Dog Diseases of the Shih Tzu Breed

This article about dog diseases common in the Shih Tzu breed is not meant to 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. 

Please do not let the list below frighten you away from a Shih Tzu.  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.

What are missing from this list are infectious diseases such as Distemper and Parvo, for which we do have vaccinations available.  Parasitic infections are not listed as 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.  Many puppies with a life threatening diseases do not live very long and are usually dealt with by the breeder.  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.

Dog Diseases:  Dental Problems

The Shih Tzu commonly has a small mouth with a slight under bite.  Teeth can be missing or misaligned.  They can be prone to retained baby teeth and periodontal disease. Good dental hygiene is recommended to eliminate these problems.  Learn how you can care your dog's teeth at home.

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:  Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is a congenital 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.

Dog Diseases:  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. This is a common occurrence in Shih Tzu, as well as all flat faced breeds. 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.

Collapsing trachea and/or upper airway obstruction

This is often called a reverse sneeze because it looks like your dog is inhaling a sneeze. There is really no known cause for it and is not threatening. There has been no sign of permanent damage to your dog, but there is a possibility that constant attacks could lead to Collapsing Trachea Syndrome.  It is possible that rubbing your dog's neck close to their head can help to ease the episode.  For more information, please click here.

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.

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.

Shih Tzu Hyperthermia / Heat Stroke

Shih Tzu, like all dogs with short flat noses (brachycephalic), may have difficulty breathing and may overheat, especially in hot weather. Shih Tzu dogs tolerate cold weather far better than warm days.  Pets with the tiniest nostrils (nares) have the greatest problem. Heat Stroke is dangerous and should be treated immediately.

The Cause is extreme exposure to excessive heat and the signs are very heavy and labored panting, high rectal temperature (over 106), bright red tongue, thick saliva, and frantic breathing. If untreated the dog will stagger, have bloody diarrhea and become weaker. Eventually, a coma will ensue.

This is a life threatening emergency and first aid must be administered immediately.  Move your dog to a cooler surrounding or if they are staggering put them in a cold bath. If you cannot reach a tub, get out the garden hose. In extreme cases your dog may need a cold water enema or a shot of cortisone from your vet. Watch your dog in the summer.

All over the country we are facing increasingly hotter temperatures and forcing your dog to stay outside or in a hot car is considered cruel and unusual punishment.  Shih Tzu dogs should never be kept outdoors in the summer for any length of time.  Your dog's probability for heat stroke depends on you.

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:  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. 

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:  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:  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.

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