Basic Shih Tzu Health Issues
The Shih Tzu can reach the lifespan of 11-16 years. Just like with any small dog breed, the Shih Tzu has its share of health conditions that owners should be aware of. As an owner, it is your responsibility to care and provide the needs of your companion.
It is important to note that Shih Tzus have unique features – short-legged with a long back and brachycephalic (flat face). The flat face feature is due to a smaller upper jaw where all the tissues within are bigger than what the jaw can accommodate. Both these features are linked to various health issues.
Common Shih Tzu Health Issues
Shih Tzus are considered to generally be a healthy breed but…like most dog breeds…they are susceptible to certain diseases and conditions.
Shih Tzus are susceptible to eye problems due to the shape of the head and face. As a brachycephalic breed, they have a flat face and large, protruding eyes which are prone to exposure to the environment.
Remember that injuries can occur by scratching the eye corners which can lead to puncturing their eyes. You should protect your dog from any sharp objects around the house and keep their hair away from the eyes to avoid irritation.
Even though some eye conditions have a hereditary link, most are brought about by trauma and irritation due to the position and shape of the eyes. Generally, infections are likely due to the lack of protection against foreign objects.
Sadly, the eye conditions that are likely to affect the breed include the following:
- Corneal Ulcers: A common form of eye injury that can be due to eye trauma, foreign object in the eye, lack of tearing, eye infection and abnormal eye structure.
- One or both eyelids turn inward towards the eyeball: This causes the eyelashes to rub continuously against the eyeball, leading to eye irritation.
- There is an overflow of tears that can stain the fur beneath the eyes.
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy: A degenerative disease affecting the retinal visual cells that eventually leads to blindness.
- Keratopathy Syndrome: A corneal disease characterized by a brown pigmentation across the cornea. It is often accompanied by scar tissue formation and blood vessel infiltration that cause pain or discomfort. In severe cases, it can lead to blindness.
- The eyeball bulges out of its orbit where the blood flow is disrupted. This leads to a lack of oxygen which can lead to blindness.
- Opaque cloudiness that affects the eye lens. It affects the vision of your Shih Tzu which ranges from minor impairment to blindness.
- Ingrown eyelashes can scrape and irritate the eye or even scar it.
- Harderian Gland Prolapse: The glands in the eyelids become swollen. Once the gland moves with a loose connection, it causes excessive drainage, swelling, bloody ulcerations, and even conjunctivitis.
- Retinal Dysplasia: This is a hereditary condition involving an irregularity in the retina. It results to folded tissue layers in the retina instead of a normal flat tissue that can lead to minor visual impairment or even blindness.
- Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca: A condition that results to dryness of the cornea and the conjunctiva.
Due to the variety of eye conditions, a specific sign might be an indication of a specific issue. Once you notice any of these signs, it is best to see a veterinarian right away for proper assessment.
Some of the usual signs of an eye problem include:
- Eye swelling and redness
- Increased tear production
- Eye pain or discomfort
- Pupil discoloration
- Loss of peripheral vision
- Night blindness
- Protrusion from the side of the eye
Which treatment is used will be based on the specific eye condition. In minor cases, the application of eye drops or removal of the eyelashes is enough but severe cases might necessitate surgical intervention.
Majority of the eye conditions are brought about by eye irritation. In such cases, the treatment aims at the removal of the foreign object or hair. Luckily, the health conditions linked with the eyes are rarely life-threatening.
It is important to note that this breed is prone to allergies along with its flattened face which contributes to breathing issues.
In some instances, an allergy can aggravate the breathing issues, but allergies are more likely to manifest as skin issues.
- Food Allergies: The treatment involves the elimination of certain foods from the diet.
- Contact Allergies: A reaction is brought about by a sensitivity to any topical substances such as shampoos, flea powders, bedding or other chemicals.
- Inhalant Allergies: A reaction is triggered by exposure to airborne allergens such as dust, pollen or mildew.
- Allergy to Flea Bites: Some dogs might be highly sensitive to the saliva in flea bites. If a Shih Tzu is allergic to flea bites, a single bite can trigger a reaction. The indications of this allergy include chewing, scratching and excessive licking of the site along with hair loss.
Depending on the type of allergy your Shih Tzu has the treatment might involve dietary limitations, environmental adjustments, and medications.
Brachycephalic Airway Obstruction Syndrome (BAOS)
This condition not only affects Shih Tzus but all dog breeds that have similar head structure. Due to the shorter form of the nose and the jaw the soft tissues of the mouth and nose are squeezed into a smaller space that can trigger breathing issues.
Brachycephalic airway obstruction syndrome generally refers to at least one of four specific conditions:
- Elongated soft palate
- Stenotic Nares: The nostrils are very narrow which has a significant impact on the respiratory system.
- Collapsed larynx
- Tracheal Hypoplasia: There is an abnormal growth of the cartilage rings comprising the trachea which leads to a narrowed airway.
Since there is an increased resistance in the respiratory system, an evident sign of the condition is that your Shih Tzu has breathing issues.
Generally, the signs are noticeable during or after physical activity or during warm weather. In severe cases, the lips or gums of the dog might turn bluish and can even lead to collapse, loss of consciousness and…in very severe cases…even death.
Sadly, it is a life-long condition and can arise as early as six months. Nevertheless, dogs born with the condition might not show any signs until later in life.
Depending on the seriousness of the breathing problems, there are several measures to lessen the discomfort without requiring medications or surgical intervention.
Even in situations calling for drastic measures utilizing some of the suggestions below are highly suggested.
- Cutting down weight if necessary
- Utilize a harness instead of a collar when walking your Shih Tzu
- Provide the appropriate pillows and bedding to lessen any discomfort
- Limit exposure to cold air
Canine Hip Dysplasia
Canine hip dysplasia is a degenerative joint disease that affects certain dog breeds including the Shih Tzu. There is an irregularity in the hip joint which causes it to slip out of position.
Most dogs diagnosed with hip dysplasia are born with normal hips but due to hereditary…and other potential factors…the soft tissues surrounding the joint start to develop abnormally as the puppy grows.
This irregularity can affect how the bones are secured together where they move apart.
Generally, a puppy as young as four to five months old can develop the condition. Nevertheless, since it is a degenerative disease, any evident signs may not be evident until a dog reaches it’s adult years.
The usual signs of this condition include:
- Walking in an unusual manner
- Difficulty in rising up from a prone position
- Mobility issues
- Intermittent stiffness or rigidity
- Narrow stance
- Loss of muscular tone
The treatment for canine hip dysplasia might involve weight management measures, application of heat or controlled exercise.
Supplements can also help along with medications to ease the pain and swelling. In severe cases, surgical intervention is necessary.
This condition involves the dislocation of the patella or kneecap where the joint…usually in the hind leg…slides in and out of position. This causes pain and discomfort for your companion.
The size and weight of your Shih Tzu can be a contributing factor and can be crippling for many dogs.
It’s possible for patellar luxation to be present at birth oe it can develop at any time.
Some of the usual indications include:
- Attempting to walk on only three legs to avoid placing pressure on the affected joint
- Raising the leg due to the pain or discomfort
The treatment for patellar luxation involves bed rest and anti-inflammatory medications for minor to moderate cases.
In some cases, steroids are given and you can usually expect an improvement after 3 weeks.
After this period, exercise is steadily started with the objective of not causing any strain on the knees. As for recurrent or severe cases, surgical intervention is necessary.
Teeth and Gum Issues
The baby teeth of the Shih Tzu might stay intact once the permanent teeth erupt. Due to this, it is possible for teeth and gum problems to occur.
Upon consulting a veterinarian it may be determined that extraction of the baby teeth are necessary.
Since the breed has an undershot jaw, your companion might also have missing or misaligned teeth.
As part of caring for a Shih Tzu, it is vital to properly brush the teeth regularly since the breed is prone to periodontal disease’
Your veterinarian needs to be made aware of any dental issues such as loose teeth or bad breath.
Intervertebral Disc Disease
Generally, the condition can cause the following:
- Muscle spasms
- Limb weakness
If the condition is not properly treated or ignored it can lead to full paralysis.
In most cases, the veterinarian will provide medications such as muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatory drugs along with adequate rest.
If rest and drugs are not effective surgical intervention is required.
Juvenile Renal Dysplasia
This is a hereditary condition where the kidneys do not develop normally which is most often seen among young dogs.
Generally, the usual signs of the condition include:
- Excessive thirst
- Frequent urination
- Failure to gain weight
Currently the only available test to detect the disease is the wide-wedge biopsy of the kidney. Sadly, the test is invasive and has a variety of risks involved.
These conditions can be brought about by various factors such as high levels of protein, magnesium, and phosphorus in the diet or prolonged periods of time between urination.
The bladder infections may have a viral or bacterial cause.
If any of these signs are present, it is best to bring your Shih Tzu to a veterinarian:
- Blood-streaked urine
- Frequent urge to urinate
- Difficulty with urination
- Appetite loss
The Shih Tzu is susceptible to ear infections due to their long drop ears which provide the ideal environment for bacteria to thrive.
You should suspect an ear infection if the ears of your Shih Tzu shows signs of redness along with a foul odor.
The dog will also start to constantly scratch or rub their head on the floor.
If an ear infection is left untreated the symptoms might progress into a middle or inner ear infection.
In severe cases, it can cause permanent impairment and damage to the dog’s hearing.
The ears of your companion contain yeast, wax and certain bacteria to keep it clean and free from infection.
It is important to preserve the natural balance of the healthy organisms in the ear while keeping the outer ear clean to prevent any ear issues.
Proper care for your Shih Tzu will help keep your companion happy and healthy.
Proper diet and regular exercise play an important role.
Should an unusual symptom arise it might be an indication of a minor issue or a serious disease.
It is important to be able to identify if a certain sign or symptom requires a consultation with a veterinarian.
Many diseases can cause dogs to have a combination of symptoms. In cases such as these you will to bring your Shih Tzu to a veterinarian to determine the necessary treatment.
We hope you find this information helpful. We’d love to hear your tips and experiences with your Shih Tzu Dog. Let us know in the comments below.
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