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How to Help a Shih Tzu Lose Weight


Many toy sized breeds, despite their overall small stature, can indeed become overweight. And this is particularly true for a breed like the Shih Tzu that has a very sturdy, square frame.

When a dog's bone structure can support a good amount of weight, it indeed can hold and carry excess weight to the point of the dog needing to lose a few pounds.

In this section we will cover:
  • Reasons why a Shih Tzu may become overweight
  • Health issues to rule out
  • The effects of being overweight
  • Steps you can take to put your Shih Tzu on a diet, to safely lose weight
* If you already know that your Shih Tzu is overweight and needs to lose, you may wish to jump right to: How to Help a Shih Tzu Lose Weight.

Reasons a Shih Tzu May Become Overweight

1) How much weight a dog can potentially carry depends a lot on his skeletal frame. The Shih Tzu is a hardy, sturdy dog with a squared body structure.

And despite being a toy breed dog, he normally reaches a rather good size of 9 to 16 lbs. 

For this reason, it is very easy for excess weight to be carried. 

2) The basic rules of calories in, calories burned apply.
If a Shih Tzu is taking in more calories than he is burning off, he will gain weight. So, there are two aspects to this:

1. Calories in. Even if you just feed your Shih Tzu 2 to 3 small meals per day and a few snacks, if the food is calorie dense, and/or a good portion of those calories is coming from carbs and not protein, this can cause a calorie surplus. 

So, while your dog may not be eating huge amounts of food, if his food is low-quality and he is eating the wrong kinds of food, this can certainly lead to issues of being overweight. 

Other elements may include feeding him bits of your own food which may be high in fat, carbs, and/or calories, giving too many treats (if they are not low-calorie options), giving into begging, and other factors. 
2. Calories out. Just as important is how much energy a Shih Tzu is burning off. Just like humans, there are 3 parts to this. 
  • There is a dog's Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) which is how much is burned off simply by existing. A certain amount of energy is needed to breath, for bodily functions, etc. Each dog will have his own unique metabolism
  • There is a dog's energy expenditure via exercise. This includes a Shih Tzu's daily walks, any purposeful playtime such as fetch, and other sessions of light to moderate cardio. 
Shih Tzu dogs should be walked twice per day, for a minimum of 20 minutes. Such things as bad weather and busy days can interfere with reaching this exercise requirement. 

Pace matters as well. Exercise should be at a pace that is brisk for the dog. Merely strolling along casually will not quality as a good activity session. 
  • There is a dog's NEAT. This is Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis which includes any movements that are not considered exercise, such as pacing, jumping, wagging his tail, etc. 
There are other factors as well. Both age and health status are elements that will affect this. 

Adult dogs need 35 to 45 calories per day for each pound of body weight; however due to the above this can fluctuate up or down by 20%. 
Summary - If you take into account various food options, issues of food not being properly balanced, a Shih Tzu possibly not being walked often enough, long enough, or at the right pace, and how much a dog moves during the entire rest of the day, you can see how a Shih Tzu may indeed become overweight. 

Health Issues to Rule Out

Before you take steps to help your Shih Tzu lose weight, you will want any possible health issues rule out. 

Conditions that can cause weight gain include Cushing's disease (other signs include hair loss, and poor skin health) and hypothyroidism (other signs include lethargy, and dry or oily skin and/or coat). 

Oversized Vs Overweight

We spoke of body structure earlier, and this is important to take note of. With adult Shih Tzu having a normal weight range of 9 to 16 lbs., this leaves a 7 lb. variance. 

In addition, though the AKC standard is for 9-16, that refers to what is preferred in the show ring. Pet Shih Tzu can be healthy and anywhere between 7 to 18 lbs.

Much of what will determine how big a Shih Tzu will be is his body frame, not how much fat is on it. So, it is possible to see both a 7 lb. and 17 lb. Shih Tzu that are both a healthy weight. 

Your vet can help you determine if your dog is carrying excess weight. And a general guideline that you can do at home, is to look at his rib cage area when he is wet after a bath. If you cannot see any sort of outline whatsoever, this is a sign that he may be carrying too much fat. 

The Effects of Being Overweight

Canine obesity is a real and serious issue. And as we stated, is not just limited to medium and large sized breeds.

For the Shih Tzu breed, excess weight can really do a number on the body, because this breed is already prone to hip and knee issues, and breathing issues can worsen.  

Common problems with being overweight include:

Stress on joints and bones. Because the Shih Tzu is already prone to both hip dysplasia and patella luxation, any extra weight will put even more stress on these vulnerable areas. 
Increased breathing problems. Being a brachycephalic breed (compressed head structure), the Shih Tzu can already have some breathing problems including elongated palate. Extra weight can compress breathing passages even further. 
Decreased mobility. It is a vicious circle that overweight dogs cannot move around well, but they must move around move to lose weight. 

Overweight Shih Tzu may have trouble rising from a down position, and have a low exercise tolerance. 

Strain and stress on the heart. Excess weight puts a strain on the heart and the entire circulatory system. 
Increased risk of disease. Such conditions as canine diabetes, and even cancer are seen at a higher rate in overweight dogs. 
To Summarize: For puppies that are struggling to gain weight, first be sure that this is not a normal stall or phase of slower growth.  All health issues should be ruled out and food should re reevaluated. 

Then, if you then know that what your Shih Tzu puppy needs is a bit of a boost in the right direction, we'll cover that next.  

How to Help a Shih Tzu Lose Weight

It must be mentioned again that before you take steps to help your Shih Tzu lose weight, do be sure that this is not a matter of having a larger than expected body structure, and that there are no health issues. 

You goal will be to decrease calories (without decreasing the amount of food that you give to your Shih Tzu), while increasing his activity level. 

#1 Change his diet to a both a quality food & a low calorie formula. If your Shih Tzu has been eating a less-than-ideal dog food, it will be time to make a switch to a better one. If he is already on a 4 or 5 star food, that brand should offer a healthy-weight variety. 

If you will be making a change in brands, do this over the course of 3 weeks to avoid upset stomach. Week one do 3/4 old to 1/4 new, week two do 1/2 and 1/2, and week three do 1/4 old to 3/4 new. By week four, your Shih Tzu will be fully transitioned over. 

If you are not sure which low-calorie food to have him on to help him lose weight, you may want to consider Wellness Complete for Small Breeds - Healthy Weight. The Wellness line of dog foods is one of our newest recommended brands, and for good reason. 

This is a very high quality food that is great for toy breed dogs. The 'healthy weight' formula's top ingredient is turkey, which is a low-calorie, filling protein. 

It also has chicken, oatmeal (easy on the tummy), salmon and flaxseed (both very good for skin and coat health), carrots, spinach, blueberries, apple, and sweet potaotes. 

There are zero chemical additives, and no wheat, corn, soy or by-products. And, this is made in the USA. 
#2 Only offer low-calorie snacks for treats and rewards. Anywhere from 10 to 30% of a dog's daily intake can come from his snacks. And it is not recommended to stop giving these. 

Snacks are an important part of a dog's diet, to keep him satiated between meals, and to reward good behavior. Both praise and reward plays a big role in everything from reinforcing housebreaking, to command training, and such things as walking nicely beside you or not barking at a trigger. 

And no dog wants to stop receiving goodies from his humans. So, the key is to offer something that will be well-received, but has a lot fewer calories than regular dog treats.

You can offer some wholesome foods such as raw baby carrots. And low calorie options like peas, cucumbers, and even some fruits like blueberries and raspberries can be added to meals.

If you are looking for really great store-bought treats, we are very happy with Fruitables Skinny Mini Apple Bacon Dog Treats. These also come in other great flavors like pumpkin & berry, pumpkin & mango, and even bison (a great low-fat meat). 

These have zero additives, and actually have very few ingredients; just real food and natural preservatives. The best part is that each small treat has just 3.5 calories. Even a small handful of 4 or 5 will keep counts down low. And, of course, these are made in the USA. 
Recommended food and treats are right below, if you do not see the images, try a refresh. 
#3 Gradual Increase in Activity. While making changes to what your Shih Tzu eats will play a big role in helping him lose a few pounds, gradually increasing his daily exercise will help you find success more effectively.

It is important to note that Shih Tzu dogs carrying excess pounds may already be having trouble taking long walks or keeping up a good pace. So, the goal will be to incorporate small changes that will have a big impact over the course of a couple of months. 

Here are some tips: 

1) Aim for two 20-minute walks per day, adding on 5 minutes each week until you reach a max of 30 to 35 minutes. 

2) Aim to go at a pace that is brisk for your Shih Tzu, increasing intensity only as he works up his endurance. You won't need to (and it's not recommended to) build up to a full-out run; but, a Shih Tzu should be trotting along with an active gait. 

This is not always easy for overweight dogs, so allow his tolerance to build up. 

3) Don't let the bad weather stand in your way. Unless there is heavy rain, a snow storm, or below freezing temperatures, have the goal be to get you and your Shih Tzu outside every day. The key is for both of you to be dressed warm enough and for him to be properly protected.

If you feel cold, even if your Shih Tzu is fine, you may be apt to want to get back into the house too soon. If your Shih Tzu tends to get chilly, and this is common for this toy breed, try to obtain one good piece of clothing, like a lined vest. 

Have a good paw wax on his paws, and a good nose balm like Snout Soother Nose Balm protecting his nose from arid winter air and drying and chapping problems. 
4) Work around the summer heat. Try to take your Shih Tzu for walks both early in the morning and then later in the evening when the sun is readying to set. Stay on the shaded side of the sidewalk if possible. And bring along plenty of water, so that you can take breaks and allow your dog to re-hydrate. 

Importantly, be sure to have his paws protected with a quality paw wax like Musher's Secret Paw Protection Wax to add a layer of protection from hot summer surfaces. 

How Much Weight Loss to Expect & A Final Word

As you can imagine, the amount of weight that an overweight Shih Tzu should lose will depend on how many extra pounds he is carrying. It is always better for this to be slow and steady. Do not rush this. A good rule of thumb is to aim for 1/4 to 1/2 pound per week. 

This is a marathon, not a sprint. And changes that you make in regard to both his food and activity level should be life-long changes with the goal of increased health and mobility. 

Having the right supplies can make a world of difference. It can improve everything from how your Shih Tzu does when home alone, to his success with housebreaking, and can even help prevent a common health issue seen with this breed. 

See what is needed and why, for optimal health, comfort, safety, and happiness. 

The products that you use on the coat (the shampoo, but also the conditioner and the leave-in spritz) will either be beneficial to the coat or detrimental. 

And this has a big effect on not just how your Shih Tzu looks, but also his skin and coat health. Be sure to have the right products for baths and touch-ups when brushing.
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