Shih Tzu Dogs Health Problems

Shih Tzus can be affected by a variety of health problems, including genetic diseases and conditions related to the dog’s small size. Prompt identification of these problems will ensure that your pet receives the treatment needed to manage his condition.

Shih Tzu Pet Dog Little Animal in Grass
A Shih Tzu lying on grass.
credit: Jani Bryson/iStock/Getty Images

Size-related Problems

Shih Tzus often have dental problems due to the small size of their jaws. Missing and crooked teeth are common. More than 85 percent of dogs two and older have periodontal disease, according to the American Shih Tzu Club. The disease occurs when plaque forms on the teeth and at the gumline. If the plaque isn’t removed with a dental cleaning, tooth loss can occur. Other dental and jaw problems can include underbites, retained baby teeth, and cleft palates. Shih Tzus, like other small dog breeds, tend to suffer from patellar luxation, a condition that occurs when the kneecap is dislocated. In severe cases, surgery may be needed to correct the problem.

Bladder Infections and Kidney Disease

Frequent, painful urination can be a sign that your pet has a bladder infection. Shih Tzus are prone to developing bladder infections and bladder stones. Both of these conditions require a visit to the veterinarian. Renal dysplasia, a life-threatening, inherited condition, occurs when your dog’s kidneys fail to develop normally. Shih Tzus who have renal dysplasia have shortened life spans, although the prognosis depends on the severity of the condition. Renal dysplasia usually is diagnosed when a dog is less than 1 year old. Signs of renal dysplasia include thirst and failure to thrive or gain weight.

Eye Diseases and Conditions

Shih Tzus are genetically prone to developing progressive retinal atrophy and cataracts. Progressive retinal atrophy occurs when the rods in the retina don’t function properly, resulting in gradual vision loss. Cataracts interfere with your pet’s vision because they cloud the eye’s lens. Surgery can restore vision if your dog has cataracts, although in some cases blindness might occur. The Shih Tzus’ bulging eyes makes the breed susceptible to proptosis, which occurs when the eye protrudes beyond the eye socket. Proptosis usually occurs due to trauma to the head and can result in vision loss if it isn’t treated immediately. Other eye problems include dry eye and ingrown eyelashes, which can lead to corneal ulcers.

Other Health Problems

The Shih Tzu’s short nose, long soft palate and small windpipe can make him more difficult to breathe and cool down after exercising. If your dog can't get enough oxygen because he's stressed or has been running and playing, he might become overheated or might even collapse. Death can occur in some cases. Because breathing is more difficult, your dog may snore, breathe rapidly, pant, cough or gag when eating. Other possible health problems include hip dysplasia, epilepsy, ear infections, skin conditions, herniated discs and umbilical hernias. The American Kennel Club advises that reputable breeders use genetic testing to ensure that these diseases aren't passed on to puppies.