Are you worried about how long your beloved Shih Tzu will live? It’s a valid concern most dog owners have since dogs are notorious for having short lifespans.
Dogs have an average lifespan of around 10 to 13 years, which is quite short compared to the average lifespan of humans. As a pet parent, you dread the day you will have to bid goodbye to your friend and see them cross the rainbow bridge. As the parent of a Shih Tzu, you want to know the average lifespan of your dog and find ways to prolong that lifetime by as many years as possible.
On average, a Shih Tzu can live up to 13 years, with some crossing that age and living up to 15 to 16 years of age. The oldest recorded Shih Tzu lived up to 23 years of age. The life expectancy of Shih Tzus is determined by their diet, exercise routine, veterinary care, lifetime care, and genetics.
The obvious question that comes after learning the life expectancy of your pet is how you can prolong their life so that you don’t have to bid adieu to them so soon. The truth is that you can take multiple steps to ensure your Shih Tzu lives a long and healthy life. For instance, you can focus on providing them a healthy, all-natural diet, take them to the vet regularly, set an exercise routine for them, and more. However, at the end of the day, nature will take its course, and some inevitable breed-related health conditions will challenge your Shih Tzu. That said, you can alleviate those problems through preemptive vet visits.
As someone who’s an unquestionable animal lover with unrelenting adoration for Shih Tzus and experience in keeping them, I have dived deep into the resources available to come up with this guide. I have detailed all the tried and tested steps that you can take to keep your Shih Tzu alive as long as possible and keep various health conditions at bay. Read on if you want to discover how to prolong the life expectancy of your canine companion while providing them with a healthy life.
How Long Does a Shih Tzu Live?
The average lifespan of a Shih Tzu is around 13 years, which is on the longer end of the average canine lifespan of 10 to 13 years. With that said, the average lifetime of a Shih Tzu can certainly appear to be quite short compared to the average human age of 72.6 years.
However, some Shih Tzus can certainly surprise you with their longer-than-average lifespans. The perfect example of a Shih Tzu who falls outside the norm is Smokey, a 23-year-old canine from Florida, known as the Shih Tzu with the longest recorded lifetime.
How was Smokey able to outlive the average lifespan of a Shih Tzu by 10 years? The answer lies in multiple factors that affect this dog breed’s life expectancy. These include health-related problems, diet, physical structure, genes, lifetime care, veterinary care, exercise routine, and more.
Health Issues That Affect a Shih Tzu’s Life Expectancy
Multiple health concerns can impact a Shih Tzu’s life expectancy. The first significant one is the size of this breed. Giant ones tend to have shorter lifespans than tinier dog breeds. Luckily, Shih Tzus are small dogs, so their life expectancy is more than dogs bigger than their size.
That said, the shape of a Shih Tzu’s body can cause multiple health problems for this breed. These are known as conformational defects. Let’s take a look at the most common conformational defects in Shih Tzus:
Breathing Troubles & Dental Diseases
Shih Tzus have a short muzzle, which causes respiratory and breathing troubles. Their tiny mouths also cause dental problems due to misaligned, overcrowded, or missing teeth. They are also prone to periodontal disease and gum diseases. It’s why you should take them for a dental checkup regularly.
Shih Tzus’ eyes are prone to injuries and can face numerous diseases. A Shih Tzu might suffer from dry eye, which is when the eye doesn’t produce enough tears, resulting in ulcers or even blindness. A Shih Tzu with dry eye condition will have significant discharge around their eyes. Your vet can prescribe eye drops for this condition.
Corneal ulcers are also fairly common in this dog breed. Since Shih Tzus have large eyes that protrude from their face, they can suffer from light sensitivity. A Shih Tzu with a corneal ulcer might have red eyes and will squint a lot. If allowed to worsen, this condition can lead to blindness.
Shih Tzus also face distichiasis, a condition in which the dog has an extra set of eyelashes. Often, this condition will not affect the dog. However, at times, it can end up being harmful and cause irritation. Depending on the severity of the condition, a vet can provide you with a proper treatment plan.
A Shih Tzu might also develop cataracts, causing the lens of their eye to become cloudy due to the formation of excess protein inside it. It causes the pupils to appear white or clouded. If a cataract is not diagnosed early and continues to develop, your dog will lose vision in the affected eye. When caught early, the vet will be able to offer a treatment plan to resolve the issue.
The small bodies of Shih Tzus can overheat quickly. It’s why your dog might not be able to tolerate any excessive daily exercise, especially during hot summer days. So, make sure not to keep your canine in the heat for too long to ensure a stable body temperature.
Shih Tzu ears are highly prone to infection due to allergy or overgrowth of hair in the ear canal, which catches and accumulates ear wax. To prevent infection, make sure to clean your dog’s ears regularly. If your canine has unclean ears that are red from scratching and emitting a bad odor, it’s time to take them to the vet. Other signs of an ear infection include clear discomfort, sensitivity near the affected area, and continuous head shaking.
Hip Dysplasia & Patellar Luxation
A Shih Tzu can also suffer from patellar luxation, a condition in which a dog’s kneecap gets dislocated. It’s a common health issue in small breeds. They also face canine hip dysplasia, which is when the hip socket fails to develop properly. This condition causes arthritis and pain. A vet can diagnose the condition and offer a treatment plan if your dog suffers from hip dysplasia.
Shih Tzus might also develop a health condition known as liver shunt, which compromises the blood flow to and from the liver. A Shih Tzu might be born with this disease or face it later in life. Canines with liver shunts don’t have normal growth; they are smaller and weaker than other dogs of the same breed and age. A vet will be able to diagnose the condition and offer a treatment plan.
A Shih Tzu is also prone to hypothyroidism. This condition occurs when the dog’s body is not producing enough hormones, which will affect its metabolism and organ function. A vet can diagnose and treat this health condition before it gets out of hand.
Your Shih Tzu can also suffer from renal dysplasia. In fact, juvenile renal dysplasia is a genetic disease that your Shih Tzu puppies can suffer from. In this condition, a dog’s kidneys don’t develop correctly. Most puppies with this disease die.
Shih Tzus are also prone to different kinds of allergies, which cause their skin to itch badly. If you think your dog is allergic to something or having a serious allergic reaction, it’s best to take them to the dog for an educated diagnosis and treatment plan.
How to Prolong Your Shih Tzu’s Lifespan
Here are some steps that you can take to prolong your Shih Tzu’s lifespan:
Regular Vet Visits
Some canine parents avoid taking their dogs to the vet when everything appears to be normal to save money. Others want to live in denial and don’t want to hear bad news about their dog’s health. However, you cannot justify not taking your dog to the vet for regular checkups.
Preventative care is an essential step you must take in ensuring your Shih Tzu has a long, healthy life. Regular vet visits can help you catch, manage, and treat multiple health issues that might prove to be fatal if diagnosed in later stages.
Routine testing will also help you keep a check on heart-, kidney-, and liver-related issues. It will also help you deal with canine diabetes, blood disorders, hormone deficiencies, cancer, parasites, allergies, and more. So, make sure to schedule regular wellness checks for puppies every 1 to 3 months and adult dogs every year or twice a year.
Moreover, you mustn’t delay vet visits when your dog is sick or displaying symptoms of a sickness. Do not waste your time searching for answers or conflicting advice on the web. Call the vet and get them treated as soon as possible. If you’re worried about the expense, set aside a set amount every month for vet visits so that when the time comes, you can take your Shih Tzu to the vet without worrying about your finances.
Say No to Detrimental Food Additives
Additives like artificial food coloring that makes dog food appear red, blue, or yellow are only added to dry food and dog treats to please the canine owner. These additives are linked to thyroid problems, behavioral issues, allergies, asthma, and other health concerns. Meanwhile, chemical preservatives are used as a cost-saving method, but they can adversely affect a dog’s life span.
BHT and BHA are known carcinogens, and the former is also linked to liver and kidney damage. Other harmful preservatives can cause skin issues, heart disease, and multiple health problems. Moreover, dog food often contains other detrimental ingredients, such as fats, gluten, oils, and cheap fillers, such as field-grain corn.
If you want to prolong your Shih Tzu’s life, make sure to research safe, high-quality dry food and snacks to give them. Read the labels properly and look for foods with zero additives. Try using wholesome, all-natural snacks. Also, it’s best to opt for high-quality, grain-free and gluten-free or low-gluten foods.
No Unfiltered Tap Water
IF you want your canine to live a long life, you need to avoid giving them unfiltered tap water as it contains toxins and carcinogens, such as chromium-6. Tap water also has fluoride that can cause cognitive damage, kidney disease, bone loss, and osteosarcoma in dogs if ingested long-term.
Tap water might even have trace amounts of pharmaceuticals that can be harmful to dogs. It also has radioactive substances and heavy metals, such as mercury, copper, and arsenic. These can lead to a weakened immune system, kidney disease, arthritis, and more health problems in canines. The disinfectants in tap water can also cause allergies in Shih Tzus.
The best course of action is to offer your dog clean water that is free from toxins. Bottled spring water will protect your Shih Tzu from the aforementioned dangerous toxins. Alternatively, you can invest in a heavy-duty filter or a filtering system to ensure that the tap water is safe for you and your dog.
Regular Exercise Regimen
Yes, excessive heating during hot weather can cause Shih Tzu’s a lot of discomfort and impair their breathing, but they do need exercise to live a long life. It will help regulate their metabolism, build bone density, prevent osteoporosis, maintain muscle mass, and prevent or delay diseases. It can also boost your dog’s mood, promote good skin health, release pent-up energy, boost mental stimulation, and help them sleep better at night.
So, even though Shih Tzus are indoor dogs, you must create an exercise routine for them to promote excellent mental and physical health. Incorporate two 20-minute walks into the routine and increase the number of minutes of exercise per day for older pups and adult dogs. Use a harness to stay in control on the walks. It will also help your Shih Tzu avoid breathing troubles and prevent them from getting hurt.
Increase the exercise time if your Shih Tzu is still restless after its walks. Incorporate indoor and yard play into the regimen. Play fetch with your dog to keep them occupied and ensure proper movement of the bones. You can also invest in multiple dog toys that encourage your Shih Tzu to exercise to play with them.
Make sure to monitor the activity level and give your Shih Tzu a break so they can hydrate and rest their bodies. Watch for signs of distress, such as excessive panting, drooling, lethargy, dropping down to rest, confusion, etc. Cut the exercise short if your dog exhibits these signs. Lastly, take your Shih Tzu on early morning and evening walks to avoid the scorching sun when the weather is hot.
Supervised Yard Activity
Yard activity is important for your dog since it offers appropriate mental stimulation. However, you should never leave your Shih Tzu unsupervised in the yard. Since Shih Tzus are small in stature, they can easily get hurt by other dogs, coyotes, hawks, bobcats, porcupines, and other animals who find their way into the yard. They can also eat poisonous mushrooms, toxic plants, frogs, etc.
Moreover, your Shih Tzu can suffer from dangerous insect bites from hornets, yellow jackets, wasps, etc., which can result in an anaphylactic reaction. They can also break out of the fenced area and run off or get hit by a car. It’s why you must supervise them just like you would supervise a toddler in the yard.
Don’t leave your Shih Tzu unattended and limit wildlife access to the yard. Additionally, keep the space clean and tidy, mow the lawn, remove all debris and woodpiles, remove possible hazards, use pet-friendly yard products, and keep your trash cans securely covered.
Proper Dental Care
Appropriate dental hygiene is essential to a Shih Tzu’s wellbeing. Tooth decay, plaque buildup, tooth loss, improperly grown teeth, and other issues can cause a world of pain to your Shih Tzu. Tooth loss can affect your dog’s ability to eat and lead to malnutrition. Moreover, this breed is also prone to tooth infections, which are quite painful and can spread to other parts of the body.
Sadly, canine dental hygiene is something pet owners only think about when the condition has worsened, and their dog’s yellowing teeth have given way to serious complications. To avoid such an eventuality, make sure to take your dog to the vet for regular dental checkups.
A full dental checkup can involve x-rays to check for deep decay and proper cleaning. Find a reliable vet with proper pre-anesthesia and post-anesthesia care systems in place. Additionally, use at-home cleaning methods to prevent teeth decay. Make sure to brush your Shih Tzu’s teeth with an appropriate finger brush and non-foaming canine paste they can swallow.
Apart from daily brushing, you can also offer your dog dental chews that will effectively scrape off plaque buildup from their teeth. Since these chews are quite hard, make sure to supervise your dog when it chews on them. A high-quality canine dental spray can also work wonders when used consistently.
Get Your Dog Spayed/Neutered
Spaying or neutering your dog is the best thing you can do to prolong their life as it has many health benefits. Spaying a female prevents accidental pregnancies, reduces the odds of developing mammary tumors, and eliminates the risk of developing pyometra and ovarian cancer and infections. Other benefits include reduction of territorial marking and hormone-related aggression and behavior changes.
Neutering a male reduces the risk of prostate disease and eliminates the chances of developing testicular tumors. It also reduces territorial behavior, eliminates spraying, and curbs the urge to run away. So, if your Shih Tzu is not spayed or neutered, make sure to set up an appointment with your vet.
Ideally, females should be spayed before their first heat cycle, but you can delay the procedure until they are one year old to alleviate weight and size concerns. Males should be neutered before the 1-year mark so that you can prevent any bad habits from setting in. Make sure to discuss surgical safety tips and the procedure at length with the vet. Research the aftercare and keep your vet in the loop at all times.
Dog-Proof the House
A Shih Tzu owner should make sure to remove all possible dangers within their homes for their toy breeds. It will help boost your dog's quality of life and help them surpass their average life expectancy. You should god-proof the house regularly to protect your dog from accidental electrocution, poisoning, choking, or tumbling down the stairs.
So, make sure to keep the lower cabinets and shelves locked to prevent your Shih Tzu from accessing them. Use cord protectors to keep the cords out of your dog’s reach. Install a doggy gate to block off the stairs for your small Shih Tzu pup or a senior dog who has trouble with its mobility and vision. Lastly, pick up all small, chewable, and swallowable items off the floor so that your Shih Tzu doesn’t choke on them.
More Helpful Tips to Prolong Your Shih Tzu’s Life
Other steps that you can take to give your family companion a happy and healthy life is to clean their ears regularly, monitor their daily food servings, watch out for eye issues, viral infections, abnormal growths, and any out of the ordinary behavior so that you can take them to the vet timely. Lastly, always make sure to give your family pets the love and attention they need to lead happy lives.
About THE AUTHOR
I have had dogs my whole life and have always trained my own dogs with patience and positive reinforcement. My dogs are my life. My family always had dogs growing up. I've trained dogs for clients while working at a local dog daycare. I hope that my research and experiences are helpful to you as I share them here.Read More About Russell Wright