Dog Diseases of the Shih Tzu Breed

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These dog diseases common in the Shih Tzu breed are also found in many small breed dogs.  Don't let this extensive list scare you.  The Shih Tzu is a relatively healthy breed often living to the ripe old age of 15 years old. 

But like every other breed known to humans, they can suffer from some illness, some more serious than others. The conditions listed on this page are either known or suspected to have a genetic component, although environment also plays a part in the progression of some of the diseases.

Dog Diseases Quick List

I have combed the internet far and wide and read every book I can get my hands on about Shih Tzu Health Problems.

The list may seem long, but chances are you will never experience most the health problems listed below. Remember, the information on this site is not a substitute for good veterinary care.  If you don't have a vet yet, click here to read our article on how to find a good vet.

A Word About Dog Diseases Common to All Breeds

Any dog is susceptible to infectious diseases such as Distemper and Parvo, for which we do have vaccinations available. 

Parasitic infections are not listed on this page because they are common in any dog and you can read more about dog worms on our website.

These are easily treated conditions.  We have added a couple of dog diseases that are very common in all dogs and those common in toy breed dogs, but not specific for the Shih Tzu dog.

The dog diseases that have also been eliminated from this list are those that are considered neonatal. These are problems likely encountered  by the breeder and for which survival of the neonate is unlikely.  Some puppies with a life threatening diseases do not live very long and are usually dealt with by the breeder. 

Eye problems are common in the Shih Tzu and we have listed them separately.  For a comprehensive list and descriptions of common eye problems in the Shih Tzu, please click here.

Any dog has the potential to develop genetic health problems just as people do.  Even with both parents free of a disease, an offspring can inherit the tendency later in life.  Many of the problems listed below are very common in most small breed dogs.

Collapsing trachea and/or upper airway obstruction

This is a serious condition that affects many small breed dogs.  The trachea or wind pipe is composed of little rings of cartilage that keep the pipe rigid.

If those cartilage rings weaken, they will flatten causing the muscles around the trachea to get floppy.  When the dog exhales, he feels a tickling sensation which leads to coughing.  In severe cases, there is considerable distress to the dog.

Read more about Tracheal Collapse.

Dog Diseases:  Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is a congenital dog disease that affects mostly large breed dogs, but it is also found in small breed dogs too. It causes weakness and lameness to the rear quarters, and eventually leads to painful arthritis.

The ball of the hip joint is flat, rather than round and does not fit properly into the socket.

Hip dysplasia occurs because of several factors.   First the dog is genetically inclined to get the disease, but factors in the environment also play a role.  Environmental factors can include too much calcium in the puppy’s diet, obesity, high protein and calorie diets, and a lack of or too much exercise. 

Diagnosis is based on X-rays and treatment can consist of administering pain relievers such as Rimadyl or Etogesic, prescription drugs, or aspirin.   Surgery is also an option.

Read more about Hip Dysplasia.

Dog Diseases:  Hypoglycemia

Low blood sugar is very common in all toy breeds, especially when they are puppies. Blood sugar levels are most likely to drop during the ages of birth to 9 weeks and 12 years to death.  The condition can also be brought about by stress and can affect your dog at any age.  Signs are subtle at first with the puppy becoming more lethargic, not playing, and breathing harder.

Treatment is easy, but you must act fast.  The easiest home remedy is Clear Caro Corn Syrup.  You will see improvement within 15 minutes after giving your puppy a teaspoon or so.  You can follow up with a light meal.  Some people leave Kibble out all the time so that the puppy can eat when he’s hungry. I add this in our list of dog disease, but in the Shih Tzu breed, it is more of a problem in young puppies.

Dog Diseases:  Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is a malfunction in the thyroid where it stops functioning and producing thyroid hormone responsible for proper metabolism. This malfunction is commonly attributed to immune system problems.

It is usually affects middle-aged dogs and is seen in all breeds.  The condition occurs when not enough thyroid hormone is produced. 

Symptoms include hair loss and other recurring skin problems, weight gain, muscle loss, and lethargy.

If left untreated, it can result in heart problems. This disease is usually diagnosed through blood tests. It can be effectively treated with medication. There is no real prevention and is not considered a threat to your dog’s quality of life.

Dog Diseases:  Juvenile Renal Dysplasia (JRD)

Juvenile renal dysplasia is an inherited condition in which the dog’s kidneys don't develop normally.

As the disease progresses nephrons are destroyed over periods of from months to years.  Nephrons are the microscopic structures in the kidney which filter blood and help remove wastes from the body. 

This condition should not be confused with adult kidney problems.  It is found most commonly in Shih Tzu, Lhasa apso, and Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers and is believed to be present, with less frequency, in several other breeds.

Mildly affected dogs can live a normal life, virtually symptom-free, quietly passing the disease down to the next generation. More severely affected dogs will have a shortened life due to progressive kidney failure.

This genetic defect of the kidneys can lead to symptoms such as excessive thirst, weight loss and even lack of appetite. As the disease progresses, the dog shows signs such as vomiting, weakness, dehydration, and then death from renal failure. 

Breeders are often the first to notice that puppies older than 8 weeks are drinking much more water than normal and urinating copious amounts of pale colored urine.   Normally, Shih Tzu puppies drink about one ounce of water per pound of body weight daily.  Puppies that are showing signs of JRD will drink much more

Ultrasound may help identify the condition because it may show the kidneys to be smaller than normal and may also indicate some scarring in the kidneys.   

Most of the tests run to evaluate kidney function, such as BUN, Creatinine, and Specific Gravity, do not show abnormal findings and cannot be used to diagnose JRD unless the disease has progressed sufficiently.  One test that can detect the presence of renal dysplasia is the E.R.D. Screen Urine Test that evaluates small amounts of protein found in the urine.

Dog Diseases:  Liver Problems

Some Shih-Tzu may have a tendency toward liver problems, including chronic hepatitis. This potentially fatal disease sometimes occurs without the cause being known.  

The liver acts as the body’s defense against toxins in the environment. Research continues to identify dogs with chronic hepatitis caused by an autoimmune disorder in which there are specific antibodies that work against the liver. 

Other major causes of liver failure are poor diet, toxins, bacterial infections, other pre-existing health conditions and even over-vaccinating.

Dog Diseases:  Otitis Externa or Ear Infections

Ear infections are common in any breed, but especially in those whose ears hang as opposed to being held erect.  It is a bacterial infection that begins in the outer part of the ear. 

Many things can cause an ear infection:  Wet ears that have not been dried properly after a bath or swimming, ear wax buildup, untreated ear mites, buildup of foreign matter such as seeds or pollen, and hair growth inside the ear canal are just a few causes.   

Dogs that have ear infections let us know by scratching, holding their head to one side, shaking their head, or rubbing their ears.  Some will stagger with poor coordination. 

Ear infections are not life threatening if you get it medicated early.  The veterinarian will prescribe a medicated ear wash and usually antibiotics.  If ear mites are the culprit, a medication to kill the mites will also be prescribed.

Click here to learn more about ear care in Shih Tzu dogs.

Dog Diseases:  Patellar Luxation or Luxating Patellas

The patella or kneecap is usually located directly in the center of the knee joint. Luxation, or dislocation of the patella, occurs when the patella slides out of its groove.

Patellar luxation occurs mostly in toy and small breeds of dogs weighing 22 pounds or less.  In most cases, luxation is a congenital condition but it may appear some time later. It is thought to be inherited although the exact mode of transmission has not been determined. In some cases, the condition is acquired through trauma.

Sometimes, a dog will show pain and hold his leg up. Surgery is the treatment of choice. A conservative treatment approach such as giving prednisone and/or restricted activity doesn’t give much benefit and is recommended mostly for mildly affected or older dogs.

Pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs may also be prescribed and may make the dog more comfortable.

Dog Diseases:  Pyometra

Pyometra is a severe bacterial infection that attacks the uterus.  The infection can appear at any age regardless of whether or not she has ever been bred.

Your female is most susceptible when her cervix closes after her heat, and is caused by increased cell growth. It is also common among females that have been administered estradiol, an abortion drug.

The most obvious symptom is a mucus discharge from the vulva, with an accompany array of symptoms including vomiting, depression, increased drinking, increased urination, and fever in some.

If noticed early enough, the prognosis is good.  If left untreated, death usually follows. 

One obvious way to avoid this disease is to have your girl spayed.

Dog Diseases: Skin Problems

Some Shih Tzu dogs and other breeds too, are susceptible to a variety of skin problems that cause intense itching, rashes and open lesions.

There are many different causes of skin problems, including allergies, parasite infections, underlying diseases and environmental pollutants, just to name a few.  If your Shih Tzu is suffering from a skin problem, your veterinarian will be able to diagnose and prescribe the correct treatment. 

Read more about skin problems and scratching.

Dog Diseases:  Stenotic Nares

Stenotic nares

Stenotic Nares is a condition where there is a narrow restricted nostril which puts a strain on breathing and can lead to an enlargement of the heart.

This condition will cause sniffling, sneezing, snoring, snorting, grunting and clear nasal discharge. Although more common in English bulldogs, pugs, Boston terriers and pekingese, this condition does affect Shih Tzu to some extent. 

The picture to the left was taken of one of my dogs.  She only has a very slight problem, but it does cause her to have loud breathing at times.

Many puppies grow out of the problems they mature.  Beside the loud breathing noises you can hear, you will notice that the dog cannot play for very long before having to take a break and rest.  His gums are pale. In severe cases, the newborn puppy does not make it past the weaning phase.

Surgery can correct the problem.  The procedure involves cutting the cartilage between the two nostrils.

Another home remedy that is often recommended is to replace the dog’s water bowl with a water bottle similar to those used by rabbits and guinea pigs.  The dog can then drink without getting his nose in the water.  Stenotic nares are an inherited defect.

Tear Stains

Tear Stains on Light Colored Dogs

Usually considered a cosmetic problem, tear stains are often caused by a medical problem.  By treating the underlying medical problem, those unsightly face stains can be reduced or sometimes completely eliminated. 

Shih Tzu eyes tend to produce an abundance of tears especially when hair or debris irritate them and the result on light colored dogs is those ugly red stains.

Read more about Tear Stains.

Umbilical Hernia

Umbilical Hernia on a Shih Tzu

Umbilical Hernias are not unique to the Shih Tzu breed, but they are so common that they deserve a mention here.  Most are not life threatening and can be easily repaired surgically when the puppy is spayed or neutered.

An umbilical hernia is a small opening in the abdominal wall at the location where the umbilical cord was attached at birth.  If the opening is large enough, contents from the abdomen can protrude.

Read more about Umbilical Hernias.

Von Willebrand Disease:  Bleeding Disorder

Von Willebrand disease is considered to be a mild to moderate bleeding disorder and it results in a reduced quantity of a substance necessary for normal blood clotting.

Clinical signs of bleeding that are typical of the disease include bleeding from the gums, urinary system, nose bleeds, and blood found in the stool, either with or without accompanying diarrhea. 

Small hemorrhages on the gums may develop. Dogs affected with this disorder may experience prolonged bleeding at any site of injury, trauma or surgery.

Often the breeder or veterinarian might suspect there is a problem in the first few days of life when the puppy's dew claws are removed.

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