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Shih Tzu Lifespan: How Long Do Shih Tzus Live?


Last Updated: May 14, 2024 | 9 min read | 2 Comments

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The Shih Tzu is a popular pooch in America, and according to the American Kennel Club (AKC), they often rank in the top 20 most popular dog breeds. We love Shih Tzus for their playful, affectionate, and outgoing nature and for being a fantastic family Fido. Many families often wonder, how long does a Shih Tzu live? Because finding a family pet that lives for a long time is essential for many.

The average lifespan for a Shih Tzu is between 10 and 18 years. Eighteen years is incredibly long, and some can live much longer than this. So what’s the secret to keeping your Shih Tzu with you for as long as possible? Unfortunately, there is no “secret.” But we have many tips to keep your Shih Tzu healthy.

Many factors impact a dog’s life expectancy, not all of them you can control, such as genetics. But there are some factors that you can influence, such as the lifestyle they lead and the nutrition you feed them. So, let’s explore the Shih Tzu’s lifespan and what you can do to keep them healthy. And in turn, hopefully, keep them with you for longer.

Shih Tzu Breed

Shih Tzu
The Shih Tzu is a Chinese Lion dog and is a small, lovable, and friendly breed.

The Shih Tzu is popular with families for many reasons. They are relatively small and don’t occupy much space, fitting well into most homes. Their small stature makes them a fabulous option for families with smaller children, and they also have a soft spot for kids. Shih Tzus are playful and confident, and there is never a dull moment with one around. And they are also very affectionate and make wonderful canine companions. The list is endless!

Shih Tzus are small dogs that typically weigh between 9 and 16 pounds and are in the AKC’s toy group. They are an old dog breed from Imperial China, believed to be the product of the Lhasa Apso and the Pekingese. Shih Tzu is roughly translated to “lion dog,” and this is down to their long hair around their face and feisty personality. These dogs have always been prized by royalty. Their idea of heaven is sitting in their owner’s lap, being stroked and adored.

How Long Do Shih Tzus Live?

The average lifespan of a Shih Tzu is between 10 and 18 years. This is a wide-ranging age, and 18 years is an incredibly long lifespan for a canine. So, if you’re looking for a family pet to be with you for many years, the Shih Tzu is a top contender. But remember that all dogs are different. Unfortunately, some Shih Tzus might not live up to their expected lifespan.

The oldest Shih Tzu on record was a pup named Smokey, who made it to his 23rd birthday. He lived in St. Petersburg, Florida, and his owners attributed his long lifespan to nutritious food and an active lifestyle. Other factors that likely played a part in his long lifespan are good genetics, proper overall care, and a hint of luck.

Health Factors That Impact Shih Tzu Lifespan

Shih Tzu With Diabetes
Dogs with conditions like diabetes should avoid popcorn and other high-carb snacks.

Like all dog breeds, Shih Tzus are prone to several health conditions that run in the family. Please remember that this information refers to a typical Shih Tzu. Your Shih Tzu might not suffer from any of these conditions, or they might experience some or all of them. It is important to consider pet insurance for your Shih Tzu, as it can help manage the cost of emergency or long-term care for chronic conditions.

Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome

Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS) is the name given to a set of upper airway abnormalities that affect flat-faced dogs. Shorter facial bones and the anatomy of the other soft tissue structures cause the abnormalities. And unfortunately, these abnormalities can cause physical problems for the dog. Brachycephalic breeds include Shih Tzus, Bulldogs, Boxers, Pekingnese, Pugs, Frenchies, and Lhasa Apsos.

BOAS symptoms include narrowed nostrils and extended nasal ridges, obstructing airflow. They can also have elongated soft palates and hypoplastic trachea, limiting airflow. Limited airflow can impact a dog’s lungs, cardiac system, and gastrointestinal tract, which adds further stress to the body and can lead to secondary health problems. The Shih Tzu’s flat face might be cute, but it can cause health problems that could shorten their lifespan.

If your Shih Tzu has BOAS, depending on the severity of it, your vet might recommend surgery to ease their breathing difficulties. A responsible breeder should never breed Shih Tzus diagnosed with BOAS. Take care when exercising your Shih Tzu, especially in hot weather, as they tire much quicker. And be sure to invest in a good quality harness rather than attaching a leash to their collar, which places extra pressure on their neck and windpipe.

Dental Disease

All dog breeds can suffer from dental disease, but it is more prevalent in smaller dog breeds because their teeth are more cramped. Many owners do not take their dog’s dental health seriously, but it can shorten your Shih Tzu’s lifespan by up to three years. Dental diseases can lead to secondary health problems such as kidney and liver disease and affect their cardiac system and joint health.

Establishing a dental care routine with your Shih Tzu from an early age is crucial. It keeps their mouth and breath clean and fresh and goes a long way to prevent bacterial build-up and all of the above health conditions.

Eye Conditions

The Shih Tzu’s eyes protrude further than average from their skull compared to other canines, which can cause several problems. This can lead to increased injuries, such as scraping or poking their eye with objects. This can lead to proptosis, where the blood flow to the eyes is restricted, potentially leading to blindness. It can also cause inflammation and corneal dryness due to excessive exposure to the air because of improperly closing eyelids.

Shih Tzus are also predisposed to several eye conditions, including cataracts, progressive retinal atrophy, and retinal detachment. Although these conditions do not shorten the lifespan of your dog, they can put further stress on their body. Decreased visibility or blindness can also increase the chance of injuries or fatal accidents, such as falling down stairs or walking into traffic. Owners of blind dogs must take extra care.

Patellar Luxation

Patellar luxation is common in small breeds, including your Shih Tzu. It occurs when their kneecap slips out of place, and it can happen just once in their lifetime or several times a week for some unlucky pups. There are four categories of seriousness, and the higher the grade, the more likely your pooch might develop other long-term health conditions. Some kneecaps can be popped back into the grove, and others require surgery.

Patellar luxation is often painful and usually causes dogs to skip or kick out and limits their mobility. Some dogs overcompensate on other limbs, which can lead to arthritis. Others become very inactive because of the pain, which further stresses their cardiac system and overall health. If your Shih Tzu develops an odd gait, please seek medical advice.

Renal Dysplasia

Renal dysplasia is a hereditary condition that develops in the womb during the development of the kidneys. The abnormal development of the kidneys causes urine build-up and cysts to form. Unfortunately, this disease has no cure, and treatment can only manage the condition for a better quality of life. This disease can dramatically shorten your pup’s lifespan, and dogs diagnosed with this should never be bred.

Other Factors That Impact Shih Tzu Lifespan

Shih Tzu Harness Types
Other factors can impact your Shih Tzu’s lifespan, many of which you can control.

Let’s break down the different factors affecting your Shih Tzu’s lifespan.

Care & Lifestyle

The lifestyle that your Shih Tzu leads can impact their life expectancy considerably. Many Shih Tzus are typical lapdogs happy to laze their entire day in their master’s lap. However, they must lead an active lifestyle to keep their cardiac system healthy and mentally stimulated. Be mindful not to overexercise your Shih Tzu during their developmental stage or in hot weather.

You must also provide your pup with a safe and happy environment. Please provide them with proper training to build their confidence and ensure they receive plenty of social interaction with humans. A comfortable and loving home and upbringing decrease their stress levels considerably, improving their quality of life. It’s also essential to be a responsible dog owner and safety conscious.


Your Shih Tzu’s genetics is one of the most influential factors in their lifespan. Unfortunately, this is something that you cannot control. However, working with a responsible breeder who screens for the health problems listed above maximizes your chances of getting a healthy puppy. Talk to your breeder about health screening and ask for the relevant health certificates.

Unfortunately, many irresponsible breeders are not interested in breeding healthy puppies. All they care about is making money out of dog lovers. Puppies from unhealthy and poorly cared-for dogs are more likely to be sick. Always research the breeder before financially committing to them. A top place to start your breeder research is on the AKC’s Shih Tzu breeder page.

Health & Vaccinations

It’s essential to keep your Shih-Tzu up to date with their health checks and vaccinations because this is one of the easiest ways to protect them against disease and infections. Regular health checks can also help you catch problems early, improving the chance of successful treatment and keeping your pup with you longer.


Feeding your Shih Tzu with a high-quality diet is another simple way to improve your dog’s health. Choosing a high-quality, nutritionally balanced diet that meets the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) guidelines is essential. Shih Tzus need an age-appropriate diet, especially during their first year of growth. Puppy food gives them everything they need to develop into healthy adults.

Shih Tzus are renowned for their love of snacks and being spoilt with human food. Only feed them what they need according to the food instructions, which vary between Shih Tzus depending on various factors. Whether you feed your pooch kibble, freeze-dried, wet, raw, or fresh diets such as The Farmer’s Dog, picking a high-quality diet is vital. Plus, if your Shih Tzu loves their food, they’ll become happier pups.

Spay & Neuter

Neutering and spaying dogs are more than just breeding control. It is also about improving their health and prolonging their lifespan. The University of Georgia found that these procedures can increase the canine life expectancy of males by 14% and females by 26%. Not neutering or spaying your dog can lower their lifespan by approximately two years. And it can also increase the chances of infections and developing certain cancers.

How To Help Your Shih Tzu Live A Long Life

Shih Tzu sitting in grass
The Shih Tzu might be short on size, but they are not short on personality.

Here is a list of things dog owners can do to improve their dog’s health and potentially increase their lifespan.

  1. Work With A Responsible Breeder. This is one of the most important steps to ensure that the puppy you are purchasing has had the best start in life. Although you cannot guarantee a healthy puppy, responsible breeders do everything possible to produce healthy pups. They are usually more expensive to work with, but you are less likely to face hefty vet bills in the future. Research them thoroughly.
  2. Visit The Vet Regularly. Regular health checks and vaccinations are the best tools in fighting disease and infection and identifying health problems early. Together they increase the likelihood of a long and healthy life.
  3. Spay Or Neuter At The Right Time. These procedures can decrease cancer development, but correct timing is crucial to their health. This varies between dogs, so speak to your vet about the best time to book them.
  4. Physical Exercise Is Key. It’s essential to keep your Shih Tzu active no matter how much they would love to lay on your lap all day. Just like us, physical exercise is the key to overall health.
  5. Mental Stimulation Is Important. Mental stimulation is as essential as physical exercise to keep dogs healthy and happy. Without it, they become stressed. Provide your Shiz Tzu with interactive games to play and toys to chew.
  6. Feed Them A High-Quality Diet. Providing your dog with a high-quality diet is vital to meeting their body’s nutritional needs. Look for a diet containing high-quality meat, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals.
  7. Dental Health Is Crucial. Your Shih Tzu’s dental health plays a significant role in their health, which is often overlooked. Brush their teeth several times a week from an early age.
  8. Think About Safety. Your Shih Tzu’s safety is your responsibility. Keep toxic food, broken dog toys, and protruding objects out of their way.
  9. Proper Training. Ensure your Shih Tzu receives adequate training and socialization from an early age to ensure a happier and healthier pup.
  10. Lots Of Love And Affection. It’s also super important to provide your Shih Tzu with the love and affection they deserve. Keep them company throughout the day to keep them happy and healthy.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Age Does A Shih Tzu Live To?

A Shih Tzu’s expected lifespan is between 10 and 18 years. Some dogs, like Smokey, can live much longer than this, but sadly, some Shih Tzus can live a shorter lifespan too. You cannot predict how long they might live, but there are a few things you can do to keep them as healthy and happy as possible.

Is The Shih Tzu A Healthy Breed?

Shih Tzus are a healthy breed, and this is reflected in their potentially long lifespan. Unfortunately, they are also predisposed to several health concerns, such as BOAS and renal dysplasia, that can dramatically reduce their lifespan. Every pup is different.

When Is A Shih Tzu Considered A Senior Dog?

Shih Tzus are typically considered senior dogs, around seven or eight. There is no set age, but they are usually regarded as old dogs when they start slowing down. When they become less active, you should consider feeding them a senior diet that can prevent age-related weight gain. Becoming overweight can significantly reduce a dog’s lifespan.

Final Thoughts

As a relatively healthy breed, most Shih Tzus aren’t short on years either. Although every Shih Tzu is different, you can expect to spend 10 to 18 years with them. By keeping them healthy and happy through the tips described above, you can actively work towards increasing their lifespan.

Shih Tzu puppy wearing bunny ears and bowtie on pink background

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The information provided through this website should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease; it is not intended to offer any legal opinion or advice or a substitute for professional safety advice or professional care. Please consult your health care provider, attorney, or product manual for professional advice. Products and services reviewed are provided by third parties; we are not responsible in any way for them, nor do we guarantee their functionality, utility, safety, or reliability. Our content is for educational purposes only.

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