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Feeding

Shih Tzu Feeding Guidelines

owner-feeding-a-shih-tzu

Overview

Making sure that you feed your Shih Tzu quality meals, as well as healthy snacks, will play a huge role in keeping your puppy or dog healthy. 

Various health issues will emerge if a Shih Tzu is fed foods with too many chemicals (coloring, additives, etc.) with skin and coat issues and digestive issues being the top concerns.

In addition, foods with by-products or fillers can cause problems as well. 

In this section, we will cover all feeding guidelines for Shih Tzu puppies and dogs. 
Already know all the details, and want to get right to top choices? Jump to The Best Food for Shih Tzu Puppies and Dogs.

How Often to Feed a Shih Tzu

How many meals you offer to your Shih Tzu will depend on his age.

Puppies 8 to 12 weeks old: During the first month that you bring a new puppy into your home, you will want to free-feed. This is the method of leaving out fresh food at all times. 

There are some things to take note of. 

1. The reason for this, is because toy breeds are prone to hypoglycemia when very young and having too long of a period in between meals is one of the triggers of this.

2. Do not just 'top off' the bowl; doing this will cause old, stale food to stay in the bottom. Rather, keep a small amount in the dish, and completely replace it with new food several times per day. 

3. You may need to keep reminding your new puppy where his food and water dishes are for the first month or so. This will also encourage the pup to nibble away throughout the day. 
Puppies 3 to 12 months old: During year one, once the first month of free-feeding is complete, a Shih Tzu puppy should be fed 3 meals per day. If you will be gone during the day and will be missing the mid-day meal, this can be left with the pup. More ahead on this. 
How much to offer a Shih Tzu for each meal is one of the top questions that owners have, because it may appear that this breed does not eat as much as expected. 
young-adult-shih-tzu-dog
Izzy, at 27 months old,
photo courtesy of Sarah Wilson
Adults: An adult Shih Tzu 1 year and older should have at least 2 meals per day. Some do best with three, particularly those that are home by themselves on most days. 

Please keep in mind that unlike his larger counterparts, Shih Tzu dogs do not do well with just one meal per day. If your Shih Tzu does not eat very much, the amount that he does take in each day is best spread out over a minimum of 2 feeding times. 

How Much to Feed a Shih Tzu

This is one of the top questions that owners have for a couple of reasons. It is usually one of two extremes; either a Shih Tzu does not seem to be eating enough or despite eating a lot, never seems satiated. 

Not appearing to eat enough is often just due to this breed not needing as much as one may assume. We'll touch on that more; however, generally if a puppy is growing  as expected or an adult is maintaining, the dog is indeed taking in enough calories. 
Eating quite a bit but still seeming hungry is often due to the food being less-than-ideal. Ahead, we'll go over choosing the best food.

To determine how much a Shih Tzu should be eating will depend on several things. First, different foods will have varying levels of calories. Wet VS dry and high quality VS lower quality are factors that can change the amount of calories and nutrients by more than 1/2 a cup.

The amount also will vary depending on a Shih Tzu's exact age, if he is in a growth phase, his body weight, activity level, health status, and individual metabolism.

If you are feeding your Shih Tzu a good commercial food, follow the feeding recommendations on the labeling; these are pretty spot-on. Note that most list how much to feed per day; you will want to take that amount and separate it into the 2 or 3 meals that you give to your puppy or dog.

If you are feeding a combination of foods or are home cooking, here is a general guideline: 

Shih Tzu puppy, based on age:

2 to 3 months: 1/2 to 3/4 cups per day
4 to 8 months: 1/2 to 1 cup per day
9 to 12 months: 3/4 to 1 and 1/4 cups per day

Shih Tzu adult, based on weight:

9 to 12 lbs. = 3/4 to 1 cup
13 to 16+ lbs. = 1 to 1 and 1/4 cup

Note, that these feeding amounts can vary by up to 20% in either direction, based on the quantifying factors as listed above. 
beautiful-shih-tzu-dog
Max, photo courtesy of Jim Fleming 

Mid-Day Meals if You are Not Home

If you are away during the day and your Shih Tzu is home alone during lunch time, you are not alone. This is a dilemma that many owners face; not just for making sure that their dog is eating, but for trying to help with separation anxiety.

One of the best methods of supplying the mid-day meal helps with both of these issues; it will ensure that a Shih Tzu has enough food and it will keep him occupied for a good amount of time.
The answer is to use a treat dispensing toy. And the key is to use one that is appropriate sized for a Shih Tzu. You'll find that PetSafe's Busy Buddy Barnacle Treat Dispensing Toy in size extra small is perfect for Shih Tzu puppies and the size small is ideal for adults.
This can be filled with kibble or with tiny treats.

Wet Vs Dry

There are pros and cons to both wet and dry dog food. 

Wet food is often more appealing to a dog. But, it is not beneficial for the teeth like dry food is, can tend to be more expensive, cannot be used to fill treat-release toys, and a diet of mainly wet commercial food can cause runny stools.

Dry food, on the other hand, is good for a dog's teeth, is great for filling up toys, and is generally easier on the stomach which lends to healthier stools.

Considering all of these elements, a diet of dry kibble is best. If your Shih Tzu really loves wet food, you may find that drizzling some low-sodium chicken broth over it and/or warming the food can help. 

Another option is to mix a bit of wet food into dry kibble. 

If you choose the latter option, it is best to stick with the same brand as the dry dog food (assuming that you are feeding your Shih Tzu an excellent formula). 

To stick with recommended feeding guidelines, for each meal, remove 1/8 of a cup from the serving size of the dry dog food and replace it with 2 tablespoons of the wet food. 
shih-tzu-in-kitchen
Gemma Claire, at 2 years old,
photo courtesy of Darlene Hampton

Choosing the Right Food for Your Shih Tzu

If you feel a bit overwhelmed in trying to find the best food for your Shih Tzu, it is understandable. Fillers, by-products, additives, grain-free or not? Star ratings? What does it all mean, and does it really matter?

It not only matters, it is perhaps the most important decision that you will ever make for your Shih Tzu. 

Every single bite that your Shih Tzu takes will either be detrimental to his/her health or beneficial. And the wrong food can have terrible consequences, both now and in the future. 

Inferior foods have a host of issues, many which may make you wonder how it can even be legal. 

Be very wary of brands that you see stacked up in your grocery store and many of the ones that you see commercials for. These are usually the worst culprits. They thrive due owners buying bags of their offerings just based off of name recognition. 
Let's quickly sort this out. 
Consequences of inferior food: Skin issues (itching, dryness, rashes), poor coat health, nose discoloration over a period of years, and/or digestive upset (general uneasy stomach often leading to poor appetite, runny stools, nausea, and/or vomiting). 

Long term there can be issues that develop due to a lack of proper nutrition and not receiving anti-oxidants and other disease-fighting vitamins. This includes weak immune system, poor muscle tone, and a higher risk of developing arthritis, cardiovascular problems, canine diabetes, and breathing problems.
two-shih-tzu-dogs
Sammy and Benny, brothers, at 14 months old, 
photo courtesy of Edna Davis
Detrimental ingredients in inferior food:

Fillers - Cheap ingredients added to plump food up without offering any nutrition. Includes corn bran, hulls (oat, peanut, rice), soybean mill run, wheat mill run, corn distillers, and dried grains with solubles.

By-products - Any chicken, beef, or other meat with 'by-product' in its name. This is any part of an animal deemed unfit for human consumption. Includes beaks, feet, tails, spleens, undeveloped eggs, lungs, and more.

Generic meats - Can legally be any animal at all picked up as roadkill, cat and dog meat from those euthanized at shelters, and animals that were diseased or died on route to facilities. 

Artificial additives - Includes a wide range of chemical preservatives, coloring, and flavoring. Can cause terrible reactions including skin outbreaks, poor coat health, loss of skin pigmentation on the nose, and gastrointestinal upset. 

High grain content - Will be found in ratios that throws off the needed balance of protein and healthy fats. 
Soy or wheat gluten - Can cause food intolerance, upset stomach, skin issues, and other problems. 
Meats sourced outside of North America - Be very wary of companies that list their food as 'Made in the USA', but they source the meats from overseas.
What a high-quality food will offer:

All natural, wholesome ingredients - This will include real, human quality meats, vegetables, and fruits.

No artificial additives - The food will be preserved using a blend of vitamins, you may see this listed as blended tocopherols, which are vitamin E's. No coloring will be needed. Typically added salmon oils (great for skin and coat) will lend itself to tempting flavors, along with other wholesome ingredients. 
shih-tzu-dogs-looking-out-door
Laila and Oliver, photo courtesy of Jae
Added supplements - This includes the above mentioned salmon oils and other natural omega 3's, which are vital for healthy skin and coat. 

There will be antioxidants which boost the immune system and help fend off disease. 

Glucosamine and chondroitin is a must for this breed as it helps maintain bone and joint health.

Probiotics aid in good digestive health. 

No corn, soy, or wheat-gluten - Superior foods will never add these ingredients. 
High quality protein - High-quality proteins have a good balance of all of the essential amino acids. 
Studies show that dogs can sense when their food lacks a single amino acid and will usually avoid eating it. 
Proper sizing - A Shih Tzu needs a food that is specifically sized for small breeds. The shape and size of the kibble will make it easy to be mouthed and chewed, which leads to more enthusiastic eating. 
Easily digestible food - The blend will be made with a small dog's digestive system in mind, with proper ratios that are easy on the stomach and easy to digest. 
Ingredients both sourced and made in North America- Not only will the food be made in the US, but also fish and meats will be sourced from the US and/or Canada (some of the best fish is caught off the coast of Canada in the Pacific Ocean).

The Best Food for Shih Tzu Puppies and Dogs

It is only by understanding what can be so terribly detrimental to your Shih Tzu that you will be able to appreciate the excellent offerings of top brands. 

And now that we've covered what you absolutely want to stay away from, and the qualities that you are validated in insisting that a food have, we'll dive into exact recommendations. 

The following meet every single requirement for a top-quality, superior dog food, and go above and beyond. With any of these, you can feel 100% confident that you are offering top-notch meals. 
Merrick Lil Plates Grain Free Small Breed Recipes - This is an excellent choice that includes Merrick Lil Plates Grain Free for Small Breeds Texas Beef and Sweet Potato and 3 other flavors: chicken, lamb, or salmon, each paired with sweet potato. This alone offers a great base that is very easy on the tummy.

This is a premium food that focuses on top nutrition for small dogs. All these recipes are 70/30, meaning 70% meat and fish and 30% vegetables, fruits, and vitamins. This contains great extras like omega 3,6 fatty acids, both glucosamine and chondroitin for joint and bone health, and super-healthy antioxidants. 

The beef blend's ingredients include Texas beef, lamb, sweet potatoes, peas, salmon, flaxseed oil, apple, and blueberries. All other ingredients are to naturally preserve or flavor the food or are added vitamins, minerals, or nutrients. 

There is no soy, by-products, corn, wheat, or fillers. There are no chemical preservatives, coloring, or flavoring. This is specifically made for small breeds so it is sized perfectly, and this is made in the USA. 
Wellness Complete Grain Free for Small Breeds - This is also a fantastic choice. Aside from their Wellness Complete Grain Free for Small Breeds - Turkey, Chicken & Salmon , they also offer a small breed puppy formula. 

Ingredients include turkey, chicken, oatmeal (great for the tummy), salmon, barley, Menhaden fish, peas, tomatoes, flaxseed, carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, apples, and blueberries. All other ingredients are to naturally preserve or flavor the food or are added vitamins, minerals, or nutrients. 

There is no fillers, corn, soy, wheat, or by-products. There is no artificial coloring, flavoring, or preservatives. The puppy formula has added DHA which is a specific omega-3 fatty acid that supports healthy cognitive development. 

This is specifically made for little dogs, so the size of each kibble piece is ideal. And this is made in the USA.
Wellness CORE Grain Free for Small Breeds - This is one of the best dog foods possible for toy breeds, and it is clear that a lot of thought was put into offering a perfect blend. 

The Wellness CORE Natural Grain Free for Small Breeds - Turkey & Chicken is a simple recipe that only includes wholesome foods including turkey, chicken, peas, potatoes, flaxseed, salmon oil, broccoli, carrots, apples, blueberries, kale, and sweet potatoes. All other ingredients are to naturally preserve or flavor the food or are added vitamins, minerals, or nutrients. 

There is no fillers, by-products, corn, soy, or wheat. And there is zero artificial flavoring, coloring, or preservatives.

It is not possible to top the added bonuses, which are healthy omega fatty acids, antioxidants, botanicals, glucosamine, and probiotics. This is ideally sized for a pleasant eating experience and, of course, this is made in the USA.
Below are our recommended foods for Shih Tzu. If you do not see the images, try a refresh. On mobile, you may need to turn your screen horizontal to see all 4 picks. 

Home Made Dog Food

You may want to opt for the route of home cooking, and this can be a good choice if preparing meals is something that you enjoy doing. If you purchase ingredients in bulk, this can be a good option to save money. Additionally, you will know exactly what your Shih Tzu is eating as the only ingredients in the dish will be ones that you've put there. 

Do note that when you make homemade food, you will need to add in a daily complete canine vitamin and mineral supplement. This is added to commercial brands, so you will need to do this yourself. Even with top notch ingredients, this is always needed. 

Finally, since this does constitute a wet food, you will want to be extra diligent in at-home dental care to keep your Shih Tzu's teeth strong, which includes both using a quality canine toothbrush and paste, and giving a daily dental chew. 

Some great wholesome foods that can be incorporated into meals includes:

Organs (liver, heart)
White chicken meat
Lamb
Fish
Lean beef
Sweet potato
Green beans
Sweet peas
Baby carrots
Blueberries
Raspberries
Cottage cheese
Whole yogurt
Plain white or brown rice

Toxic Foods

There are a number of food that are toxic to canines:
shih-tzu-leaning-over-chair
Archie, at 8 months old,
photo courtesy of Leia Quinn
Grapes and Raisins: These can cause serious kidney damage and it does not take a large amount.

Chocolate: Most people have heard that chocolate may not be good for a dog; the facts are that it can cause seizures, coma, and death to a small dog such as the Shih Tzu.

Onions: Beware of giving any meat to your dog if it has onions on it or mixed in. This can destroy a dog's red blood cells.

Coffee, Tea, and Soda: Caffeine can produce seizures, coma and eventual death.

Salt: While this is needed in small amounts, a large quantity of salt will cause kidney issues.

Macadamia Nuts: This expensive and sought-after nut can cause devastating reactions. The results of ingesting this can be muscle tremors and paralysis.

Fruit pits and seeds: All fruit seeds and pits can cause a range of health issues including breathing difficulty, and/or fluids that fill up in a dog's abdomen and heart. Some fruit seeds can be fatal within 24 hours.

Xylitol - This is an artificial sweetener that can be found in gum, candy, baked goods, and other foods. 

Using the Right Bowls

Don't let the bowls be an afterthought. The right dishes will help with everything from preventing facial hair staining to easing stomach distress. You'll want stainless steel, non-skid bottomed bowls, being sure to avoid plastic at all costs. Whether you plan on bringing home a new puppy or your current dog's dining ware may need an update, be sure to choose the best bowls for the Shih Tzu breed.

Commonly Asked Questions & Issues

My Shih Tzu barely eats, what should I do?

A huge number of owners ask about this; in most cases, the puppy or dog is actually eating enough. If not, you'd see major malnutrition and weight loss issues that would lead you to seek veterinary care. Healthy dogs can only go 5 days at the most without food. 

If a puppy is gaining as expected or your adult is maintaining, this means that he or she is indeed eating enough.

Most Shih Tzu puppies are only going to eat 1/2 to 1 cup per day; this is such a small amount that us humans can't comprehend that that is all a pup needs. And the same goes for adult Shih Tzu, that average 3/4 to 1 and 1/4 cup per day.

As long as you are 100% confident that you are offering a superior food and your Shih Tzu is eating the above amounts, you can relax as there is nothing to be concerned about.

Here are a couple of tips to remove the worry:
1. Reassess that you are feeding your Shih Tzu the best food possible, so that each bite he does eat means top-notch nutrition. 

2. You may be filling the bowl too high or using a bowl that is too large. Downsize to a small bowl that fits the small amount this breed eats. 

3. Don't overdo it on snacks. While healthy treats are an important part of a dog's overall diet, vital for training, and are fantastic for reinforcing good behavior, treats should take up about 10% of a dog's daily food intake.
My Shih Tzu is picky about his food, I can find one he likes. 
Much of this can be attributed to the above issue, because if a dog was so picky that he was not eating enough, you'd see a fast deterioration due to malnutrition and weight loss.

The same 3 tips above will help in most cases.

Additionally, there are a couple things to keep in mind:

1. If getting your Shih Tzu to eat a meal revolves around you hand feeding him or having to encourage every bite, this may be a matter of a dog playing along with you to gain attention. If so, you'll need to gradually end this sort of game.

This brings to mind when we helped one owner who was in this predicament; the solution involved stepping back by 1 foot every few days, until the owner was finally able to be out of the room while his dog ate.

2. Reluctance to eat can be due to a health issue. A common one is any sort of dental issue, though just about any illness can cause loss of appetite. If your Shih Tzu suddenly has a decreased appetite, this warrants a veterinarian visit. 

3. Once you have carefully chosen a food that you are confident is a super-healthy choice, stick to your guns. Dogs will eat out of self-preservation. They only time that a dog will not eat his meal is if he is sure that if he holds out that better food is coming. 

Never given in and offer human food or other non-meal foods. Once a dog learns that his owner has the willpower to outlast him, he'll eat his own food. 
Important Information

Proper feeding includes many issues, such as:
  • Finicky Eaters
  • Home cooking
  • When a slow change in food changes is absolutely necessary
  • Salt issues
  • When a change in food is necessary based on the age of your Tzu
  • When supplements are & are not needed - and which type are needed
  • Odd eating habits
  • Hiding food
  • Begging for food...and Much More! Find out about how you can read about all of these issues in the new-edition AllShihTzu Book. Now in both print & eBook.
Related: Why is My Shih Tzu Puppy Not Gaining Weight - All of the reasons why a pup may struggle and exactly how to help. 
When a Shih Tzu is Always Hungry - There are several factors that can affect a puppy or dog's appetite. Things to look for and red flags signs of more serious issues. 
The Best Dog Treats for Shih Tzu - Just as much thought should go into treats as it does for main meals.  
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