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Care Tips(Top 14 Tips)

Shih Tzu Care Tips

Overview

There are some general care tips that are important, however in addition, with the Shih Tzu being both a brachycephalic breed and a toy sized dog, specific care is needed to keep your puppy or dog healthy and happy. 

In this section, we will discuss the top 14 care tips, including those for puppies, adults and seniors. 

A well-rounded care routine will help ensure that not only are you meeting your Shih Tzu's needs now, but also helping to prevent issues that can affect him both short and long-term. 
Shih Tzu looking happy and healthy
A healthy Tzu is a happy Tzu! 

Shih Tzu Care Tip #1 - Nutrition and Feeding

Puppies - When you first bring home a puppy, you should have a small supply of the food that the pup was eating up until that point, along with your chosen brand. Do a gradual change over the course of about 3 weeks, mixing the two and making a transition to the newer food.  Free-feed until the age of 3 months, then offer 3 small meals per day.

Adults - Adult Shih Tzu do best with at least 2 meals per day and some still prefer 3. You will also want to include snacks.

Snacks - There are 2 essential types: dental treats (at least 1 per day) and treats to reward good behavior. 

Water - Do not offer unfiltered tap water; in most areas of the U.S. this is filled with lead, fluoride (toxic to dogs) and a host of contaminants. Install a filter to your kitchen tap or use a canine water fountain. 

You may wish to read more in the Shih Tzu Feeding section. 

Shih Tzu Care Tip #2 - Proper Exercise

  • Do not exercise your puppy in public places until he has received all of his puppy shots. 
  • Daily exercise is important for this breed. Shih Tzu do not 'self exercise' when staying indoors. Without daily activity of purposeful walking, there can be behavioral issues rooted in pent-up energy that leads to frustration, excessive barking and/or destructive chewing.
  • A Shih Tzu should be walked 2 times per day, for at least 20 minutes, at a pace that is brisk for the dog. 
You may wish to read more in the Shih Tzu Exercise section. 

Shih Tzu Care Tip #3 - Dental Care

Toys breeds are more prone to dental issues than larger dogs and brachycephalic breeds, due to over-crowding of the teeth, are more prone to issues as well. Issues often involve both plaque build-up and infections, which left unchecked can travel up to the sinuses, and even cause sepsis (an often fatal condition). This is not to mention the discomfort and eventual missing teeth. For these reasons, it is vital to properly care for your Shih Tzu's teeth. If you have not yet started an at-home dental care plan, it is never too late to start. 

You will want to brush your Tzu's teeth once per day, using the right toothbrush and canine paste. Dental treats can also help prevent buildup of tartar. This breed should have its teeth examined once per year, with a 'full dental' performed as needed (some Shih Tzu only need this every 2 years, if an owner has been conscientious at home). You may wish to read more about Shih Tzu Dental Care
Shih Tzu care photo, 1
Molly, at 9 months old
Photo courtesy of Georgina 

Shih Tzu Care Tip #4 - Health Issues 

Schedule and keep wellness checks - You won't be doing your Shih Tzu any favors if you only bring him to the veterinarian when there is already clear signs of illness. Wellness checks, once per year for adults and twice per year for seniors, is an important part of care. The vet will run a complete blood count, urinalysis and stool sample testing. Your dog will be checked for any possible developing orthopedic issues, breathing issues and vision and hearing will be checked. Early diagnosis is the best chance for both a good prognosis and effective treatment. 

Know the signs of ill health  - While each issue, condition and disease has its own symptoms, there are some general basics that every owner should know:
  • The eyes: While some Shih Tzu may have a light random discharge, any chronic or thick discharge is not normal. Discharge may not be noticeable, but may lead to tear stains; this can sometimes be treated at home, though in some cases it can be a sign of blocked tear ducts or inverted eye lash. 
  • The nose: Throughout the day, a Shih Tzu's nose will fluctuate between cool and warm and damp and dry. However, a very dry and hot nose or a visible discharge of any color is not normal. 
  • Glands: Swollen mammary glands on a female and testicles on a male may be a sign that the body is fighting an infection. 
  • Odor: Do not ignore odd smells and odors coming from any part of the body or chronic or severe bad breath
You may wish to read more about Shih Tzu Health Issues

Shih Tzu Care Tip #5 - Proof the House No Matter Your Shih Tzu's Age

A huge mistake that owners make is only puppy-proofing the house when a Tzu is young and then this is often overlooked once the pup gets past the teething stage. However, it is important to note that dogs of all ages may mouth any sort of object, even if they do not have a history of doing so.

Canines mouth things simply to answer the question of 'what is this?' and 'Is it worth my time?' so, nothing is off limits.

Electrical cords should be tied out of the way or cord protectors should be used. Any non-toy objects such as shoes, remotes, magazines, pocketbooks, etc. should be kept out of reach.

Routinely go over the flooring to look for small items that may have dropped. Dogs have been known to swallow everything from needles to batteries to rolls of tape. 

Shih Tzu Care Tip #6 - Have the Right Set-Up

When you leave your Shih Tzu home alone, having the right set-up can go a long way in both easing separation anxiety and preventing accidents throughout the house.
And most dogs do best when in a structured area that contains their essentials.

Here are some tips:
  • Never crate your Shih Tzu. Crating does not serve to teach housebreaking rules and it creates a claustrophobia environment that can lead to undue stress and frustration. There is never a valid reason to keep a Shih Tzu in a small crate
  • Opt for a canine playpen or create a small gated off area.
  • Within that area, have a quality canine bed, a good selection of toys, water in a non-spill container such as a dispenser or a non-skid quality bowl and pee pads (no matter the dog's age).
  • Do not just place your Shih Tzu in this area when you are going to be leaving; this can cause a dog to connect this with 'bad' things. Leave the entrance open so that he can enter and exit as he'd like and encourage him to rest or play there. 

Shih Tzu Care Tip # 7 - Grooming

  • Baths should be given every 3 weeks; this is not an arbitrary number. Given more often than this, both coat and skin can dry out. Given fewer times than this, there will be an accumulation of body oils that will start to smell and can make the coat look greasy and weighed down. 
  • You'll want to carefully choose your grooming products, as inferior products can ruin the coat. In addition, you'll find that a quality leave-in takes care of many aspects: Helps prevent mats and tangles, helps prevent split ends, protects against contact friction, dry air and the sun. 
  • Brush your Shih Tzu on a regular basis, to keep hair healthy and catch mats early.

Shih Tzu Care Tip #8- Be Aware of Over-Heating Issues

With this breed, hot weather or excessive activity can cause some issues in regard to both breathing problems and over-heating.

There are some precautions you can take such as reserving walks to early morning and evening during hot summer months. When walking, be sure to bring along cold water in a travel container; this serves two purposes: to give to your dog to re-hydrate and to use in an emergency situation of heat stress or stroke. Also take breaks in the shade at about the halfway point.

While this is a brachycephalic breed and some snoring and/or snorting is not that uncommon, take note of any gasping, wheezing or other struggles as these are not normal and may point to elongated palate or other condition. 
white Shih Tzu with brown hairs
Bella, at 14 months old
Photo courtesy of Punahele Welch 

Shih Tzu Tip #9 - Weather and Temperature Tolerance

This really involves year-round care, as the seasons change. While you want to follow tips to avoid over-heating, this also includes such things as paw protection from both hot walking surfaces and icy winter pavement, which may have ice-melt chemicals on them that can really do damage to the paws. The nose can become chapped as well, and a quality nose balm can be used both to protect and treat this issue. 

Access your Tzu's resting area in regard to how much sun may be pouring in through the windows since this changes throughout the year and in regard to drafts during the winter that may have not been noticeable when the weather was warmer.

It is not uncommon for Shih Tzu to have some cold intolerance. This is more applicable to young puppies and older dogs, however a Tzu of any age may struggle when the temperature drops. A comfortable sweater, vest or coat can make a big difference, helping a Shih Tzu better tolerate being outdoors for both bathroom needs and daily exercise. 
Shih tzu outside in autumn
Weston, 4 years old
Photo courtesy of owner: Angela

Shih Tzu Care Tip #10 - Harnesses

It is highly recommended to always use a harness and not a collar when attaching the leash. With this breed, a collar puts undue stress on the neck, which can exasperate breathing problems. In addition, neck injury including the very serious condition of collapsed trachea i seen at a higher rate with dogs that are put on leash and collar.

A harness, however, keeps the neck free with pressure being distributed across the chest, back and shoulders; these are areas that have much more muscle support and are able to handle force and tension. 

Shih Tzu Care Tip #11- Protect Against Fleas, Ticks and Heartworms

It is exceedingly easy for dogs to catch fleas (they can jump up to 6 feet from another dog to your dog), ticks can be quite a problem in most areas of the U.S. and in some places, this can be a year-round issues. And using heartworm prevention can save your Shih Tzu's life.

Many owners skip over this care tip because they do not want to expose their dog to chemicals. 
However, for fleas and ticks, there are some products that are both effective and chemical free. To see a list of all recommendations, look to 'Flea & Tick, No Chemical' in the Shih Tzu Specialty Shoppe

Shih Tzu Care Tip #12- Safety First

Did you know that trauma is the leading cause of death for all puppies? Even more so than infection. And for all toy sized dogs of all ages, this is always a concern. Here are some important care tips:
  • Block off dangerous areas. This should always be done for senior that may have some vision and/or hearing loss, however it is still recommended for Shih Tzu of all ages. This would include placing a gate to prevent falls down staircases and to secure low cabinets that a dog may get into.
  • Proper handling techniques should be taught to any children that want to hold your Shih Tzu. This involves being down at floor level, holding the Tzu with two hands (one under the rear, the other with fingers spread to support the chest) and keeping the dog close to the body. Only if children have proven themselves, should they be allowed to carry the Shih Tzu while walking. 
  • Keep in mind that this can be an 'under the foot' dog that sneaks up under you without you knowing, presenting possible dangers such as being stepped on or tripped over. 
  • Do not allow your Shih Tzu to jump from too far of heights; this can trigger knee and hip issues. 
  • Always have your Shih Tzu in a certified canine car seat. In the U.S. there are 27,000 car accidents every day. The safest place for the seat is the backseat; if you opt for the front, disable your passenger air bag (if possible) and slide the seat back as far as it can go. Not only will using a car seat keep your Tzu safe, it often also decreases motion sickness. 

Shih Tzu Care Tip #13 - Cleaning your Shih Tzu's Belongings

This can be overlooked when there are so many other care guidelines to follow; however, you'll want to focus on 3 main things:

1. Bedding - From accumulated body oils and small debris, bedding can become awfully dirt surprisingly quickly. Wash the linings of your Tzu's bed at least once per month, preferably with hypo-allerenic detergent. 

2. Toys - Stuffed animal type toys are often machine washable and rubber toys can be washed in the sink with hot water and soap. Treat release toys (such as Kongs and others that dispense food) should be scrubbed out with a bottle brush. 

3. Bowls - Why wash a bowl if it's just going to be filled up again? For the same reason that us humans wash our dishes. It rids the containers of bacteria and germs and offers a clean, hygienic surface to eat and drink out of. Additionally, dogs drink more water if it is placed in a clean bowl. 

Shih Tzu Care Tip #14 - Bonding and Interaction

While most of these care tips are related to physical care, we must not omit the importance of emotional happiness, as this is a huge part of having a dog that leads a well-balanced life. While life can be busy, leaving limited time to spend quality time, any extra time that you spend with your Tzu in a positive way can really make a huge difference.  Here are some things you can do, with a varying degree of time and effort:

1. Teach a new command. All dogs should know the basics of sit, down, come and stay. If your dog already knows these, take on the team challenge of a trick or more complicated command. 
Shih Tzu on surf board
A day at the Beach
Georgi, 1 1/2 years old
Photo courtesy of owner Donna Richard
2. Take your Shih Tzu somewhere new. Whether you choose a new walking route and bring along a picnic, have some backyard fun with a kiddie pool or bubbles or plan on some adventure in a state park, there are a host of fun things you can do with your Shih Tzu that will create a stronger bond, allow your dog to be socialized to new elements and bring about a sense of joy and wonder for you and your canine family member. 
3. Play games together. While 'fetch' has its place as a good, basic game, there are physical games such as hide n' seek or mental games such as puzzles that you teach your dog to figure out to receive treats. 

4. Ensure proper hierarchy. While it's normal to want to be best friends with your dog, it's also important that your dog respects you. Without this, there will be problems that range from marking to escaping and even growling. Expect a 'sit' command to be obeyed before any food is given, this includes both meals and snacks. If this really needs to be reinforced, do not allow your Shih Tzu to be up on furniture or sleep on your bed and also expect a 'sit' for toys or anything that the dog wants. 
More Information

Oh, what would we do without the lovable personality of the Tzu! However, as all Tzu owners know, this breed can be a bit challenging with particular behavioral issues, training, grooming and health care. Take a moment to see what's inside the most comprehensive Shih Tzu book that exists. Now in both print & eBook.
See Also:

Upset Stomach Problems - Common causes of tummy woes and steps you can take to help your Shih Tzu feel better. 
Shih Tzu Constipation - This refers to both straining to push out poo and hard stools. Why this happens, prevention, and at-home remedies. 
Can you give Aspirin to a Shih Tzu- The type of OTC pain and fever medications that you can and cannot give to a Shih Tzu puppy or dog.  
Allergies - The type of allergies that can be at play and helpful steps to reduce or eliminate symptoms. 
Diarrhea - When a toy breed has diarrhea, dehydration can happen quickly. Steps to take to help resolve this quickly and red flags that a vet visit is warranted. 
Skin Problems - The various skin issues that can be seen, tips for prevention, and advice for treatment. 
Maltipoo Dogs - If you love Maltipoos, you will love the PetMaltipoo website. Health, care, feeding, behavior and more
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