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Skin Problems

Shih Tzu Skin Problems

There are many different Shih Tzu skin problems that may occur…and while it is often troubling for owners, and uncomfortable for dogs, most are treatable.

Many different factors and many elements come into play in regard to skin health and problems that can develop. This includes:
  • Environmental elements - Humidity level, air temperature, airborne allergens, contact allergy triggers.
  • Infection - While this is most likely to occur to skin that is already dried and cracked open, infection can develop on a Shih Tzu's skin that may need professional treatment. 
Let’s take a look at the various Shih Tzu skin issues, why they may occur and steps that you can take to help your dog.
Hot Spots

This is a term that refers to skin that has been affected in a negative way due to mats (tangles) in the coat. When a tangle is not taken care of, it can become so tight that it causes injury to the skin (usually the top layer of the skin) and it can become infected. The particular area may be swollen (raised) and cause a serious itch. Most Tzu will then lick or chew at the area to relive the itching and this, of course, will make things worse. The irritated spot will then stay moist (not good) and will increase in size and severity.

Let’s first talk about prevention for this Shih Tzu skin problem. Tangles are a given with this breed. The long coat of hairs will tangle if proper grooming is not done. Grooming should be a scheduled activity…it is much easier for owners and for a Tzu to fall into a routine. Daily grooming is recommended…and this type of grooming will not take very long. If an owner sets aside just 10 to 15 minutes per day to devote to combing, tangles will not form.

This should begin when the Tzu is a puppy…yes, as young as 8 weeks old is a good time to start…it will allow the Tzu to become used to being handles, used to the feeling of the comb…and make for a much more calm adult dog who is comfortable with the grooming process.

It is important to not just focus on areas that you clearly see. The inside of the legs and the underbelly are notorious places for Shih Tzu skin problems of this nature…and therefore, when grooming to keep tangles away, an owner should plan to routinely go over the entire body.

You will want to begin with a wide tooth comb and go very slowly…If you quickly comb over any area and hit a mat, this can be painful for your dog. Therefore, slow go section by section and immediately stop if you find a tangle, no matter how small. 

Upon finding one, you will want to coat your hands with a canine leave in conditioner and gently and patiently work it out. This may mean gently pulling each individual hair out of the tangle…so patience is a must. Once done, slowly go over the area again and repeat if necessary until the comb glides easily and freely through the coat.

If you encounter a large tangle, which again will not happen if you do this each and every day, you will want to avoid clipping the coat unless absolutely necessary. Even large tangles can be worked out if both owner and dog have patience. Be sure that your Tzu is comfortable and that you are as well. You may want to play some relaxing music or talk to your dog while you do this to keep both of you distracted…although both of your eyes must be on the task at hand. You may need to reapply the condition to your hands as it slowly transfers onto your Shih Tzu…use enough so that it causes the hairs to become slippery enough so that you can undo the mat.

Take care not to pull at the skin, particularly if there is already a hot spot there.

If, and only if, you find that after 20 minutes or so that the mat is too large for you to undo, only then should you carefully clip it off with an electric trimmer. Remember to not overdo this… Only the tangled hairs should be clipped off and not any other part of the coat…Do not try to “even things up” by repeating the same clip on the other side of your dog….When you give your Shih Tzu a bath, be sure to focus attention on this area and condition it well (do not blow dry it), to promote growth.

Now, let’s talk about how to help your dog with the Shih Tzu skin problem of an existing hot spot of dry, irritated skin that was under a mat. If you see extreme redness or any discharge (puss) at all, you will want to have the veterinarian take a look at it…since this will point to an infection that most likely will need to be treated with antibiotics.

If it is not infected, but it is a clear hot spot of skin irritation you will want to carefully trim the hairs around that spot. Then, you will want to gently clean the wound with a mild antiseptic such as witch hazel. Alternatively, tea tree oil that is diluted with bottled water can be used on the area. Any baths should be done with hypo-allergenic canine shampoo and one that has an oatmeal base to help with this skin problem.

Be sure to clip your Tzu’s nails so that they cannot do too much damage if they try to scratch at the itch. If they are licking or biting at the area, it is often helpful to loosely cover it with a breathable gauze wrapping. 
Eczema

This is a Shih Tzu skin problem that has a greater chance of occurring if the dog has a weak immune system or is struggling with another medial issue. Eczema often appears as redness, flaky dry skin, can cause hair loss in the affected areas, often is accompanied with severe itchiness…and sometimes will produce an unpleasant odor.

In moderate to severe cases, you will want to bring your Tzu to the veterinarian as anti-inflammatory medications and sometimes low dose steroids will be needed to keep it under control and hopefully cure it…It should be noted that this particular skin problem does not go away in a few days….An owner must be prepared to keep up treatment and be patient as it can take weeks or even a couple of months for the skin to go back to normal.

During this time, limit exposure to the cold…If you live in an area in which it is less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit, you will only want to have your Tzu outside for bathroom needs. While exercise is very important, if eczema is severe, you will need to limit exposure to cold temperatures outside... Indoor exercise can be done instead during this time.

In addition, hot temperatures are harmful as well. You will not want your dog to overheat as it will cause more irritation. When temperatures soar and/or if the sun is shining bright and hot, limit exposure to the damaging rays of the sunshine while he or she is healing from this Shih Tzu skin problem.

While prescribed medication is best, at the same time you can choose to also treat the spots with herbal remedies… A tea rinse of calendula can be very helpful. Yarrow can also be used in conjunction with the calendula tea. 
Pydoerma
This is a bacterial infection of the skin and most often will occur with Shih Tzu puppies. If this particular Shih Tzu skin problem is to occur, it is often first noticed on the puppy’s tummy. It will look like small pockets of puss. Why does this happen? It is thought to occur if a pup’s immune system is not yet fully developed… or if it has be comprised in any way.

Antibiotics often take care of this problem…however there have been some instances in which they have worked as expected. While your puppy is receiving the antibiotics, an owner can also be doing a variety of things at home that will aid in treatment…
Making sure that the pup is taking Vitamins A, C and E (easiest if given as part of their daily vitamin and mineral supplement) is important. Fatty acids will help. It is important to note that only Omega 3 should be given. Omega 6 contains Arachidonic which can increase inflammation. The use of Echinacea can help to improve the puppy’s immune system which can, in turn, help with this Shih Tzu skin problem.
Allergies

Allergies can wreak havoc on a Tzu…and is a leading cause of Shih Tzu skin problems. It causes the skin to become itchy and the pup or dog, in turn, will then scratch, lick or bite at the irritated areas. 

Food - Many manufactured foods can cause allergies….chemical preservatives, coloring and artificial sweeteners are the biggest culprits. For this reason, we recommend home cooking.

However, it should be noted that in rare cases a Tzu can be allergic to foods that one may never think of… some are allergic to beef! If an owner has no idea what their dog may be allergic to, food-wise, it is best to begin the dog on a very simple diet of plain, de-boned white chicken meat that is boiled until well cooked, mixed with plain un-salted and un-seasoned white rice…small green peas can be mixed in as well. Every 2 weeks a new ingredient can be added….It is important to do this every 2 weeks since it may take that long for the ingredient to show up as a Shih Tzu skin problem. This process of elimination diet can pinpoint the cause. Healthy Home Cooking for the Shih Tzu has a recipe that will help owners follow this method.

Tzu can be allergic to things that their body touches. Most often it will be the carpeting in the home… or bed sheets…Elements that touch the skin and cause a reaction. If this is the case, it is best to stop using chemicals on the carpets and to change to a hypo-allergenic laundry detergent (perfume free as well) for ALL that is washed whether the dog touches it or not. Do not dry anything with dryer sheets. Baby blankets that have first been washed in this way can be laid out so that the Tzu can lie down on them…It provides a soft base for them that will cushion the skin problem areas.

Fleas - Allergies to fleas is many times the reason for a Shih Tzu skin problem….Many owners are in denial about this…some people think that fleas = a dirty home. This is not true. A flea can jump up to SIX feet off of another dog onto your dog. All it takes is ONE flea to cause major skin problems with the Shih Tzu. This is because the dog can be allergic to the saliva of the flea and there can be a major reaction from just 1 bite.

Also, it is important to note that a flea(s) can be there even if you do not see them.

When given the same preventative flea mediation for over a year, a Shih Tzu may build up a tolerance to that particular product and thus it will be less effective. For this reason, we recommend that owners change brands every year and then back again. While there are a great many different products that are effective, we have found success & like those that do not contain Pyrethrins or other chemicals (why end one problem only to possibly begin another one?) The complete list of what we recommend can be found under 'Fleas & Tick - No Chemical' in the Shih Tzu Specialty Shoppe.  Depending on the area in which you live, you may only need to use a product during flea season. Be sure to use a variety that contains tick repellent as well.

Prevention is vital, however if fleas are already on your dog, this must be dealt with right away. To treat a dog that already has these pests, a product such as Capstar works well…it will kill all fleas within 24 hours. Carpets, beds, blankets, etc. MUST be cleaned as well. It will do you no good to get the ones on your Shih Tzu, but have an army of these terrible creatures hiding on your carpeting, furniture and/or beds only to re-invade again!

Once all are gone, you have treated your Tzu and you are protecting him or her, it is time to pay attention to bath time. Irritated skin should be bathed in hypo-allergenic canine shampoo; an oatmeal base will help with itching. Choose your produce wisely, opting for a high quality shampoo that is effective yet not harsh.  Shih Tzu skin problems caused by a reaction to a flea bite can last a couple of weeks…and during this time the spot should be babied…No exposure to extreme hot or cold. Baths should be with luke warm water. No clothes should be put on your dog if they would touch the area. Go EASY with brushing and combing.

During this time of recuperation, Benydryl can be given one time per day; HOWEVER check with your veterinarian for proper dosing and to make sure that it would not produce a reaction with any other medication that your dog may be taking.

Unknowns - If an owner cannot pinpoint what is causing an allergy that produces Shih Tzu skin problems, testing can be done…A serum test will test for over 40 possible allergens. Skin testing will cover a larger range of possible culprits but is more expensive. However, with either type of testing, an owner can know exactly which element is causing the skin problem and then be able to immediately remove it from the dog’s environment. 
Sebaceous adenitis

This is also known as glaucomatous sebaceous adenitis or "SA". It is not a common issue with Shih Tzu, however it can occur. If this is to affect a Tzu, it will most likely do so when the dog is between 1 to 7 years old. It is genetic and therefore any Tzu with this should not be bred.

This is produce skin problems such as very dry, scaly and flaky skin….and in those areas, there will be a loss of coat. Skin infection can occur…this can show as red bumps that often have a bad odor.

As terrible as this sounds and as awful as it can look, it should be noted that it does not affect the overall life span of the dog and, surprisingly, is considered to be a “cosmetic” issue. But this does not mean that it should not be treated!

In just about every case of this, it begins on the Tzu’s head and then slowly progresses down to the rest of the dog’s body. When it is suspected that a dog has this particular Shih Tzu skin problem, other conditions are ruled out first before a diagnosis is made. This should be done by a veterinarian performing a small skin scraping followed by several biopsies taken from different areas.

Treatment does not produce results quickly. Owner must be diligent and patience. The dog should be given baths more frequently that they previously were…normally baths given too often cause dry skin, but in this case you will want to bathe your dog 2-3 times per week with a a Keratolytic shampoo. What is this? It is a shampoo that will work to soften the keratin of the skin, which improves moisture content. Active ingredients are lactic acid, allantoin and urea. Some well-known brands are Malaseb, Keratolus and Sebolus. 

Along with this, medicated shampoo such as Oxydex should be used to help the skin recover. In ONLY severe cases a retinoid medication will be prescribed by the veterinarian… It must never be given to pregnant dogs. This treatment is not cheap but will often show good results after 8 weeks.

In addition to all of this, Omega 3 supplements can be given. Antibiotics must be given if the skin sores on the Shih Tzu have developed infection.
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