Breeds

Shih Tzu Breed Information Guide: Photos, Traits, & Care

Written by: Savannah Lyons

May 12, 2022

With a heart of gold twenty times their size, Shih Tzus have become favorites of small dog lovers all over the world. A toy breed with noble beginnings, the Shih Tzu is the perfect companion for anyone with a compact living space.

“Shih Tzu” comes to us from the Chinese word for “lion,” and while these pint-sized pups may not be as ferocious as their namesake, this dog breed is certainly just as proud. Spend a few days in their company, and you’ll be ready to scoop them into your backpack on your way out the door.

Breed Overview

  • Height: 9–11 inches
  • Weight: 9–16 lbs
  • Lifespan: 10–16 years
  • Breed Size: Small
  • Colors: Combinations of black, blue, red, brindle, liver, silver, and gold
  • Good With: Kids, other dogs, cats
  • Temperament: Sweet, mischievous cuddly

Also Known As…

Chrysanthemum Dog. Xi Shi, Tibetan Lion Dog, purse pooch of the stars. “Holy Shih Tzu, look at that little face!”

What Is The History Of The Shih Tzu?

The history of the Shih Tzu spans at least a thousand years, taking these tiny pups from the Tibetan plateau all the way to your loveseat.

Shih Tzu history begins in the throne rooms of imperial China. If you’ve ever wondered why a Shih Tzu looks like a king or queen when sitting on your lap, it’s because they were bred that way. The Tibetan lamas presented the Chinese emperor and royals with these furry friends, and they kept them as exclusive pets for hundreds of years.

How exclusive, you ask? The first Shih Tzus didn’t make it to Europe until the 1930s, and it wasn’t until after World War II that the breed traveled to the United States.

Because Shih Tzus have been around for such a long time, their exact origins are unclear. However, the working theory seems to be that they have a healthy mix of Pekingese and Lhasa Apso in their genes. No matter who their ancestors were, they’d certainly be proud of their lovable little descendants.

How Big Do Shih Tzus Get?

Shih Tzus are small, but mighty. From puppyhood to adulthood, they can take up to 10–12 months to reach full size. Shih Tzus are also crossbred with different breeds, which can affect their size. 

Height: 9–11 inches

Weight: 9–16 pounds

Size Matters

When shopping for Shih Tzus, watch for terms like “teacup” or “imperial Shih Tzu.” Adult Shih Tzus are supposed to reach at least 9 pounds—anything less, and you’re looking at an adult dog that’s been intentionally bred below the standard size—and that could spell out health concerns later on.

How Long Do Shih Tzus (Generally) Live?

Like other dog breeds in their size category, Shih Tzus are hardy pups with longer lifespans. The life expectancy of your average Shih Tzu is anywhere from 10–16 years.

Some owners have even reported their little lion pups living for more than 20 years! Take this news with a grain of salt, though—most of these claims can’t be 100% verified. Still, you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy life and companionship with a Shih Tzu.

What Is A Shih Tzu’s Temperament & Personality Like?

Given their history as royal dogs, you’d be forgiven for assuming that Shih Tzus treat the rest of us like peasants. In reality, these dogs are as sweet as can be. No matter who you are, your Shih Tzu puppy will love you endlessly.

Oh, and be prepared for a bit of mischief and mayhem, too. These little troublemakers know that they can get away with anything (look at those adorable eyes!), so they’re not afraid to act a little silly sometimes.

Good With Kids? Cats? Dogs?

Similar to golden retrievers, a Shih Tzu is a terrific family and companion dog. Kids of all ages can pet, pamper, and play with these dogs without any problems, as long as they do so respectfully. Remember to supervise your youngest ones when they interact with canines of any kind—even the most well-natured pup shouldn’t have to put up with too much poking and prodding.

Shih Tzus are very friendly with other dogs, and they tend to extend the same courtesy to cats. As with all first-time animal meetups, stay close by so you can monitor behavior. After any initial bumps in the road, Shih Tzus and cats can usually live together without issues.

Are Shih Tzus High Energy?

On a scale of 1 to 10, a Shih Tzu’s energy levels come in at around 6.5. Not too high, not too low. They’re not the most rambunctious breed, but they aren’t afraid to break a sweat, either—whether it’s tearing up the backyard or chasing their favorite toy around the house.

They’ll also release their pent-up energy through vocalizations. Despite their miniature size, these dogs can occasionally make a big ruckus. Some Shih Tzus express their excitement through yips, yaps, and yowls.

Are Shih Tzus Hard To Train?

Shih Tzus aren’t the easiest dogs to train. But overall, this is a breed that is eager to please. A Shih Tzu will gladly sit, lie down, and maybe even fetch the newspaper—all they need is a little encouragement.

Do Shih Tzus Have Health Issues?

Shih Tzus can live long, healthy lives, but they’re no strangers to the vet’s examination room, either. They can develop afflictions like:

  • BOAS – Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS) is a breathing issue that stems from the “smooshed” face of the Shih Tzu.
  • Cushing’s disease – Also called hyperadrenocorticism, this condition causes your pup to overproduce cortisol. Too much of this hormone can lead to diabetes, kidney disease, and undue pain.
  • Disorders of the eye – Cataracts, excessively dry eyes, and eventual blindness are all more common in Shih Tzus than in other breeds.

Don’t let these health issues scare you from adopting a Shih Tzu, though! Many health issues are easy enough to treat with careful attention and consistent, routine care from a veterinarian.

Do Shih Tzus Need To Be Groomed? 

Like poodles, Shih Tzus have certain grooming needs that need to be met to keep their ‘do in tip-top shape. Their nails need a monthly clipping, and their floppy ears should be cleaned out on the same routine care schedule. A groomer can take care of these tasks if you’d like, and trim your cutie’s coat while they’re at it.

You have two standard options when giving your Shih Tzu a haircut. The more “traditional” approach to grooming is to allow their coat to grow long and tie the fur on the head into a “top knot.” Keep in mind that when their silky coat reaches the floor, it can become tangled and dirty. Maintaining a frequent brushing and cleaning schedule is essential for long-haired Shih Tzus, especially around the bottom of the coat and mustache.

For a more modern cut (with less upkeep), you can always opt for a “teddy bear cut” or “puppy cut.” These hairdos consist of a closer trim around the body and a rounded, fuzzy face. 

How Much Does It Cost To Care For A Shih Tzu?

When it comes to budgeting for a dog, the sky’s the limit. You can spend thousands of dollars a year pampering your pooch! If we had to give a rough estimate, we’d say the average Shih Tzu costs around $800/year to care for.

Food

Because they’re at the smaller end of the spectrum, Shih Tzus don’t eat all that much. Up to a cup of dog food per day is usually enough to keep these dogs powered up. With that in mind, you can expect to spend about $25–$45 on food each month.

As a pet parent, you want only the best for your pup. So why not give them the best food available? BARK Eats makes custom meal plans just for Shih Tzus. Formulated by veterinary nutritionists, their food is tailored to your dog’s dietary needs. Get 50% off your first month!

Routine Vet Care (Healthy Dog)

Even healthy dogs need to see the vet once or twice a year. Spending about $150 on vet visits each year can save you from a lengthy vet bill down the road.

Routine veterinary costs usually include:

  • Examination fees ($50–$60/visit)
  • Vaccinations ($20–$30/dose)
  • Heartworm and flea & tick medications (~$150+/year)

Preventative Medications

As they say, the best defense is a good offense, so keep your Shih Tzu healthy proactively.

Regular exercise and a healthy diet are key to canine wellness, and spaying or neutering is a great idea to prevent future reproductive health and behavioral issues. It’s a one-time expense that will usually run you about $200.

Related Article: Spaying Or Neutering Your Dog: Benefits, Risks, & More

Grooming

Ideally, you’ll want to take your Shih Tzu to the groomer every three to four weeks. They can clean your pup’s ears, clip their nails, and trim their coat—all for around $50+ per visit depending on the services you request.

Toys, Treats, Beds, & Accessories

These purchases make your dog’s life—and yours—a whole lot more fun. For the average Shih Tzu, your shopping list might look like this:

  • Dog toys ($50)
  • Dog treats ($50/year)
  • Dog bed ($30–$60)
  • Pint-sized collar and leash (~$40)

If your Shih Tzu deserves a little extra something, why not treat them to the best toys and treats around? With a monthly BarkBox subscription, you can have a themed collection delivered right to you! For just $23/month, you’ll receive 2 full-sized bags of treats, 2 innovative toys, and a meaty chew. DOUBLE YOUR FIRST BOX FOR FREE!


Sources

ASPCA. Shih Tzu Facts. https://www.aspcapetinsurance.com/resources/shih-tzu-facts/ 

American Kennel Club. 9 Facts About the Shih Tzu. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/dog-breeds/shih-tzu-facts/ 

The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals. Shih Tzu. https://www.pdsa.org.uk/pet-help-and-advice/looking-after-your-pet/puppies-dogs/small-dogs/shih-tzu 

Written by: Savannah Lyons

May 12, 2022