How Old Do Shih Tzus Live?
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Aaron Rice Expert Dog Trainer
Written: January 17, 2022

As a dog trainer, I get all kinds of questions from dog parents about nutrition, care, and obedience. But, once in a while, a Shih Tzu dog owner will hit me with something like – how long will my dog live? It’s perfectly understandable where Shih Tzu owners are coming from. After all, as a small breed, Shih Tzus are prone to various health concerns.

That’s why I’ve taken it upon myself to try and inform all Shih Tzu parents about their furball’s average lifespan, factors that can directly affect a Shih Tzu’s life, and how owners can contribute positively to enhancing their pets’ longevity.

If you’re a worried Shih Tzu parent or are thinking about getting a Shih Tzu, this guide has all the info you’ll need to prepare yourself for caring for your best bud – the right way!

How Long Do Shih Tzu Live: Average Life Expectancy

According to vets and pet experts alike, the Shih Tzu lifespan ranges between 11 to 16 years. That means you can expect the standard Shih Tzus to live on average for at least 12 to 13 years.

In fact, the longest living Shih Tzu, aka Smokey (a native of St. Petersburg, Russia), lived to reach the ripe old age of 23 years. Does that mean all Shih Tzus will follow suit? Probably not.

I always tend to warn fellow canine enthusiasts about not taking life expectancy guidelines too seriously. That’s because a lot of factors can affect longevity. 

Yes, Shih Tzu dogs are generally long-living, but that does not mean health concerns can’t arise. Indeed, it also doesn’t mean that each and every Shih Tzu will conform to the laid-out stats? That’s highly unlikely because there are too many external considerations at play. 

I’m not trying to be all gloom and doom here, but I’d rather dog owners were aware of aspects that can negatively impact their little furry pals’ lives and take active steps to prolong their life span.

1. Health Issues

Generally, health problems in dogs can be divided into two categories: genetic and general. When it comes to Shih Tzus, there are various illnesses and diseases pet parents should know about because early recognition is essential to a complete recovery. Below are some of the health conditions that are common among the Shih Tzu breed.

Genetic Health Problems

  • Bone and Joint Issues

Over the years, multiple musculoskeletal problems have been reported in Shih Tzus. While bone and joint conditions like hip dysplasia, patellar luxation, or intervertebral disc disease aren’t life-threatening, the pain and discomfort associated with these conditions can have drastic consequences in your pet’s life.

Most of the conditions above are accompanied by symptoms such as reluctance to move, whining (as if in pain), difficulty in moving, lameness in hind legs, or in severe cases, paralysis.

If your pet is displaying one or more of these signs, it’s best not to delay and get them immediate medical help. The good news is that with proper treatment and care, most of these conditions can be managed and cured to an extent to ensure your pet continues to live a healthy and happy life.

  • Stenotic Nares

Stenotic nares is when a Shih Tzu is born with narrow nostril passageways. This is another genetic disease/condition the breed is prone to and can reduce the amount of oxygen your dog’s body needs. The primary symptom of stenotic nares is noticeable difficulty in breathing.

If not diagnosed early, the condition will have a detrimental effect on the Shih Tzu’s body, leading to weakness and other concerns. Treatment for this condition involves surgery to widen the nasal passageways of a canine’s nostrils to allow it to breathe better.

  • Eye Problems

Shih Tzus can be susceptible to several eye conditions, including cataracts, dry eye, etc. Cataracts affect the lens of your pet’s eyes and cause them to turn opaque (cloudy). The condition can be treated successfully in canines through surgery.

Dry eye reduces the amount of fluid your Shih Tzu’s tear glands produce, leading to adequate moisture in the eyes. That, in turn, can lead to your pet suffering from sore and dry eyes, and it can also encourage infections. Treatment of dry eyes includes ophthalmic solutions and ointments.

  • Ear Infections

Owners ought to be aware that the adorable and floppy ears of a Shih Tzu put it at risk of developing painful ear infections. The slack structure of a Shih Tzu’s ears makes it easy for pathogens to enter the long canal – which becomes a breeding ground for bacteria.

One early indication of ear infections apart from scratching and pain is odor. Your furball may also act jumpier because of loud noises.

  • Dental Problems

Often dental diseases aren’t treated with the kind of caution the condition deserves. Nonetheless, the problem affects more than 70% of pets and generally kicks off with something as simple as tartar buildup on teeth. The next stage involves gum and root infection, leading to teeth loss and joint, liver, heart, or even kidney damage.

  • Obesity

Any dog owner will tell you that canines live to eat. It’s part of their nature to be opportunistic eaters, but with breeds like the Shih Tzu, overeating can lead to concerns like obesity. Even worse than just putting on extra pounds, obesity in Shih Tzus can lead to a whole host of problems like digestive disorders, heart disease, joint issues, etc.

2. Quality Of Life

Deciding whether your Shih Tzu’s life quality is up to par with required standards isn’t always easy. For one, there are no clear criteria you can measure your pet’s daily routine against. However, there are basic principles you can rely on to ensure your pets live a long and prosperous life.

The first step of this journey involves keeping up with regular check-ups with your vet. Always remember that while answers on the internet provide knowledge, your vet is your only source of viable and pet-specific information.

Then, there’s exercise. Even though Shih Tzus classify as small dogs and are bred as companions, a sedentary lifestyle will spell trouble for your pet’s health. No matter the dog breed, all canines require regular exercise, and Shih Tzus are not different. 

Adult Shih Tzus can get by perfectly well on 20 to 30 minutes of walking to keep them in shape. For pups who’re still growing and developing their bones and skeletal system, 10 minutes walking will serve just fine.

Considerations like pollution can also affect your Shih Tzu’s health. As a brachycephalic breed, Shih Tzus are prone to breathing problems, which can be made worse by poor air quality. While this isn’t something pet parents can control, they can alleviate their pet’s breathing problems by taking care of indoor air quality levels.

Another tip for Shih Tzu family members looking to help their puppy breathe better is investing in air purifiers and humidifiers. The great thing about purifiers and humidifiers is that they can also help with human allergies and breathing problems, so it’s a win-win situation.

3. Food And Nourishment

I saved the food category for last because it can play a pretty positive role in helping your pet live longer. There’s a reason why people say we are what we eat because whatever we ingest impacts our systems at various levels. 

Similarly, if you’re looking to add to your pet’s years, a high-quality diet that checks all the right boxes in terms of nutrients is essential. What’s more, it’s important to remember that your Shih Tzu diet should correspond with its changing dietary needs as it ages. That’s another area where your vet’s input is priceless.

Ensuring Your Shih Tzu Dog Lives A Long And Healthy Life

If you and your family are searching for ways to ensure your pet Shih Tzu continues to be a part of your lives for many years – this section can help you. While the tips mentioned here may not automatically elevate your pet’s status to the oldest Shih Tzu in the world, they can definitely enhance your pet’s life quality and help it achieve a long and healthy life.

  • It’s essential to keep track of your Shih Tzu’s pearly whites to ensure there’s no buildup of plaque, tartar, or other nasties. It’s also equally important to get your pet used to a regular teeth-cleaning routine to help it avoid other related health issues.
  • Try limiting your Shih Tzu’s diet to high-quality dog food brands that use nutritious ingredients instead of fillers. Also, avoid giving your pet unfiltered tap water that can be a host for toxins, disinfectants, and other harmful chemicals.
  • No matter how many years old your Shih Tzu is, please consult with your veterinarian about the adequate amount of exercise it needs. If you want your pet to live longer, you’ll have to focus on maintaining their quality of life and not just worry about the quantity.
  • Think about having your dog spayed or neutered at the right time. This can reduce the chances of specific health concerns from developing and positively contribute to problems like aggression and marking tendencies.
  • Always keep up with your dog’s veterinarian checkups and vaccinations. When it comes to health, prevention is always better than cure, and that’s where regular consultations with the vet can help you stay on top of your pet care and maintenance game.


I’ve reached the end of my Shih Tzu-centric guide and can only hope all your life span and how to add to it queries have been answered. As loveable as the Shih Tzu breed is, looking after the dogs of this breed is almost a full-time job.

A happy and well-looked after Shih Tzu is likely to have a longer lifespan because of all the care you expend on it. Having said that, it’s also essential to strike a balance between a healthy lifestyle and allowing your dog to live freely to its heart’s content.

Don’t get too caught up in the intricacies of life expectancies. Instead, focus on looking after your doggo the way it deserves and build special memories to last you both a lifetime.