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Common Shih Tzu Dog Health Problems

Posted: 07/17/2024 | BY: Jenna Bruce | Categories: Dog , Health problems , Pet care

Instantly recognizable with their flat faces, big brown eyes, and signature long fur, the Shih Tzu originates from Tibet. Bred for companionship, these little charmers thrive on lap snuggles and require minimal space – perfect for apartments! However, their adorable features can present some health concerns. Let’s explore some common Shih Tzu dog health problems owners should know before welcoming one of these fluffy friends home.

Common Shih Tzu Health Issues

To meet a Shih Tzu is to fall in love with that sweet, squished face. That face is the result of breeding the Lhasa Apso and the Pekingnese. But that face is also the cause of some of the most common Shih Tzu dog health issues. 

In general, Shih Tzu are generally healthy dogs, and we always recommend pup parents deal only with responsible breeders, who screen their dogs for common health risks. 

Having said all of this, it’s still a good idea for Shih Tzu parents to be educated and aware of what their fur baby may be prone to developing.

Breathing Problems

Shih Tzus are a brachycephalic (flat-faced) breed, along with French Bulldogs and Pugs. Are they adorable? Absolutely. But that flat face makes them prone to a breathing issue called brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome, or BOAS. The shortened face of these breeds can cause a number of anatomical abnormalities in the upper airways, including:

  • Stenotic nares (narrowed nostrils)
  • Elongated soft palate
  • Everted laryngeal saccules (pouches above the voice box)
  • Hypoplastic trachea (small windpipe)

These abnormalities can obstruct the airway and make it difficult for the animal to breathe, and can be potentially deadly. 

Symptoms of BOAS include snoring, noisy breathing, exercise intolerance and heat intolerance.

Mild cases can often be managed with avoiding hot and humid conditions and maintaining a healthy weight on your pup. More severe BOAS cases require surgery, which can cost between $500 and $2,000, depending on your geographic location. 

Hip Dysplasia

We often think of large breeds like German Shepherds and Great Danes as suffering from hip dysplasia, but small breeds can also develop this painful condition. While mostly genetic in its origin, there are other factors that can contribute to the development of the disease. For example, certain types of exercise, obesity, and an unbalanced diet can contribute to the onset of hip dysplasia.

Hip dysplasia occurs when the hip joint, which functions like a ball and socket, doesn’t develop properly. This abnormal development causes the ball and socket to rub and grind instead of sliding smoothly, leading to pain and deterioration of the joint over time.

Symptoms include:

  • Stiffness, especially after rest
  • Reluctance to run, jump, or climb stairs
  • Limping in the hind legs
  • “Bunny hopping” gait
  • Trouble getting up from sitting or lying
  • Vocalization when touched around hips
  • Guarding behavior around hindquarters
  • Muscle loss in hind legs
  • Abnormal sitting positions
  • Clicking or popping sounds from the hips

Mild cases of hip dysplasia can be managed with pain medication and joint supplements, while more severe cases will require surgery, with the most severe requiring total hip replacement. Yes, they do that for dogs as well, though it can be a pricey procedure, costing between $3,500 and $7,000 per hip.

Patellar Luxation

Patellar luxation, also known as a dislocated kneecap, is a common issue in Shih Tzus due to their breed characteristics. In fact, a 2018 study found this breed to be one of the most common affected by this condition. 

The breed’s short legs and sometimes bowed leg conformation can cause the kneecap to slip out of its normal groove in the knee joint. This can happen in one or both hind legs and can be temporary or permanent. Watch for signs like limping, skipping, or holding a leg up for a few steps. 

Early diagnosis by a veterinarian is key to managing patellar luxation in Shih Tzus. Treatment options range from conservative management to surgery depending on the severity of the condition.

Eye Anomalies

Those physical characteristics we tend to fall in love with in certain dig breeds are the very things that tend to cause them health issues. In addition to the Shih Tzu flat face, those somewhat protruding eyes makes this breeds more susceptible to certain eye issues, including the following:


A very common eye problem in Shih Tzus that is the result of a blocked tear duct. This condition leads to the tears overflowing onto the face, causing red-colored tear-stains.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy

This condition develops when the photoreceptor cells in the retina slowly and gradually degenerate. The result is gradual vision loss and eventually, total blindness.


Occurring most often in older Shih Tzus, cataracts are a genetic condition where a white film develops over the eye. If left untreated it can lead to blindness.

Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (KCS)

Also commonly referred to as “dry eyes,” KCS is caused by inflammation of the cornea and inadequate production of the tear film. It is believed to be a genetic disorder and commonly found in Shih Tzus.

These eye issues have similar symptoms to watch out for including discharge, redness, rubbing at the eye, or appearing to have vision loss. If you notice your fur baby exhibiting any of these symptoms, have them checked out by your veterinarian.

Does Pet Insurance Cover These Common Shih Tzu Dog Health Problems?

While this isn’t an exhaustive list of the breed’s health issues, it gives you an idea of what you might expect in terms of cost to cover treatment for some of them. Are you in a financially good place where a vet bill in the thousands of dollars wouldn’t hurt too badly?

If so, that’s terrific. But if not, you may want to look into a pet health insurance plan and enroll your fur baby while they are still young and healthy. If you wait too long your fur baby may develop a common health issue, which would then be considered a pre-existing condition and be excluded from coverage.

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The information contained on this blog is intended for informational and educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. It is not a substitute for professional veterinary care. Always consult with your veterinarian before making any changes to your pet's health care or treatment plan.

The authors of this blog are not veterinarians and do not claim to be experts in pet health. The information provided here is based on our own experiences and research, as well as information from reputable sources. However, we cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of this information.

We encourage you to do your own research and consult with your veterinarian before making any decisions about your pet's health.

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