Caring For Your Aging
Caring for Your Aging Shih Tzu
Copyright ??2005 Marie Davis
“Old age” for dogs comes at different times depending on the breed of dog,
their genes and their general health. As for Shih Tzu, the life expectancy is
approximately 14 1/2 years. But many have been known to live as long as 20
Unfortunately not all Shih Tzu were obtained from a healthy background
and because this breed is prone to certain medical problems such as kidney
stones, far too many never reach old age. The critical years for them seem to
be between 11 and 13 years old.
Exercise & Feeding
As your Shih Tzu gets older, there are many things that you will need to
keep in mind.
You need to realize that they may not see or hear as well as they used to and
they will want to exercise less and less.
They also will develop a need to eat less or their whole diet may need to
change completely to accommodate the lack of activity and other concerns.
It will be extremely important that you keep their weight in control as an
overweight Shih Tzu can develop many serious conditions such as
Pancreatitis, which can shorten his/her life.
The key to longevity for Shih Tzu as said before is that he/she is in general
good health as the years pass. Senility can occur in Shih Tzu, but it can also
be treated provided that the dog doesn’t have any other major medical
Symptoms of senility include not recognizing day from night, walking in
patterns such as back and forth or in circles, having bladder and bowel
accidents in the house, not recognizing their owners at times and generally
seeming as if they are losing touch with reality.
If your aging Shih Tzu starts to exhibit any of these symptoms, take the dog
to the vet immediately. If the dog is generally healthy, the vet can prescribe
medicine to help with the senility. Always ask for the generic form of the
medicine, which is less costly and will basically do the same as the brand
name medicine will do.
If you seek treatment right away, you may be able to extend the life of your
Shih Tzu by quite a few years.
Older Shih Tzu have a tendency to develop skin growths that are not
pleasant to look at but not necessarily dangerous to the dog. You will need to
have these growths looked at by the vet to make sure they are nothing that
may need to be removed surgically.
If the vet doesn’t think there is anything to worry about, just ignore them
and learn to live with the sight of them. However, even if they are not
dangerous, you will need to keep an eye on the dog to make sure the dog
isn’t biting the growths (this can cause infection or bleeding).
If the dog is biting them, ask the vet to remove them.
It is important to note however that it may be more harmful to put the older
dog under anesthesia to remove the growths than it is to try and get the dog
to live with them.
Vestibular disease is a condition that many older Shih Tzu can develop,
which affects the middle ear and appears suddenly, without warning.
The dog’s equilibrium will be out of whack and he may appear to be drunk.
His head may hang to one side and his eyes may have a problem focusing.
Think of it as the same reaction humans who experience vertigo get. They
swagger when they walk and also have the appearance of being drunk. It’s
the same type of reaction basically. The dog may also become disoriented
Obviously the dog needs to see the vet. Be care of the diagnosis, many vets
have diagnosed this behavior as a stroke, when in fact it was Vestibular
If your vet diagnoses stroke, it may be a good idea to get a second opinion.
Strokes in dogs as a general rule are really quite rare. If treated immediately,
Vestibular disease is curable and the treatments are not that costly.
The dog usually shows signs of feeling better within a few weeks.
Cancer can happen to any animal at any time. It is not a disease that is
exclusive to Shih Tzu.
However, there are two types of cancer that seem to be prevalent in
Shih Tzu, prostate cancer in the male and cancer of the mammary glands in
the female. (Sound familiar?)
The good news is that if your Shih Tzu is neutered or spayed at an early age,
they will be less likely to develop these forms of cancer.
Some aging Shih Tzu may develop allergies over time. They are easily
treated with antihistamines or special baths and don’t need to be treated with
Your vet will most likely run tests to determine the type of allergy the dog
has and prescribe the proper medicine for treatment.
Allergies may be seasonal and maybe triggered by grass, trees or even
molds. If the allergy is due to fleas, make sure to get the dog a flea bath and
then see if he/she needs additional medical treatment.
Dermatitis is another type of allergy that is also known as a “hot spot”,
which is basically a reaction to an allergy. It may appear as a red spot on the
skin that could be there because of the dog’s scratching and biting of the
The area can easily be treated to prevent the dog from further causing
problems there by applying an over-the-counter medicated powder to the
area a few times a day until the hot spot is gone. If the area looks like it is
infected, the best bet is to take the dog to the vet for more aggressive
One type of allergic reaction in aging Shih Tzu that owners fear seeing is
something called “reverse sneezing.” Reverse sneezing occurs when the dog
snorts and appears to be choking while sneezing. This is a condition of
unknown origin that is not dangerous to the dog. It is more of a nuisance
than anything. You can quickly end an episode by massaging the dog’s
throat or by holding the nostrils together until the reaction passes.
Just as it is important to make sure a new puppy gets all his/her shots when
they are due, it is just as important to make sure your aging Shih Tzu is kept
up to date on shots. The key is to stagger the times when the shots are due.
Getting all shots done in one visit to the vet may affect the long-term health
of your Shih Tzu. For instance, it is best to have the rabies shot at least 4
weeks after other shots are given to the dog.
Shih Tzu are prone to certain types of knee maladies such as “loose stiffles”
and other injuries to ligaments in the knee area.
This basically means that the dog has developed what is known as “weak
While actual injury may not be present, the condition can deteriorate.
Especially in aging Shih Tzu who exercise less or those who are
Diabetes is another disease that not only affects humans, it can affect your
Shih Tzu as well.
Symptoms to look for include frequent drinking and urinating, weight loss
and sweet smelling breath with an acetone odor.
If your Shih Tzu displays any of these symptoms, get him/her to the vet
immediately. If untreated, diabetes can cause seizures, possible coma and
even death in extreme cases.
Treatment may include insulin shots that you will have to give the dog each
day to control the condition.
Shih Tzu as young as six years old have been known to contract Cushing’s
Syndrome even though it usually affects older Shih Tzu.
It is hard to detect because the condition bears symptoms that are similar to
many other illnesses. The only sure way to get a true diagnosis is by having
the vet run specific tests that look for it.
Symptoms can include odd behavior by the dog,
? no energy (lethargic),
? excessive thirst,
? weight gain
? and change in sleep habits.
Treatment will require special medications prescribed by the vet and blood
tests to monitor the condition.
Many of the illnesses mentioned here share one common denominator, an
unhealthy endocrine system.
All are treatable but all can have life threatening effects if they are
Some veterinarians almost expect their older Shih Tzu clients to develop
Cushing’s and it is possible that any dog with any of these maladies will
develop one or more of the other problems.
Remember that the sooner your dog is diagnosed and treated, the better.
According to statistics, there is a low percentage of Shih Tzu that have any
real major health issues. However, in aging Shih Tzu especially, they show
up far too often. Which is why vets tend to keep an eye out for them in their
older Shih Tzu patients.
A good rule of thumb when it comes to taking care of your aging Shih Tzu is
to have semiannual checkups with your vet. In addition, always be vigilant
of your dog and look for signs of any type of decline in his/her health.
Many of these illnesses can be treated very effectively if caught in the early
stages. The good news is that the Shih Tzu is, for the most part, a healthy
My dogs have stood by me through thick and thin. They welcome me with
eager anticipation when I come home, and comfort me when I’m down.
They offer me unconditional love.
It is proven that dogs have therapeutic value and are gaining wide use in
nursing homes to comfort our elderly.
The least we can do is offer the same to them.
They are our “Gaurdian Angels”.
Happiness to you and your Shih Tzu always,