7 pounds (3.2 kg) are very small and very fragile. Care must be taken when allowing such a dog to play with children and other dogs, that he doesn’t jump from too high a height, as shih tzu are apt to do, and that his beds are in places where he will not get stepped on.

Keeping Your Teacup Shih Tzu Healthy And Happy

A litter of five small puppies.
ID: 177508004 © willeecole | Depositphotos

If you have adopted your shih tzu from a reputable breeder, then you will already know the state of his general health from the information given to you by the breeder.

However, if you have already bought a very small, 5 pound (2.3 kg) puppy whose parents are both runts, I suggest having him or her given a thorough health screening by a vet, if you have not done so already. This way any underlying health issues can be discovered and treated early.

Environment

Teacup shih tzu are even more sensitive to extremes of temperature than their standard sized counterparts.

On hot summer days and during heat waves, avoid taking the dog out during the middle of the day and early afternoon when temperatures are at their peak. Instead, take him out for walks and exercise early in the morning and late in the evening when the air is cooler. 

Indoors, if you have air conditioning, use it to keep your dog cool but if you don’t, place his bed in a cool, shady spot with plenty of air. If you live in an extremely hot climate, consider buying a raised bed to allow cooling air to circulate underneath.

In cold weather, dress your little one up in a fleece or waterproof jacket and booties when going out for walks. Place his bed in a warm place away from drafty air currents and provide extra blankets.

For more information about beds for your teacup shih tzu, click on the link below:

Deciding On A Shih Tzu Bed

Whatever the temperature, as I said before, place your little shih tzu’s beds somewhere safe where he is not in any danger of being stepped on or having anything heavy dropped on top of him.

Play, Training  And Interactivity

A teacup shih tzu puppy plays with his favorite beach ball.
ID: 53574141 © cynoclub | Depositphotos

During the first few months after first adopting your puppy you will probably have to give him much attention to prevent the onset of separation anxiety. Only leave him on his own for very short periods of time at first, then, as he gets used to being on his own, you can gradually increase the amount of time you are away from him. Check out my piece on separation anxiety in the link below:

Shih Tzu Separation Anxiety – How To Cope

Teacup shih tzu can and will happily get all of the exercise that they need from running around, perhaps chasing a ball, indoors. However, they also like to be outdoors and will benefit from two short walks of around 20 to 30 minutes per day.

Try to include one short training session on one of these walks. The earlier in the puppy’s life you start teaching some basic commands, the sooner he will start looking up to you as the alpha of the pack and trust you to make all of the decisions.

For some free information on training your shih tzu, take a look at this:

Shih Tzu Training – Free By Email

This link takes you to the TrainPetDog website where you will have the opportunity to sign up for a free email shih tzu training course. You’re not obliged to buy anything but if you were then to go on and make a purchase from TrainPetDog, I would earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Children love small dogs and teacup shih tzu generally love playing with children. Be careful at first and supervise the interaction between the dog and the children. 

These small dogs are very delicate and could be injured by exuberant and excited young children that don’t know how to handle them properly. Similarly, if the dog is handled in a way that he feels endangered, he may react badly. So until the children do know how to handle a small dog, be on hand to teach the correct way.

All dogs need to be socialized with other dogs but for its own safety and to reduce the risk of injury, only let a teacup shih tzu socialize with small dogs that don’t play rough and also have a gentle character.

Grooming

A teacup shih tzu sporting a puppy cut lies on a pink blanket with a bobbly ball.
ID: 322974862 © stenkovlad | Depositphotos

A shih tzu below the minimum AKC standard size can never be a show dog so, unless this is the look that you are going for, there is no need to grow the hair down to the floor. This is a style that is time consuming to maintain as it necessitates almost constant brushing throughout the day to prevent knots and mats forming.

The most popular style for a teacup shih tzu is the puppy cut, perhaps because it accentuates the “cute” look and is very easy to maintain. Of course, the choice of hairstyle for your shih tzu is entirely up to you.

Whichever style you choose, you will need to visit the groomer every 6 weeks or so. As well as trimming back the fast growing coat the groomer should also trim in between the toe pads, inside the ears, around the anus and genitals and also trim back the toenails.

As the toenails grow faster than the coat, you will also need to trim the toenails halfway between groomer visits. If the hair is growing profusely between the toe pads, you may have to trim this also to prevent paw problems.

Don’t worry, as I have laid out how to do this in my post:

How To Groom A Shih Tzu Dog – Easy Home Grooming You Can Do 

and you may also like to check out:

How Often Should You Bathe A Shih Tzu?

Together, these two posts will take you through everything you need to know to keep your teacup shih tzu clean, cute and healthy.

Have You Decided Yet?

I hope that this post has helped you to decide whether to adopt a teacup shih tzu, a shih tzu cross or a small dog of another breed. Whatever you decide, don’t forget that any dog requires a great level of commitment, time and attention from you, so be prepared to give that. Also consider sourcing your pet from a rescue center as an alternative to a breeder.

If you already have your teacup shih tzu, I hope that you have still managed to gain some valuable information from this article that will be of some assistance to you.

If you have any comments or queries relating to teacup shih tzu or shih tzu in general, please leave a comment below. If you prefer, you can send a message using the contact us form.

Bye for now,

Shih Tzu Steve.

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