Shih Tzu

By Dr Eloise Bright 8 Min Read

The Shih Tzu with its adorable underbite is a perfect lap-dog and great family pet.

Shih Tzu or ‘lion dogs’ were originally bred in China and interestingly despite their appearance their DNA places them in the ancient breeds group, closely related to wolves. They are very popular dogs, ranked at number 15 in the US.

They are classed as a hypoallergenic dog breed, though there is no true allergen-free dog. Their low allergen status is due to their hair-like coat, which is continuously growing and non-shedding. This does mean you will need to commit to daily brushing and regular trims at the groomer to keep them neat and tidy.


I love to curl up on the couch with a special someone and don’t need hours of exercise every day. My favourite thing is to spend time with people, other dogs and even cats sometimes. My preferred position is on your lap, getting the adoration and attention I crave.


Lifespan 12-16 years
Weight 5-8 kg
Height (at shoulder) 20-28 cm



Playful – Life is just a game to your average Shih Tzu. They love chase, ball-games and playing with other dogs. As they get older they can become a little lazy, but if kept at a healthy weight will often stay playful into middle age.


Exercise Requirements Low – 0-0.5 hours per day
Training Requirements Low – 0-0.5 hours per day
Apartment Friendly? Yes


Shih Tzu do not require a great deal of training or exercise. They do need lots of early socialisation as they have a tendency towards being nervous of larger dogs, but will otherwise be happy confident little dogs.


Trips to the Groomer Yes – Every six to eight weeks
Tick Friendly? No
Hypoallergenic Yes
Brushing High – Daily brushing required
Hair fall Low Shed – minimal shed or needs regular haircuts
Coat Type Long, continuously growing


Shih Tzu have a continuous-growing hair coat which will require regular trims and brushing. They will in particular need trimming around the face and eyes, and as this will need to be done frequently it is worthwhile learning how to do this at home.

They are considered a hypoallergenic breed due to their coat that does not shed, but they do still produce the protein in their skin that causes pet allergies, so cannot be guaranteed to be safe for people with allergies.


Good With Kids Excellent – Good with kids of any age
Good With Other Small Pets High – Good with other smaller animals
Sociability High – Loves other dogs and best in a multi-dog household.


Shih Tzu are great with kids and love busy family life where they can play and get lots of walks and attention. They are not well-suited to homes where everyone is out all day, so if you work, consider getting two dogs.


Overall Expenses (Annual) Medium – $1500-$2000
Veterinary Expenses (Annual) Medium – $200-$500
Food Expenses (Weekly) Low – $5-$10


Shih Tzu have a number of health conditions that can mean costly vet bills, so pet insurance is recommended. They are otherwise low cost to feed and care for.



Brachycephalic Airway Disease – one of the trade-offs for that cute snub-nose is breathing difficulties, particularly with exercise. Those narrow nostrils and the long soft palate can be surgically corrected to help some dogs. Many Shih Tzu will snore and they must avoid weight gain or exercise in hot conditions.

Luxating patella – Shih Tzu often have knee caps that pop in and out, sometimes with no pain, but in a relatively small number of cases they need surgical correction.

Dental disease – Small breed dogs often get significant dental disease, sometimes through poor diet and lack of chewing, but also simply due to genetic factors. Implementing daily brushing, diets that involve chewing and perhaps water additives can help.

Intervertebral Disk Disease – when disks degenerate in certain breeds, the disk can rupture and compress the spinal cord. This leads to back pain and loss of function in the hind limbs. In severe cases this requires immediate surgery to decompress the spine. In mild cases rest and pain relief are prescribed.

Hypothyroidism – a hormonal condition that often leads to weight gain, lethargy, thinning hair and skin. The condition is very easy to treat with daily medication.


Make sure your little dog doesn’t gain weight, as this will worsen any breathing difficulties or knee problems.

Your vet can discuss preventative dental care for your dog, daily brushing, water additives and chews can help prevent costly dental work.


Shih Tzu are Chinese bred dogs who were named ‘lion dogs’ due to their resemblance to the lions in oriental artworks. It is thought to be an ancient breed, originating from 800BC and actually having very close DNA to the wolf.

One theory of the origins of the Shih Tzu suggests that they were developed by Tibetan Monks and given as a gift to the Chinese Imperial Palace. During the Ming and Manch Dynasties they were only permitted to be owned by royalty and it is thought they were used as bed warmers by empresses.

They are closely related to Lhasa Apso who are known as Tibetan lion dogs, but have a shorter face, possibly due to some incorporation of Pug lines during their breeding.

Unfortunately due to their popularity in pet shops, some pounds are currently full of Shih Tzu and their crosses needing homes. Their popularity stems from their relative hypoallergenic status, but care should be taken as they still contain the protein that causes allergies, even if they don’t leave the house covered in hair.



Petfinder lists all types of dogs who need homes, both purebred and mixed breeds, adults and puppies.

The ASPCA often has Shih Tzu for adoption; just do an advanced search on their adoption page.

Share this Article
Dr Eloise is a Clinical Lead at Love That Pet and one of our resident pet care experts. She also curates the select range of vet recommended and approved products which feature on our site.
Leave a comment