A Dog’s Life: How Long Do Shih Tzu Live?

JUNE 4, 2019 | WRITTEN BY STACY

Senior Shih Tzu laying in window

If you’re wondering how long Shih Tzu live, then you’ve come to the right place.

Whether you’re thinking about getting a Shih Tzu or already own one of the lovable companions, it’s no surprise that the first thing you want to know is its lifespan.

It’s only natural that you would want your best friend to be around for as long as possible.

So how long do Shih Tzu live?

Shih Tzu have a lifespan that ranges from approximately 12 to 16 years old, with the average age being 14 years.  Most Shih Tzu will live into their early teen years and are considered a senior dog between 9 and 10 years old.

The oldest Shih Tzu on record was named Smokey, in St. Petersburg, FL.  Smokey lived to be 26 years old!

Read on to learn more about the different things that can influence how long your Shih Tzu will live, and how you can keep them healthy and happy for years to come.

What Are Some of the Health Issues That Can Affect the Lifespan of Shih Tzu?

Overall, Shih Tzu are pretty healthy.  This small breed enjoys one of the longest lifespans in the dog world.

Like many dogs, though, Shih Tzu do have certain health problems that are common to their breed.

It’s important to know about what these issues are so you can keep an eye out for any symptoms. The earlier you can detect a problem, the more likely that it can be fixed or treated quickly.

If left unchecked or gone unnoticed, these are conditions that can definitely shorten dogs’ lifespans, or at the very least reduce their quality of life.

Some of the issues that Shih Tzu can have are hip dysplasia, patellar luxation, collapsed trachea, breathing problems, and eye, ear, and teeth issues.

This might sound like a lot, but it’s important to remember that these are health problems that are common to many tiny dogs and doesn’t mean that all Shih Tzu will get these conditions.

  • Joint Issues- Conditions like hip dysplasia, when the hip joint moves away from the thigh bone, and patellar luxation, when the kneecap pops in and out, are found in many dogs.

    Shih Tzu puppies often think they can jump higher and harder than they actually can (sort of like a toddler), so these conditions can develop in their later years.

    Depending on the severity, surgery may be needed. 

    Often the dog can still live a completely healthy life with just a limp and some joint pain, which can be helped with medicine, but sometimes these problems can lead to immobility.
  • Back Issues -  Due to their build of short legs and a large back, Shih Tzu are prone to something called Intervertebral Disk Disease (IVD). This is where a disk slips out of place and presses against the spinal cord.

    It can cause weakness, muscle spasms and in worst cases, paralysis. The symptoms can be treated with surgery and/or medicine.
  • Breathing Issues - Sometimes Shih Tzu can be born with small passageways in their nostrils which makes it difficult for them to breathe.

    If they are not able to get the proper amount of oxygen, their body can start to experience problems.

    Another issue that faces small dogs is a collapsing trachea, where the windpipe can flatten from weak cartilage and make breathing difficult.

    Owners should usually be able to notice breathing issues pretty quickly and get them addressed early.  So, if your dog is making snorting sounds a lot, don’t just assume he’s a snorer.
  • Eye Issues - Shih Tzu are prone to several eye conditions, some of which can lead to blindness.

    They also can get something called “proptosis,” a fancy way of saying the eyeball can come out of the socket.

    Some of these issues can be fixed with surgery, but it’s expensive, so if you notice any changes in your dog’s vision, get them to a vet right away.

    Earlier diagnosis often means a more successful solution.

 <Read our article "Shih Tzu Eye Problems" to learn more>

  • Ear Issues - Shih Tzu have long, beautiful silky coats, or you can opt for the cute puppy cut.

    No matter what hairstyle you go with for your dog, this breed has a lot of hair.

    When the hair is in the ears it makes them a great place for bacteria to grow and ear mites to hang out.
  • Teeth Issues - Because of their small mouths, Shih Tzu often have teeth that don’t line up or are missing altogether.

    They’re also susceptible to periodontal disease (gum disease) which can have an effect on the animal’s overall health, causing “infections that can spread throughout the bloodstream to the kidneys, liver, heart or brain.”

What Are Some of the Traits Shih Tzu Have That Can Influence Their Lifespan?

When it comes to things that can affect your dog’s lifespan, health conditions aren’t the only thing to think about.

It’s important to know what traits your dog’s breed possesses because certain activities might not be a good idea for them.  Just like extreme sports aren’t a good idea for people that are accident prone.

Shih Tzu, in general, are not very good swimmers, for example, so thinking they might enjoy a quick dip in the family pool is probably not a good idea.

It’s best to let them enjoy other activities that don’t involve having to constantly do the doggie paddle.

This breed also doesn’t tolerate heat very well, so they don’t make good outdoor pets, nor do they want to spend the day having fun in the sun.

If for some reason you need to have your Shih Tzu outside for an extended period of time, make sure they have plenty of shade and water.

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke can be very dangerous conditions.

Some dogs in this breed can also easily become overweight. Carrying around excess weight can cause other problems, especially joint and back issues, or make conditions that are already present worse.

What Should You Do to Help Your Shih Tzu Live a Long and Happy Life?

To help your Shih Tzu live towards the top end of his roughly 16-year lifespan, there are several things you will want to do.

Knowing the different traits and health issues that can affect this breed is a great first step.  When you know what to look for, then you know how to properly care for your dog.

Some things to consider are using a harness when you walk your Shih Tzu, and never using a leash and collar. This will help prevent the collapsed trachea problem, or at least keep it from getting worse.

Obviously, regular vet visits are a must to keep your pet in tip-top shape, and if you notice anything out of the ordinary with your furry friend give the vet a call right away.

Keep up to date on all vaccinations and regularly check out your pet’s eyes and ears to stay ahead of any possible problems.

A good diet and exercise regimen are important, just like they are with people.

Make sure your dog doesn’t overeat, limit treats and provide opportunities for exercise.

Luckily, this small pup doesn’t require much - just short daily walks will often do the trick.  (If only we could all be so lucky!)

Maybe you haven’t even thought about this one, but make sure to brush your dog’s teeth.

Yep, you heard that right.

Regular dental care is important to a dog’s overall health, just like it is in people.

Schedule yearly dental cleanings and check-ups for your pet pal, too.

According to the Canine Journal, “Spaying and neutering a puppy at a young age can positively affect a dog’s lifespan.”

If you get a Shih Tzu puppy that is not already spayed or neutered, make it a priority to get it done sooner rather than later.

Regular grooming can also affect your dog’s health, believe it or not, not to mention it just makes them feel better.

Think about it, how would you feel if you never got a haircut or a bath?

It’s especially important to keep hair out of Shih Tzu’s eyes since their eyes protrude and can easily get scratched and infected.

When you get a new Shih Tzu, make sure to check it’s history.

Proper breeding can help reduce the chances of a lot of health issues since breeders screen for these conditions.

If you’re a dog lover, then your canine companion is more than a pet, she’s part of the family.

If your Shih Tzu has made her way into your heart, then, of course, you want to do everything you can to make sure she’ll live a long and healthy life.

Knowing what to look for and how to take care of your dog will help her enjoy her days with you, whether it be the average of 14 years or more.

Maybe your pet will set a new record and pass up Smokey’s 26-year lifespan!

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