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Summer Care

Shih Tzu Summer Care

Overview

This section is going to discuss summer care for a Shih Tzu when hot weather comes around. Many of you live in areas that experience 4 seasons which often means 3 to 4 months of hot weather each year.
For others, you may live in a hot climate year round.

This is an important topic for owners to read, since Shih Tzu that live in a hot climate or experience hot temperature seasons will need to be prepped for the weather and special care will need to be given to help a Tzu survive the heat. 

When we say 'survive' that is not an overstatement, since this breed can succumb to heat stress or heat stroke- the latter which can be fatal.

In addition, even if steps are taken to greatly reduce heat stress or stroke, we must also take into account the element of keeping your Shih Tzu happy and comfortable during hot weather... Simply staying indoors with the AC all summer does not make for a happy life.

Therefore, let us look at:
  • Why this breed does not tolerate a hot climate
  • Steps you can take to keep your Shih Tzu cool during hot temperatures while still allowing your puppy or dog to enjoy the outdoors
  • Emergency steps to take if your AC suddenly breaks or you have a power outage
  • Sun Exposure Sensitivity
  • Change to Eating Patterns 

Why the Shih Tzu breed Has Trouble Tolerating a Hot Climate

Most Shih Tzu owners are very well aware that this breed is a brachycephalic breed, but what does that mean in regard to hot weather tolerance? Due to breeding practices developed over many generations several breeds were bred to have:

• A lower than normal jaw
• A compressed upper jaw

Due to these proportional shapes of the head, the Shih Tzu (and other Brachycephalic breeds) may have 1 or more of the following respiratory issues - sometimes so minor that you do not notice until hot weather or another element causes it to flare up.

Tracheal Stenosis - The windpipe narrows in some places. Hot weather (or very cold weather) can cause this to flare up and affect the Tzu
Shih tzu outside on summer grass
Elongated Soft Palate - The soft palate is the area that separates the oral cavity from the nasal cavity and due to tissues essentially being 'squished', the palate can flap down into the throat. This can become worse during hot weather, often signaled with a snorting sound.

Stenotic Nares - Commonly known as Pinches Nostrils, this is just like it sounds like: the nasal openings are very small. Some puppies outgrow this after they are finished with the teething stage. However, many Tzu do have pinches nostrils to some degree - and even if it is not severe enough to warrant surgery, it can make breathing more difficult, particularly in hot weather if the puppy or dog becomes stressed from the heat.
Everted Laryngeal Saccules - This refers to the larynx which is the air passage and the voice box is located here. Normally, there are 2 small pockets in this area; if this flares up, those pockets can become twisted which can cause breathing issues. If they become completely inverted, surgery is necessary.

Note: Being outside in hot weather does NOT cause any of these issues. The main point to remember is that a Shih Tzu puppy or dog may have 1 or more of these issues to a minor degree (not needing surgical intervention) BUT combined with soaring temperatures, it can cause hot weather intolerance in the form of heat stress and/or breathing issues. Just a slight elongated soft palate (which many Tzu have) combined with slight stenotic nares (which many Tzu have) can make for an inefficient panter - particularly when outside in hot summer temperatures.

Panting is a dog's main method of cooling down - air is quickly drawn in over the tongue. As it passes through, it picks up evaporated saliva, which leads to cooling circulation throughout the dog's body. Unable to pant 'normally', the Shih Tzu may struggle in the heat as he works hard to pull in the amount of air needed and this can lead to swelling and inflammation of the airway.

How to Keep Your Shih Tzu Cool in the Summer (While Still Enjoying the Outdoors)

There are many things that you can do to keep your Shih Tzu puppy or dog cool in the summer (or year round if you live in a hot climate) without keeping him housebound - which is very unhealthy for this breed both physically and mentally. 

Being outside is helpful in many ways:

- Walking and playing outside allows a dog to release pent-up energy. This makes for a better behaved puppy or dog once they are back in the house. An evening walk will help a Tzu sleep better at night.

- Outdoor house training works best for many Shih Tzu and sticking to the designated area - no matter the weather - will work best to create a well-trained puppy and keep your Tzu on track

- Going for walks helps a dog maintain a healthy body - it is good for the heart, metabolism, muscles and circulation. 

- A daily walk is the best way to instill training for proper heeling

- Being outdoors with you (safely on leash and harness) allows your Shih Tzu to be slowly socialized to all sorts of elements: other dogs, children, cars traffic, etc.
Care Tips For Shih Tzu in the Summer Heat

1 - When indoors, use AC if you have it. If you are concerned about a high energy bill, even keeping the temperature at 76 F (26.6 C) is low enough to keep a Shih Tzu comfortable. Using a fan (floor, table or ceiling) combined with AC may allow you not run the AC as cold as just a fan can lower the temperature by several degrees.

2 - If you do not have AC, keep all of the window shades closed on sunny days. You may find that it helps to keep windows open at night (cool air comes in) and then shut them during the day. Using fans to draw in cooler air at night can help a great deal.
two Shih Tzu outside on patio
De-humidifiers can work well to cool off a hot house - as moisture is taken out of the air, it can cool by several degrees. In addition, breathing is easier for the Tzu when the humidity factor is removed.

3- It IS best to keep a Shih Tzu on a regular schedule, however if you normally take your dog for a noontime walk, it will be best to change this. The best time to take your Shih Tzu outside is before 10 AM and after 6 PM. Instead of 1 longer walk per day, it is recommended to take 2 shorter walks - 1 in the early morning and 1 in the later evening as temperatures are cooler. On exceedingly hot days such as a legitimate heat wave, it will be best to offer fun, indoor games and activities than risk overheating in dangerously high temps.

4- Part of the Shih Tzu's intolerance to heat includes paws on surfaces. Paw pads are made of skin, albeit very thick skin and therefore is vulnerable to heat and certainly able to feel pain as well as receive burns from hot pavement. Many owners forget about this aspect since we humans wear shoes and don't think about just how hot roads and sidewalks can become in hot summer temperatures. Before heading out, if you are not sure about this element, you can test the pavement with your hand (be careful). 

There are several ways to help protect your Shih Tzu from this element:

A. Place canine shoes on your puppy or dog. Some may put up a fuss but then learn to love them. Not only do they protect a dog from heat, they also work to give good traction and protect paws from tiny pebbles that can cause discomfort in the areas between paw pads and rocks that can hurt when stepped on.

B. If your Shih Tzu does not tolerate shoes or booties, another great option is canine paw protection balm. Good, quality balms fully protect the pads, allowing a dog to walk without risk of burns.

Note: When you are placing shoes or balm on your Tzu, this is always a good time to have a look at nails to see if they are in need of trimming.
5- While walking, stay in shaded areas whenever possible.

6- On very hot days, even if you are walking for 20 to 30 minutes, do bring a travel water bottle. Some containers work as a bottle and bowl all in one (less to carry). Drop 1 or 2 ice cubes in the container to keep it cool. Take a break 1/2 way through- in the shade if possible- to allow for rest and to have a refreshing drink.

7- Some days, the sizzling summer heat is just so hard to combat with, you may need a little extra help and a canine cooling mat is a wonderful option to help your Shih Tzu stay cool and comfortable. Look for one that does NOT contain chemicals or toxins. You will want one that uses thermodynamics to cool and is not powered by electricity or other means. Keep in mind that a good cooling mat or pad will not feel very cold to the touch - after all, the goal is not to freeze your Tzu - however it WILL feel cool to your dog's body, as it absorbs the heat that is given off. If you wish to obtain a cooling pad and are not sure which one to obtain, you may wish to look to "Summer Heat Items" in the Shih Tzu Specialty Shoppe.
Shih Tzu in stroller on summer day
8- If you will be out and about for a while (or in emergency instances of a broken AC, etc.) using a cooling canine bandana or a 'normal' wet bandana can really help to keep a dog cool.

9- If you plan to spend some time in your yard and want your Tzu to be able to stay outside with you, you may find that your puppy or dog simply loves being allowed to splash around in a small kiddy pool. This is just one of the fun things to do with a Shih TzuAdding some toys to the water is always helpful and be sure to keep an eye on your Tzu, just as you would do with children. 
10- To help your Shih Tzu deal with hot summer days, you may be tempted to allow your dog to swim in a pool with you. It is a misconception that all dogs can instinctively swim; some breeds with short legs and rounder bodies have a difficult time treading water. In general, Shih Tzu can swim, however some key things to keep in mind are that those with long show dog coats may struggle as it makes them heavier in the water) and since they are not classically known as strong swimmers, most tire out easily when trying to tread… Therefore, a short dip - if your Tzu is willing - is fine, however the small kiddie pool that we spoke about above is a better choice.

Note: If your Shih Tzu does swim - even for a minute - in a chlorinated pool, it is important to rinse the coat extremely well afterwards. If not, lightening and/or discoloration can appear on the coat and skin can quickly become dry.

11- Some Shih Tzu will enjoy running around and playing with a children's water sprinkler and as long as it is not set up in the soaring sun's heat, this can be a great way to spend time outside and be active without overheating. Just do limit the time and allow for breaks if your Shih Tzu appears to be running around TOO much.

12- If you have to drive somewhere with your Tzu as a passenger, you will want to keep the AC on. If your car's AC is not working, unless it is an emergency, do not drive with your Tzu during the hottest part of the day and when you're on the road keep all windows open with your Shih Tzu very secure in a canine car safety seat.

Another element that will help is to place car window shades since even with AC, sun can be quite blinding as it streams in from all of the windows.

13- Having your Shih Tzu's coat trimmed down to a Puppy Cut can help to keep good air circulation going around the body and in general, will help a Tzu tolerate hot weather.
See also: Top 14 Shih Tzu General Care Tips - For Tzu of all ages.
All recommended items including cooling mats, travel containers, bandanas, paw balm and more can be found on the Shih Tzu Supplies page.

Care if There is an Emergency Loss of Power

You have your house at a comfortable temperature and you are taking all the steps listed above to keep your puppy or dog cool outside and inside of the house. What do you do if you experience a loss of power? This can be quite dangerous and action should be taken - do not wait to see if the power will come back on.

1. Make calls to any family or friends that may still have power and see if your family and your Tzu will be welcome to stay if your power does not come back on. This is especially important if temperatures are in the high 90's (above 32 C). Again, if the temps are in the 90's or the 100's do not 'ride it out' if at all possible - transition to an air-conditioned home. Be sure to bring your dog's: food, bowls, favorite toys and bed.

2. If you had your AC running and the house is cool, keep all doors and windows closed in order to keep the house cold for as long as possible. Keep all shades and curtains closed to block out sunlight.

3. If the power outage remains and you do not have an alternative house to bring your Shih Tzu to, try to obtain a good air flow by opening front and back doors/windows to allow air to flow freely through the house.

4. Use the above mentioned cooling mat and cooling or wet bandana.

5. Fresh, cold water will be crucial - if all of the ice melts from your freezer if at all possible, obtain a bag of ice at the store even if it is to melt later in the day. Even a bit of ice is better than none.

6. If you do not have a friend's house to go to, it can help to drive your Shih Tzu in your air-conditioned car to an air-conditioned place such as a mall that allows dogs or even a pet store, just to have a break from the hot temperature.

7. Keep a close eye on your Tzu for signs of heat stress/ heat stroke and take appropriate action more ahead)
shih tzu on raft in pool
Bama'a Jaxon Tide a/k/a Jax, at 6 months old
Photo courtesy of Tami Ingram

Signs of Heat Stroke

Of course, no one plans on their dog having a heat stroke, therefore during hot weather - no matter how careful you are being - be prepared to notice the signs. Remember that a puppy or dog does NOT need to have all of these symptoms. Just 1 of the following signs is your signal to stop activity and to work to cool your Shih Tzu down:

• Heavy Panting
• Excessive drooling
• Gums will be red
• Fast heart beat
• Acting dizzy and or disorientated, i.e. stumbling, having trouble walking, walking into walls, etc.
• Decreased urination
• Black stools

Later Signs as it Progresses:

• Irregular heartbeat
• Pinpoint areas of blood that shows on the skin
• Vomiting (stomach contents and/or blood)
• Seizure
• Muscle tremor
• Body temperature above 103 F (39 C) Note: temperature should be taken with a canine rectal thermometer and normal temp is 100 F to 102.5 F (38 C to 39.2 C).

Symptoms Right Before Fatal Stage:

• Shock
• Cardiac arrest
• Kidney failure
• Inability to breath
• Unconsciousness

What to Do:

1- If your Shih Tzu has heat stress or stroke, bring your dog into the house or to a shady spot if you cannot reach the house.

2- Your 1st instinct may be to rush your dog to the veterinarian or animal hospital - however in moderate to severe cases, this can make things worse for the dog - Body temperature must be stabilized before transporting your Shih Tzu. If stopping activity, drinking fresh water and cooling down inside does not stop the succession of stroke, here is what to do:

- Soak down towels with cool water NOT cold (it would shock the dog) and gently lay the towels all over the body. (If you are outside, pour 3/4 of any water that you have over your Tzu and call for help).

- With the wet towels in place, use fans to move air over your dog.
 
3- Continue working to cool down your dog and keep checking body temperature (rectally). Once it is below 103 F (39 C), it will be time to carefully transport your dog to the veterinarian or closest animal hospital.

The veterinarian will test your Tzu to make sure that there is no lasting damage to the brain or organs. IV fluids may be given. An overnight stay or several days in the hospital may be needed.

Note: Please remember that this sort of issue can spiral quickly, and at the same time, you don't want to shelter your Shih Tzu inside all summer long, limiting exercise and outdoor fun. Therefore, taking a balanced approach and following guidelines - without being overly paranoid - will allow both of you to enjoy nice, sunny weather.

Sun Exposure Sensitivity

Some Shih Tzu dogs have intolerance for bright, direct sun. This will manifest as pigment changes to the skin. While it is quite common for pink bellies to develop brown, gray or black spots due to sun exposure (this is fine as long as they are not raised and most will fade as summer fades away) you will want to keep an eye out for color changes to the lips or nose.

If a black nose or black lips turn pink (splotches, dots or any other sort of color change), this usually means that the dog has a sun sensitivity. (In rare cases, this can be a symptom of cancer, but again, it is usually an issue of exposure to sunlight). If it is only the nose that is changing color, a dab of sunblock carefully applied 15 to 20 minutes before going outside will help. If it is the lips that are changing color, it will be best to avoid outside sun from 10 AM to 6 PM. If you are not fond of belly spots, rubbing in some sun screen there just fine as well. 
Shih Tzu with short coats in summer

Change in Eating Habits

It is not uncommon for a Shih Tzu to have a slight decrease in appetite during hot weather. This holds true even for those puppies and dogs that are not outside for long amounts of time. 

Studies on this indicate that for each 10 degrees that the temperature rises, some canines eat 7% to 10% less per day.

If your Tzu is eating less to a point that concerns you, splitting up meals into more frequent, but smaller amounts may do the trick. Dogs that become finicky eaters in the summer may be encouraged to eat dry kibble that is drizzled with low-salt chicken broth.

If you suspect weight loss do please keep track of this. While an adult can lose a pound (.45 kg) or so without issues, it can be dangerous for a puppy or a an older, senior dog. Tzu can be weighed at home by placing them in a basket and weighing both basket and dog. Doing this once a week can let you know if a change in eating habits is affecting weight; at which time it will need to be brought to the attention of the veterinarian.

Summer Fireworks

Since we are talking about summertime, we wanted to mention the issue of a Shih Tzu being afraid of Memorial Day or Fourth of July fireworks. Here are a few tips:

1. If you know that your Tzu is afraid of fireworks (and the majority of dogs are), please do not bring your puppy or dog to firework celebrations. This is a disaster waiting to happen. While dogs can learn to tolerate many things - and doing so is all part of proper socialization - it makes little sense to expect a dog to learn to tolerate a 1 or 2 time a year bombardment of very loud noise, smell of sulfur (which in and of itself can be very disturbing for a dog), and bright flashes of light. 

2. If your house is located next to a firework show and it is close enough to be fairly loud, please do not leave your Tzu home alone while the whole family heads off to see the display. While no one will be there to see it, you may be leaving your dog behind to be quite traumatized. One member should remain with the puppy or dog.

3. Prepare the house: Leave on the lights (but dimmed a bit to create a cozy setting). Close all windows and blinds. Put on the TV or stereo (whichever your dog is most used to).

4. During the show, if you have a thunder vest for your Shih Tzu, it can work for this as well. If you do not, gently wrap your Tzu in a soft baby blanket. Do NOT cower down or act as if anything bad is happening. Try your best to be matter-of-fact. Simply sit back, hold your Tzu and speak in calm, reasoned manner. 

Summer Bugs and Other Nasty Things

Shih Tzu in the summer time
In addition to what we have discussed, remember that during the summer, fleas, mosquitoes and ticks are more prevalent. Always keep your puppy or dog protected from these pests, as they can cause allergic reactions or carry dangerous diseases.

No one wants to overpower their puppy or dog with heavy chemical products, therefore you may want to use a chemical free product. If you are not sure what to use, you may wish to look to the Shih Tzu Supplies page.
- Bee, wasp or hornet stings are a possibility to look out for as well in the summer (fall too, in some areas when insects swarm to prepare for winter). Unfortunately, most dogs are stung by a bee or wasp on the face or in the mouth and this can be dangerous. 
If the stinger is still present, use a credit card to scrape it out. Do not use tweezers.

Apply a mixture of baking soda and water to the area.

With just 1 sting, keep a careful eye for any swelling - Swelling of the face, tongue or lips can cause severe breathing problems.
2 or more stings is a reason to get your Shih Tzu to the vet, even if you do not immediately see any swelling.

- Snakes - We were very recently informed that a small Pomeranian, owned by a friend of ours, was killed by a snake bite and we want to warn all of you about this. 

While we do not have all of the details at this time, we do know that while outside and enjoying a sit in the grass with his owner, he barked to warn his owner that the snake was very close. As the owner looked back and moved to stand up to see what was wrong, the snake coiled and struck the dog's face. 

Sadly, he passed very quickly, within just minutes. At this time, we do not know what type of snake this was. So please keep an eye out for snakes - some like to bake in the sun and others hide behind cool rocks. 

Your List of Needed Summertime Care Items to Keep Your Shih Tzu Safe and Happy

1. Cooling mat or pad
2. Doggie shoes or paw balm
3. Travel water bottle
4. Canine cooling bandana
5. Kiddie pool
6. Sun shades for the car
7. Canine anal thermometer
8. Sun screen
9. Flea, tick and mosquito protection
10. At least 1 fan - even if you normally use only AC
Don't forget to become an AllShihTzu Member, so that you may receive reminders when we add a new topic here for constantly new Shih Tzu info & also be able to suggest a subject for us to discuss.
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