Call us: 555-555-5555

Winter Care

Taking Care of a Shih Tzu in the Winter

Overview

Owners of Shih Tzu who live in areas that receive cold winters are often looking for tips to winterize their Shih Tzu and for good reason. If you do not take steps to protect this breed from the winter elements, there can be damaging affects to the coat, skin and paws. 

For many of us, winter brings along much drier air, cold temperatures and snowfall. There are some ways that you can prepare for the cold season and steps you can take to protect your Tzu.

In this section we are going to discuss:
  • How to make your Shih Tzu safe and comfortable
  • Winterizing the coat, paws and nose
  • How shorter days affect eating and exercise
  • Grooming changes
If winter is on its way for you, don't wait until it is upon you to winterize your dog. Some things will need to be done in advance. 

Let's see what steps to take:

Winterizing the Coat & Skin

During cold weather, particularly during cold spells, the air is much dryer. Even during days of heavy snowfall, the humidity is often much lower than on warm spring, summer or fall days.
cute Shih Tzu dog
Boomer, 8 years old
Photo courtesy of owner: Patricia Sadowski 
The air itself can only hold a certain amount of water in it; this is the humidity factor. When colder the air becomes, the less it can hold.  

The air inside your home is dryer than normal as well. The already arid air comes into a heated house, which further removes the moisture. 

Due to very low humidity levels during the winter, taking steps to winterize your Shih Tzu will involve protecting both the skin and coat. Winter weather can harmful in 3 basic ways:

1) Outside cold, dry winds can chap the skin

2) Air both inside and outside can cause static to the coat which in turn can cause split ends

3) The skin over the whole body can lose moisture, causing full body dryness, itchiness and - if severe - thinning of the coat
What to Do:

You will want to take steps to stop hairs from becoming so static that they split. When a hair splits, it starts at the end, where the protective cuticle is destroyed. Once this happens, the damage will travel upward to the root. At a certain point, the entire strand will break off. When there is a combination of both broken, split ends and fallen hairs, it can make for quite a destroyed coat.   

There are a few things that you can do to protect your Tzu's coat and skin from the effects of winter:

1) Choose a quality leave-in conditioner. A good product will create a protective covering that will shield the hairs from the damaging effects of winter. Do keep in mind that a lack of humidity will be present inside the house as well, so this step is vital even if you do not take your Shih Tzu outside very much in the winter.

Each day and preferable in the morning, you will want to apply the leave-in product. 

If your Tzu has a puppy cut: While you can use a small slicker brush, it is often easier to and more effective to use your hands. Spray the product into the palms of your hands and gently massage the coat. Scrunch as you go, making sure to gently pull the product up and through to the ends of the hairs.

If your Tzu has a long coat: Spray the leave-in conditioner near -but not on- the roots. Start roughly 1 inch from the part. Lifting the coat in sections, lightly mist and then using a small pin brush, stroke through the section, to distribute the product to the ends of the coat.

For all coat types: The key is to apply a light mist all over the coat. While it is better to apply more than not enough, take care to not go too heavy. A misting is all you need. If excessive amounts are applied it will accumulate too much in-between baths; this can cause the coat to hold too much oil and that can cause blockage to the skin pores.

Since this will rub off during a typical day of sitting and lying down and of course, when sleeping, it is best to fall into a nice routine of winterizing the coat each morning.
You will want to give your Shih Tzu regular baths because you will want to make sure to cleanse the coat of all product residue and then start fresh again. Therefore, a good bath in which you scrub down through the coat and massage the skin, every 2 to 3 weeks is best.

Be sure to use your quality shampoo and rinse-out conditioner for each bath. Also, as always, double rinse to make sure there is zero soap residue left behind. Soap particles will be more abrasive and drying in the winter than ever. Plan bathing well in advance so that you will not have to blow dry the coat; you will want to scrunch it well with a soft, absorbent towel, spritz it and leave it to air dry. 
Shih Tzu near fireplace in the winter
2) Another part of providing winter care for your Shih Tzu is to control the humidity in the house. The best way to do this is with humidifiers; though there are some good homemade methods as well. By putting moisture into the air, you will not give the air a chance to rob a Shih Tzu (or you!) of moisture from the skin.

If you choose a manufactured unit, be very aware of its capacity. One unit that can handle 500 square feet will do very little to protect a Tzu from dry air in a medium sized home. Obtain as many as you need according to the square footage of your living area. ***Please note that unis NEED to be cleaned on a regular basis to prevent bacteria from growing in them.

There are some homemade ways to do this as well, however they are not as effective and therefore you may need to use several - if not all - of these methods:

1- Place metal bowls of water on top of heat registers or radiators

2- Leave the bathroom door open while showering,

3- Take a large Ziploc bag and punch about 20 holes in it, place a large wet sponge inside and then place that on counters and other areas. You may need anywhere from 5 to 10 of these.

4- Obtain houseplants, which release moisture after they are watered.

3) Plan your trimmings. If you do live in an area with harsh winters, you will want to time trimmings for the spring when warm weather rolls around again. This way, if the coat does have some damage, it can be clipped away after wintertime is done.

4) Beware of carpeting. If for some reason you do not use a humidifier, be very careful if you have carpeted floors. Even if you use some, still beware of any rugs. They are notorious for collecting static charges. If a Tzu lies down on the carpeting, there will be a static rub. It will be best to place a soft baby blanket down that has been washed and then dried with dryer sheets.

Winterizing the Paws and Nose

Many owners do not use paw balm or nose balm until there is a problem. However, if you use it sparingly on a routine basis, it will keep the paws healthy and prevent issues that may occur otherwise.

Being proactive is especially a good idea for owners who already know that their Shih Tzu reacts to the winter weather with dry, cracked paws (or nose).

Paw balm is best applied each night when your Shih Tzu is tired and ready for bed. As with most products, do not apply too much - only a certain amount will be absorbed and a bit will coat the paw to protect. Any more than that will simply be wasted.

When you take your Tzu outside, the nose is very exposed to whipping winds and cold, harsh air. Be sure use protection to prevent dry nose problems in which it can become raw or cracked. A light dabbing of balm before you head out for walks will go a long way in preventing a chapped nose.

If you are not happy with the balm you have on hand and you would like to see our recommendations, be sure to look at 'Grooming' in the Shih Tzu Specialty Shoppe.

Winter Care When Outside

Clothing

A huge part of winterizing your Shih Tzu will be to use functional clothing that protects the dog from cold weather and offers a shield the dog from harsh winds that can chap the entire body. There are 2 things to keep in mind regarding the actual temperature:

1) The wind chill factor. This places a crucial role. Here are some quick calculations to keep in mind: If the air is 45 F (7.2 C) with a 15 mph wind, the air temp will actually be 38 F (3.3 C). If the temp is 35 F (1.67C) with a 10 mph breeze, your Shih Tzu will feel the real temp of 27 F (-2 C). 

2) The ground surface. Cold air sinks, warmer air rises. It is surprising how much colder the ground can be than just 5 or so feet higher. 

Toys sized dog breeds have more trouble regulating body heat than larger breeds. This is because of a higher ratio of body surface to body weight. Therefore, a Shih Tzu will lose his body heat much faster than his medium or large breed counterpart. This can lead to a case of uncontrolled shivering and for some, hypothermia. Lastly, when a dog feels cold and unprotected, he will be less agreeable to going outside. 

When you bring your Shih Tzu outside, whether for bathroom needs or his daily walk (more ahead regarding exercise), you will want your dog to be just as comfortable outside as in. 

Protective outer gear is also recommended to keep the coat dry. Sleet, snow and cold rains will be absorbed through the single layer coat and cause shivering and increase the threat of hypothermia.

Booties - There are reasons to put shoes or boots on a dog as well:

1) Dogs that do not feel as if they have good footing can tend to shy away from going outside. The right boots provide excellent traction on all surfaces, including mud, ice and snow.

2) Bare paws will have direct contact with freezing surfaces; this can make walking uncomfortable at best and put a dog at risk for frost bite in worst case scenarios.

3) The ice melt chemicals that many city municipal services spread on the road are quite terrible for dog paws. They can cause chemical burns. 

4) The tiny rock pebbles often dispersed as roads are 'sanded' can become wedged in the sensitive area between the paw pads.
Choosing the right clothes and shoes -On cool to cold days, a sweater or a vest will work well. On days below 32F (0 C) (factoring in the wind chill), winterize your Shih Tzu with a nice parka or heavy sweater. If there is any precipitation, choose a water resistant fabric.

The best clothes for a Shih Tzu will not be skin tight - your dog will be warmer if there is room for a thin layer of air to form between the body and the clothing. At the same time, if the outerwear is too large, it can make walking difficult or awkward. For most Shih Tzu under 10 pounds, an extra-small fits best. For those 10 to 15 pounds a small is often best. When you choose the items, you will often see a size chart to use as a guide.

The best winter boots and shoes for a Shih Tzu will have a rather snug fit without cutting off blood circulation. If shoes are too big, they will rotate around the ankle. Choose a brand that has a Velcro strap that can be adjusted. Look for good traction on the sole of the boots.

Dogs that are not used to boot can benefit from a few 'practice runs' inside the home. Usually, if an owner acts happy and excited to see a dog wearing shoes, he will follow suit and proudly show them off.
Shih Tzu with warm clothes on
Ake 18 months old
Photo courtesy of owner: Jonna Leganger
Shih Tzu outside in the snow
Porter, 10 months old
Photo courtesy of owner: Laura Toma

Why Getting Outside is Important

Keeping up with daily exercise is very important. If a dog stays housebound all winter (or most of it), it will have an impact on both health and behavior.  

Walking each day (or most days) is beneficial to maintain good muscle tone and to keep the heart healthy. 

In regard to behavior, a dog can experience cabin fever in the winter just as humans can; and many develop it much sooner than humans. A daily walk allows a dog to gain a sense of his world, to put those canine instincts of scent and exploration to use and gives a dog a chance to release pent up energy.
Don't be one of those owners who rush outside, shivering yourself, giving your dog a few minutes to pee or poo, and then run back inside. Bundle up your Shih Tzu, bundle up yourself and head outside.

One (or two) walks per day in the winter can cut down on chewing barking and restlessness that can occur with house-bound puppies and dogs. On days with severe weather including blizzards or sub-freezing temperatures, opt for fun things to do with a Shih tzu inside such as indoor games that offer movement that can be comparable to a short walk. 

Appetite Changes

It is not uncommon for dogs to eat less in the summer and more in the winter. While there are many possible reasons, one cause of why an owner wonders why their Shih Tzu is eating so much is a change in season. 

Part of preparing your Shih Tzu for the winter and having a good plan for winter care is to prep the house with health snacks. Such wholesome foods like baby carrots (raw or steamed) and raspberries mixed into whole, white yogurt are good, low calorie options as snacks between meals.

Behavioral Changes

As mentioned above, a dog can become very restless if he does not have his normal, daily walks.

In addition, if winter time for you means much shorter days and less sunlight, this can have an effect on a dog's behavior as well. Canines often take their cues from the sun and other elements in nature. When the sun sets much sooner than normal, a Shih Tzu may assume it is time to sleep when it is really time for dinner. It can throw a dog off for a bit until he becomes used to the change. This is especially true when we set the clocks back.

If you can afford it, keep lights on as dusk approaches. It can help to save a task - such as brushing the coat or teeth or even command training - for the evening. This can help to keep a dog alert and more aware of what time it is based on more than just the sunlight (or lack of it).

Staying Safe and Comfortable

Walks -

Roads are narrower when plows push snow to the sides and with night falling sooner in the winter, this can make walking in the evening a bit tricky. 

Plan ahead; taking two trips down a shorter path instead of one longer path may be needed. 

It your area does not have good lighting in the way of street lamps, be sure to ads some reflective tape to both you and your Tzu's clothes.
Shih Tzu playing in snow
Porter, 10 months old
Photo courtesy of owner: Laura Toma
Rest Areas-

Check the areas where your Shih Tzu rests and sleeps for any drafts. What may have been a great spot during warm months may not be great in the winter. Also, if your Tzu sleeps, plays or rests near heating vents or what used to be an un-used fireplace, you'll want to move the area a safe distance away.
Seniors-

Arthritis often becomes worse when the weather is bad and during winter months. Keep an eye on your Tzu for signs that a vet visit is needed. Seniors should have their beds evaluated to see if it is time for a replacement. Also, evaluate the need for ramps leading up to favorite spots such as the sofa or your bed. If you notice that arthritis is worse this winter, speak to your veterinarian about medications that may help.  

Cars-

The car that was a death trap in the summer is now a freezing, cold metal trap in the winter. The second that you shut off the car, it will cool down rapidly. Never leave a Tzu alone in the car even for a few minutes. 

Summary

Winter can be a wonderful time of the year. We have holidays to celebrate with family and friends… we have picturesque snowfalls and …we'll to be honest, that is just about the only good things about winter. (We just had to give you a giggle).

However, with that said, do please winterize your Shih Tzu. Protection of the coat, paws and nose is important. As is clothing, depending on where you live.  
Don't forget to become an AllShihTzu Member so that you may receive reminders when we add new pages of helpful information. You will also be able to suggest a subject for us to discuss.
You may also like: Shih Tzu Holiday Q & A : We answer some common questions that pop up during the winter holidays. Which foods a Tzu can eat, giving gifts & tips when visiting other houses. 
Share by: