Life Span of Shih Tzu: Help Them Expand Their Life Expectancy

Life Span of Shih Tzu     |Updated 11-08-2023

Shih Tzu are truly man's best friend. They are playful and affectionate dogs who deeply love their human companions.  If you are planning to get one, you may want to know more about life span of Shih Tzu.

Let's find out the average lifespan of Shih Tzus and what you can do to extend it. The average lifespan of a Shih Tzu is 10 to 16 years, although some have been known to live into their early 20s. Several factors can influence a dog's lifespan, including diet, exercise, genetics, and environment.

While some things are out of your control, such as genetics and age, there are plenty of ways you can keep your furry friend healthy and extend their life. 

Shih Tzu life span with a shih tzu running in the grass

Before You Adopt or Purchase

If you have not purchased or adopted your dog, it makes sense to search for reputable breeders. Ask potential breeders about the health of their breeding stock.

Consider it a red flag if they tell you that they’ve never had any health problems. Ask about the health of past puppy litters. If they can’t answer, it’s likely they refuse to keep in contact with past puppy buyers. Find a new breeder who will be available to you throughout the years.

Before I go into the tasks that you have control over to increase their life span, let’s look at a little historical background information.

Shih Tzu Background Information

Shih Tzu dogs are known by other names in some parts of the world.

  • The name Shih Tzu is the Chinese word for lion because it is said that the breed was created to resemble a lion in Mandarin. 
  • A Shih Tzu is also known as a Fo or Foo dog.
  • In contemporary Mandarin, the Shih Tzu is generally known as the "Xi Shi dog.
  • The dog may also be called the Tibetan Lion Dog.
  • In England, Shih Tzu's were nicknamed Chrysanthemum-faced dogs because their facial hair grows in all directions like a chrysanthemum flower.
  • The name Shih Tzu is pronounced in English, "Sheed Zoo," not shittzu.
  • The name Shih Tzu has no plural.  The singular and plural versions are the same:  Shih Tzu.

This breed was once on the verge of extinction. Yes!  The Shih Tzu breed nearly vanished during the Chinese communist revolution, mainly because Dowager Empress Cixi (T’zu Hsi), who oversaw a world-renowned breeding program of Shih Tzu, Pugs, and Pekingese, who passed away. 

After her death, breed numbers shrunk to a negligible number.  A vigorous breeding program in the UK and Europe that included seven female and seven male dogs with the possibility of a pekingese was used to rebuild the breed.

So, every Shih Tzu with us today can be traced back to one of these 14 dogs; bottom line, these chrysanthemum-faced dogs are among the cutest, most loving lap dogs you could ever want.

How to Extend the Life Span of Shih Tzu

Shih Tzu that are well-fed and receive regular exercise tend to live longer than those that do not. Additionally, dogs from lines of long-lived ancestors are more likely to have a longer lifespan than those with shorter-lived relatives. Let’s look into a few things you can do to improve your life span of Shih Tzu and overall health.

1. Nutrition

One of the best things you can do for your Shih Tzu is to feed them a nutritious diet. A diet high in protein and low in fat will help your dog maintain a healthy weight and minimize the risk of health problems such as obesity, joint pains, and diabetes.

Reading and understanding dog food labels will help you become an expert and informed consumer.  Learn more about the differences in dog foods. There is something to be said about spending money to save money.  Cheap dog food will reduce your dog’s life span. 

Choose nutritious snacks such as fresh vegetables and fruits that dogs can eat safely.

2. Fresh Water

You should also ensure your dog can always access fresh water.  Dogs need hydration as much as we do.  Don’t forget to take water with you when you walk your dog.  They will appreciate a drink as much as you will. 

Many people ask me if they need to give their dogs bottled water.  I usually respond, “it depends.”   If you are concerned about the water in your area and you drink filtered or bottled water, then it makes sense to serve the same water you drink to them.  Otherwise, tap water should be fine for your dog.

3. Exercise

As Shih Tzu owners, we witness the periodic crazy Shih Tzu dash, where our fur baby decides it’s time to run and will run at top speed, sometimes in circles, and sometimes from one end of the house to the other. 

We also know that they follow us everywhere we go.  For this reason, many people wonder if Shih Tzu dogs need exercise.  While the latest consensus suggests that Shih Tzu dogs get enough exercise daily just following you, most dogs also enjoy and benefit from regular planned exercise and if possible a romp in a securely fenced yard.

Daily walks or trips to the park will help keep your dog's muscles and joints strong and will also help reduce boredom and destructive behavior.

That said, it’s also important to prevent them from overdoing it.  Shih Tzu dogs were never meant to run marathons, and even if they accompany you on your daily walk, they may expect you to carry them home.

4. Veterinary Care

Yearly check-ups are a must.  During these visits, your vet may recommend vaccinations and tests such as Heartworm/Lyme/ Ehrlichiosis and Anaplasmosis and a fecal exam. This is also a good time to ask questions and voice concerns about various health problems.  Any new behaviors that you can’t explain could be a health problem. 

For example, I recently took one of my old dogs (Toby) to my vet for his yearly exam and mentioned that he was refusing to go up and down stairs and was not holding up his tail in the characteristic Shih Tzu manner.  It turns out that he likely has a back problem.  Daily pain medicine has made a big difference in his quality of life, but he takes two separate medications several times per day.

5. Supplements

This is a question I get asked constantly.  I like to compare doggie supplements to human supplements.  It all depends.  If you eat a well-balanced diet, you may not need to add additional vitamins and minerals.  But often that’s not possible, so many of us add a supplement or two to our daily routine.  The same is true of dogs. 

Personally, I’ve tried quite a few different supplements for my dogs.  For example, in the winter, when the air is dry, I will add a little Salmon oil to their food.  If I find one of the dogs enjoying the taste of their friend’s stool, I will add Forbid for a while to curb that nasty habit.  Daily, the only extra supplement I provide for my own dogs is NuVet Plus.  Since these little wafers taste so good, I have no problem with any dog rejecting them.  Do they help?  I can’t answer that question, other than to say that my dogs are very healthy, and I have very few vet bills other than the usual preventative care.

6. Grooming and Dental Care


Poor dental hygiene can lead to problems throughout the body, so it’s important to keep up with dental care and occasional professional dental cleanings. 

The Shih Tzu’s double coat makes them a high-maintenance breed that requires much brushing and combing.  Bathing is also necessary if you love to cuddle up to an odor-free fur ball. 

Remember that long-coat dogs have hair that continues to grow everywhere.  This includes hair growing inside the ear, between the pads on the feet, and on his backside.  Hair in the ear canal needs to be removed.  The hair between paw pads must be clipped to prevent matting.  And, the hair around the anus must be removed or poop will get stuck on the hair creating a nasty problem.  As with all dogs, nails will continue to grow and need to be clipped or filed.

You may notice problems when you brush or comb your dog.  From external parasites to new skin growths, painful areas are all areas that need attention.  Check the inside of their ears for debris and their teeth for excess tarter.

7. Safety and Protection


No matter how careful we are, many of us lose dogs because they run off or get hit by cars.  Others have told me that their beloved Tzu was stolen from their yard.  Even very young puppies are not safe from parasites and playing with a bumble bee caused the demise of one young puppy.  One can say that all of these circumstances are preventable and it is true, but it doesn't help the devistated Tzu owner.  That said, here are a couple of suggestions that may prevent some of these sad deaths.  Here are ten suggestions for keeping your dog safe.

  1. Get your dog microchipped
  2. Keep your dog on a leash at all times unless you have trained your dog for off-leash work.
  3. Supervise small puppy behaviors just as you would a young toddler or preschooler.
  4. Provide preventatives for internal and external parasites.
  5. Make it a priority to teach the commands, Wait, Stay, and Come
  6. Work on bonding with your new puppy from day one so if they should get away from you, they will come when you call.
  7. Vet all helping professionals such as groomers, doggie daycare, pet sitters, and boarding facilities before leaving your dog.
  8. Never leave your dog unattended in a car.
  9. Never leave your dog alone outside in your yard.
  10. Puppy-proof your home before the puppy arrives.  
  11. Teach your dog to "wait" when you open the front door.  Some Shih Tzu dogs tend to bolt out the door the second it is opened and this is a problem if your dog also likes to run.  They can be very fast.
  12. Create a safe outdoor space that doesn't include poisonous plants, chemicals, or dangerous objects that could cause injury.  Fix fences if you notice holes, whether they are in the fence itself or underneath.  Some Shih Tzu dogs are very good at digging upder fences.
  13. Some Shih Tzu dogs love to jump off high places.  While this may seem innocent and even cute, injuries can happen if not immediately, later in life.  Hip, leg and back injuries can be extremely painful to Shih Tzu dogs.

8. Mental Health

Darwin puppy with owner

Many people are surprised that dogs can suffer from many of the same mental health problems that plague people.  Depression and anxiety are common in dogs and are often treated with the same medications that people take. 

Ensure that your doggo is mentally happy. Providing plenty of love and attention is the best way to do this. Shih Tzus are social creatures who thrive when they feel loved and respected. So, try to interact with them as much as possible.  Play with them, teach them tricks, and groom them yourself.

Try to understand what they are trying to say.  Remember, they don’t speak our language, but their body language will tell you everything you need to know.  All these things will strengthen your bond and make your pup feel loved. By taking these steps, you can help ensure longer healthier Shih Tzu life expectancy.

Life Span of Shih Tzu:  Last Words

As a fellow Shih Tzu owner, I want my dogs to live forever, but sadly, that's not possible.  At best, the oldest Shih Tzu I've ever had lived to be 17 years old, but many people I've spoken to over the years tell me that their dogs live to be 19 or 20 years old.  I truly believe that some old-timer dogs are a product of luck, but for most, the owners have a big role on how long their dogs will live.  

These areas:  Nutrition and fresh water, exercise, good veterinary care and possible supplements, grooming, dental care, and safety measures are all areas we, as Shih Tzu owners have some control.  We want the best for our fur babies and with a little effort on our part, we can assure they will have the quality of life that will keep them going for years to come.

Personal Notes About Life Span of Shih Tzu

Gold Shih Tzu with Black mask

Janice here, from Miracle Shih Tzu

I'd like to thank all the wonderful Shih Tzu puppy owners that I have encountered over the years for the information provided in this article.  Without belittling the quote, "it takes a village," I feel it is just as pertenent to people as it is to raising dogs. 

Everyone has a story to tell, and I have enjoyed and felt enlightened by all of your stories. 

This information is likely not complete.  As a Shih Tzu owner, what would you add to the information you just read?  I'd love to hear from you.

Life Span of Shih Tzu:  Pin for Future Reference

Life span of the Shih Tzu breed, pin image shows black shih tzu show dogLife Span of the Shih Tzu Pin Image

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About Janice

Janice is the voice behind Miracle Shih Tzu. Having lived with dogs and cats most of her life, she served as a veterinary technician for ten years in Maryland and twelve years as a Shih Tzu dog breeder in Ohio.

Her education includes undergraduate degrees in Psychology with a minor in biology, Early Childhood Education, and Nursing, and a master's in Mental Health Counseling.

She is a lifelong learner, a dog lover, and passionate about the welfare of animals. Her favorite breed for over 50 years has been the Shih Tzu.

When not writing, reading, or researching dog-related topics, she likes to spend time with her eight Shih Tzu dogs, her husband, and her family, as well as knitting and crocheting. She is also the voice behind Small Dog Place and Smart-Knit-Crocheting.