I am often asked, “What is the most important thing I can do for my dog to help him or her live as long as possible?” So many things that we do for our dogs are important that it is impossible for me to pick just one thing. So here are five things, in no particular order, to really focus on so that your Shih Tzu lives a long and healthy life.
1 – Keep your Shih Tzu at a healthy weight. Allowing your furry loved one to become overweight predisposes them to multiple health problems (arthritis, diabetes, Cushings disease, pancreatitis, heart disease, etc.) Doing this is simple: watch the calories and lots of exercise. We tend to treat our Shih Tzu like little animated stuffed animals but they are really athletes that love to exercise, so let them!
2 – Take care of your Shih Tzu’s teeth. In general, the smaller the breed of a dog, the more periodontal problems they will have. So we need to be really diligent with our Shih Tzu’s dental care, starting when they are very young. Ideally the day you get your new loved one, you want to start brushing their teeth. If you are like most normal people and can’t brush your dog’s teeth every day, there is still a lot that you can do for them. Feeding dry food instead of canned or a combination of dry and canned is best for their teeth. There are many products available now for them to chew on that they really enjoy and help maintain tooth and gum health.
3 – Choose your Shih Tzu’s food wisely. I say all the time that there is nothing I can do for your pet when I see them once or twice a year that is remotely as important as what you feed them every day. There is a lot of competition between dog food companies right now and we and our furry loved ones are definitely the winners. There are so many good foods, I won’t attempt to list them. A good general rule is to avoid buying your Shih Tzu’s food at the grocery store. Stick with pet stores and veterinarians who carry only the premium brands. I usually recommend avoiding the brand new foods that no one has heard of simply because there are not many strict rules or laws governing dog food so the best test is often “the test of time”.
4 – Have your veterinarian do a full physical exam on your Shih Tzu at least once a year. Notice how I won’t say anything about vaccines in this list. It drives me crazy when my staff routinely catches animals that are behind on vaccines but misses that we haven’t done a physical exam in 3 years. Easily the most important thing that I do for my patients every year is a good, thorough physical exam. Catching heart murmurs early, catching masses early, catching periodontal disease early . . . well, you get the idea. Our furry loved ones age much faster than we do. The average is seven of our years equals one of theirs and that’s pretty close for the Shih Tzu. So when my patients go over about age eight, I have them come in every six months.
5 – Keep your Shih Tzu “Parasite Free.” Did you know fleas can kill a small Shih Tzu puppy by literally sucking too much blood from them? This thankfully doesn’t happen very often, but can. Fleas aren’t even the parasites I worry about most. Coccidia is an intestinal parasite that we are seeing more and more in pure bred animals including the Shih Tzu. A heavy coccidia infestation can be deadly as well, especially in very small, young puppies. Ticks transmit all sorts of awful things (Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichiosis, etc). And last but not least, keep your Shih Tzu on heartworm preventative year round if you live in the continental United States. There is no excuse not to. The vast majority of Shih Tzu are less than 25 pounds, making heartworm preventative very affordable.
Sure there are other ways to keep our Shih Tzu healthy but focusing on these 5 tips should help your Shih Tzu stay happy and healthy for his or her entire LONG life!