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Skin Problems

Shih Tzu Skin Problems

Overview

There are many different types of skin issues that can occur.
And the thing about this is that once a problem develops, it can worsen rather quickly. 

The elements that come into play in regard to skin health and problems include:
  • Environmental elements - Humidity level, air temperature, airborne allergens, contact allergy triggers, food allergies, and any products that touch the skin or coat.
  • Infection - This includes mites, mange, yeast, and bacterial skin infections; in some cases you can treat this at home and in some cases this will need to be treated by the vet.
Here we will cover the various Shih Tzu skin issues that can be seen, why they may occur, and steps that you can take to help your puppy or dog.

Common, Yet Troublesome, Skin Issues Seen with Shih Tzu

  • Dry skin - There may be flaking or skin clearly lacking moisture. In some cases, there may be peeling. 
  • Rash - There may be tiny bumps or patches of red skin. 
  • Hot spots - Areas of very irritated skin. May be very sensitive to the touch. 
  • Poor hair condition- When skin health is very poor, this inevitably leads to poor coat health. Hair may be brittle, thinning, or even balding in some spots. 
  • Itching - This is always connected to the previous elements. Any of the previous skin issues can trigger minor to severe itching. It may be localized to one area or may be an full-body problem.
A Shih Tzu may compulsively lick or chew at himself in an attempt to scratch the itch.

All of the 5 above issues can be grouped together, typically having the same causes, which we will cover next. 

Additionally, there can be:
  • Bad odors - In some cases, there may be an odd body odor. This may be accompanied by oily skin. This is indicative of a skin infection, and will be covered ahead as well. 

Top 4 Causes of Common Skin Issues

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Ari, photo courtesy of Gabriela 
Here we will be discussing the top causes of dry skin, rashes, hot spots, poor coat health, and itching. If your Shih Tzu has other symptoms, this may be due to a skin infection which will be covered ahead. 
Please note, that in the case of a Shih Tzu suffering from skin issues, there may be more than one trigger. 

For this reason, you'll want to assess each and every possible cause. In this way, you will have a much better chance of things clearing up and your Shih Tzu's skin being restored to perfect health. 

In regard to treatment, there are several elements that will all work together; it is often a multi-tiered approach to resolve skin problems. 

We will dive into the details and then offer a summary for clarification. 
Also, please note, that for each of these triggers, you will see 'what to do, part 1' which are tips and advice for each specific element. Part 2 is covered all together at the end, since that will involve bathing techniques and certain skin & coat products that will treat and heal skin no matter the root cause. 

#1 Dry Air

The element of dry air should not be overlooked; Exposure to arid air over the course of a month or more can cause issues all on its own, and will certainly exacerbate problems due to other causes. 

This is usually an issue that develops during the wintertime. However, if issues arise in the winter and are not resolved, the lingering effects can last well into springtime and beyond. 
What to do, part 1: Combat dry air in the house by running humidifiers. If you have a large house and do not have enough to cover all of the rooms, at the very least run one near where your Shih Tzu spends most of his day.

You may find that one like the Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier is a great choice; it holds enough water to run for 16 hours, is very quiet, and even has a night-light feature. 

If you use humidifiers, please remember to clean out the filters on a regular basis.  
Other alternative ways to add moisture to the air (though far less effective on their own) include leaving the bathroom door open when showering, having houseplants, and leaving containers of water around the house (best when placed over heating elements). 
Keep reading about other triggers for skin issues, or jump to treating skin issues, Part 2

#2 Inferior Coat Products

very-funny-shih-tzu
Weston, at 6 years old, 
photo courtesy of Angela
Everything that touches the coat touches the skin. If inferior shampoo, conditioner, or other coat products were used, this can be very detrimental to the skin.

A combination of the wrong pH levels and soaping agents can cause the skin to become dry and/or irritated. 

What to do, part 1: Typically, if this is the cause and you switch to quality products, you can reverse the damage after 3 baths. 

The Earthbath line of shampoos and conditioners are phenomenal, including Earthbath Oatmeal & Aloe Shampoo - Vanilla & Almond. And, using a leave-in can bring about even faster results, which is detailed ahead in part 2. 
Keep reading about other triggers for skin issues, or jump to treating skin issues, Part 2

#3 Food Allergy or Intolerance

This is a very common source of skin issues. This type of allergy or intolerance can really do a number on a Shih Tzu puppy or dog. In most cases, there will be moderate to severe itching, poor skin health, and possibly rashes and/or hot spots. 

Sometimes, but not always, there can be gastrointestinal issues as well. 
When looking at what may be at the root of the issue, there are 2 main categories:
fluffy-shih-tzu
Mumu, at 1 year old,
photo courtesy of Molly
1. Allergic reaction to food additives. This is the most common of the two. And it's really a shame that owners cannot trust dog food to be safe for their canine family members.

However, a large number of commercial brands add all sorts of nasty things to their formulas. 

The most common culprits are artificial additives including coloring and flavoring. Chemical preservatives are also a huge trigger for skin issues. 

2. Reaction to a particular food product. Food with high grain counts or soy can be to blame for many skin problem woes. 

And, though it is much more rare, reactions to certain proteins can be the problem. 

A dog can even be allergic to chicken (which is normally considered a 'safe' food). 
What to do, part 1: You'll need to come at this in two ways. One will be to make a change to your Shih Tzu's diet and the other will be to provide topical relief to the skin (more ahead). 

You will want to immediately change to a 100% all-natural, wholesome food that has ZERO additives. It will have no artificial coloring, flavoring, or chemical preservatives (a blend of vitamins, commonly labeled as tocopherol or ascorbate, will be used instead). 

It can help if the food also contains omega 3 fish oils, as this is very beneficial to skin and coat.

To cover all the bases, choose a brand that also has no soy, corn, or grains. And one without by-products (meat deemed unfit for human consumption is a huge plus). 
A great choice is Wellness CORE Natural Grain-Free for Small Breeds - Turkey & Chicken; this meets every single requirement of what you'll want to be offering, and it is made in the USA. 
If you think that your Shih Tzu may be having a problem with chicken, Merrick Lil Plates Grain-Free for Small Breeds - Texas Beef and Sweet Potato is a great choice and this also meets every single guideline for a top-quality food. 
Keep reading about other triggers for skin issues, or jump to treating skin issues, Part 2

#4 Environmental or Contact Allergies

These types of allergies can be very tricky due to being hard to pinpoint. Skin issues such as dry or itchy skin is certainly a top symptom. However, other signs such as runny nose, watery eyes, coughing, and/or wheezing may come and go. 

And long after a dog is exposed to a trigger, skin problems can linger, so it may be hard to backtrack to realize what caused the reaction. 
Culprits may be inside your home (dust mites, contact allergies to carpeting or cleaners, etc.) or outside (but often tracked inside) such as pollen, grasses, or weeds. 
What to do, part 1: It is recommended to work with your Shih Tzu's veterinarian to try to identify the triggers. 

This can be done via ELISA testing (blood testing) or intradermal skin testing (normally the more reliable of the two). 

In addition, certain prescribed medications can help a great deal. This includes topical steroids for swollen and very itchy skin and antihistamines for eyes, nose, and breathing issues.

This said, there are also quite a few steps you can take at home that can add up to a big difference. 
Shih Tzu wearing a tie
Roscoe, at 5 months old,
photo courtesy of Christina and Tonio Bianca
1. Wet dust the house and then continue to do so at least once a week.

2. Vacuum the house using a strong, HEPA certified vacuum cleaner.  Do this whether you have hardwood floors or carpeting. 

As the vacuum cleans the floors, it will also filter the air that is being circulated. One like the Shark Navigator Lift-Away Professional with Dust-Away traps 99% of dust and pollen and has an attachment for hardwood floors, tile, and laminate floors. It's also very lightweight. 
3. If you have central air, run the system using HEPA certified filters, preferably with an FPR rating of 10. 

If you do not have central air, consider obtaining free-standing air purifiers. The GermGuardian 3-in-1 Air Purifier System with True HEPA Filter captures 99.97% of dust and allergens as small as .3 microns such as household dust, mold spores and plant pollen. And it even uses UV-C light technology to kill bacteria, viruses, germs, and mold. 
4. Wash all washables in the washing machine, using hypo-allergenic detergent. This includes all of your bedding, the cover of your Shih Tzu's bed, throw rugs, pillow cases, washable stuffed animal toys, etc. 
5. Make a strict rule that anyone coming in the house needs to remove their shoes right away. 

6. Each and every time that your Shih Tzu is coming back into the house, wipe his body down with a canine grooming wipe; Earthbath All Natural Hypo-Allergenic Grooming Wipes is a great choice, and wash his paws off in the sink. 
7. On days with high pollen count, keep walks to the late afternoon or early evening; though do check with your weather service for more details on when pollen will be highest in your area. 
Next: Now that we have covered the top 4 causes of skin issues (infections and infestations will be coming up ahead), we will dive into part 2: treatments for immediate relief. 

Treating Skin Issues

Hopefully, you did not just skip to this part, because each cause for dry, itching, and/or irritated skin has a 'what to do part 1' which helps to decrease or eliminate the cause, and then this section will cover 'part 2', which is for immediate relief via topical healing products. 

Treatment Overview

The goal is to a) offer full-body restorative sessions via soothing baths with healing products. 

Typically, a bath once every 3 weeks is recommended. More frequent baths can lead to dry skin, even using great products. This is because natural body oils will be washed away too often. 
shih-tzu-batman-vest
Rizzo, at 6 months old,
photo courtesy of Joseph Almedina
However, if your Shih Tzu is suffering from dry skin, hot spots, itchiness, or other skin issues like this, a bath once per week is recommended, as long as you are using quality shampoos that will help resolve the issues. 

Once things have cleared up, default back to baths every 3 weeks. 

And b) use a really good topical spray that can offer immediate relief to specific areas. A good spray will work 24/7 when applied 3 times per day. This will allow you to direct treatment to the exact areas that are bothering your Shih Tzu. 

The final part of resolving skin problems is to c) use the right shampoos, conditioners, and leave-in coat sprays to offer protection and prevent issues from reoccurring.  

How to Fix Skin Issues - Home Remedies, OTC Products

Fortunately, there are some great products that work well: 
Please note that here we will do an overview of what each product can do, and then you may see these below. And again, this will be temporary help if you do not address the underlying issues as detailed previously. 

Shampoo for minor skin issues:
Earthbath has 3 great shampoos; all are properly pH balanced and have top-of-the line all natural ingredients. 

There is Oatmeal & Aloe, which is great for general dry skin. *** If your Shih Tzu has sensitive skin, we recommend using this as your 'regular' shampoo as well, once things are cleared up.

There is also Eucalyptus & Peppermint, which is really great if you feel that your Shih Tzu could use some cooling relief. And the Tea Tree Oil and Aloe formula is very good for puppies and dogs that have hot spots.
A spray for minor issues:
Bodhi Dog has an all-natural hot spot spray that uses lemongrass, peppermint and clove to offer relief.
Shampoo for moderate to severe skin issues:
If your Shih Tzu is really suffering, it will be time to get serious with Moosh. This is an incredible 100% all-natural and organic hypo-allergenic shampoo that helps with issues in a variety of ways. There is bentonite clay which has amazing healing properties, neem, argan oil, shea butter, and aloe vera.

Most dogs respond after just 1 shampoo, with dramatic results after two.
A spray for moderate to severe issues:
When the skin is severely dry, there is lots of itching, and/or hot spots are super sensitive, you may find that a hot spot spray with hydrocortisone (1%) brings about immediate relief. 
Our recommended remedies for itching, dry skin, hot spots, and other common skin issues are below. If you do not see the images, try a refresh. On mobile, you may need to turn your screen horizontal to see all four. 

Ongoing Maintenance and Prevention

If you have worked to decrease or eliminate all possible triggers for skin problems and then have put in the effort to treat them, be sure to stay on track to do all you can to prevent issues from returning. 

There are 4 main elements: 

1Be proactive in maintaining good humidity levels in the house during the winter, and implementing all allergen-blocking tactics year-round.

2- Use a high-quality nourishing shampoo and conditioner for the every-3-week bath that you give your Shih Tzu. 

3 - Use a leave-in coat spray. A leave-in conditioner is excellent for the coat, but it also helps protect the skin. This is especially true for breeds like the Shih Tzu that have hair opposed to fur. 

4- Add a daily omega 3 fish oil supplement. Quality fish oil is fantastic to maintain good skin and coat health, and has the added bonus of being great for the immune system and for joint health (which is particularly relevant for this breed). 

We recommend a liquid fish oil that can easily be added to meals. And most dogs love the scent and the taste, so your Shih Tzu should not complain. 
Our recommendations for maintenance shampoo, conditioner, leave-in spray, and omega 3 fish oil are below. If you do not see the images, try a refresh. On mobile, you may need to turn your screen horizontal to see all 4. 

Shih Tzu Skin Infections

There a quite a few different skin infections that may occur. Some cases can be treated at home, but others will need to be treated by the vet. 

These are the most common seen with the Shih Tzu breed:
Eczema 

There are many different types of eczema;however, in general, this refers to chronic skin inflamed and irritated skin, often manifesting in patches. It may cause hair loss in the affected areas. In some cases, there will be an unpleasant odor.

Minor cases may be able to be controlled using the aforementioned methods for more common skin problems. 

However, for moderate to severe cases, this is best treated by the veterinarian. Anti-inflammatory medications are often given, and sometimes low dose steroids will be needed to keep it under control and hopefully cure it. It can take several months to see improvement. 

While exercise is very important, if eczema is severe, you will need to limit exposure to cold temperatures outside. In addition, hot temperatures are harmful as well; so if the sun is shining bright and hot, limit outdoor exposure while your puppy or dog is being treated. 
Pydoerma

This is a bacterial infection of the skin that most typically affects young puppies. It often first appears on the tummy. There will be welts and bumps, often with small pockets of puss. 

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. During treatment, it can help to offer the aforementioned omega 3 fish oil supplement, and bathe your Shih Tzu with the previously mentioned healing shampoos. 
Sebaceous adenitis
This is also known as glaucomatous sebaceous adenitis or simply 'SA'. It is not a common issue with the Shih Tzu breed; however, it can randomly occur. 

This typically affects dogs between the ages of 1 to 7 years old. It is genetic and therefore any Shih Tzu with this should not be bred.

With this, there will be very dry scaly and flaky skin, and in those areas, there will be a loss of coat. Secondary skin infection can occur and 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 a 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 a dog'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 condition, other conditions are ruled out first before a diagnosis is made. 

Treatment does not produce results quickly. Owners must be diligent and patient. After proper diagnosis, and under guidance by the vet, baths are given using a keratolytic shampoo like Virbac Keratolux Shampoo, which softens the keratin of the skin, improving moisture content. 
Other treatment may include medicated shampoo such as Oxydex, omega 3, and antibiotics if skin sores have become infected.

In ONLY severe cases a retinoid medication will be prescribed by the veterinarian; it must never be given to pregnant dogs. The cost of this medication may be expensive, but will often show good results after 8 weeks.
Skin yeast infections
Skin yeast infections can be triggered by a low immune system; this can be an issue with puppies or any dog after a stressful event. In some cases, there is no clear cause. 

Yeast infections on a Shih Tzu can be a tricky thing to diagnose from home, because many of the symptoms mimic other skin issues. There will be itching, which is generally present with all skin conditions. And it may come and go, similar to seasonal allergies.

This said, there are often other clues that may be present. One is a strange, musty odor or sour-type smell that may be detected even soon after a bath. 

In addition to this, there may be black spots on the skin. 

There may be discolored hairs in certain areas such as between the toes. And there may or may not be thinning hairs. 

If you are not sure if your Shih Tzu has a yeast infection on the skin, it is best to have this diagnosed by the vet. Treatment involves a medicated anti-fungal shampoo that contains chlorhexidine and ketoconazole such as Pet MD's - Antiseptic and Antifungal Medicated Shampoo
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