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Do Shih Tzus Have Breathing Problems? Vet Approved Facts & FAQ


Mar 29, 2023
shih tzu eyes close up


shih tzu eyes close up
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If you’re thinking about getting a Shih Tzu or already have one, there are a few common health concerns you should be aware of. For starters, Shih Tzus are far more likely to have breathing problems due to a few characteristics of the breed, and because of this, there are a few things you need to do to keep them safe.

We’ve highlighted everything you need to know here, as well as a few additional common health problems a Shih Tzu can experience.


Reasons for Shih Tzu Breathing Problems

While Shih Tzus certainly are more likely to have breathing problems, there are a few different reasons for this. There are biological traits that make it more likely to have these problems, and we’ve highlighted them for you here:

close up of a shih tzu dog panting outside
Image Credit: opalledo, Shutterstock

Brachycephalic Airway Obstruction Syndrome

This is one of the most serious problems that can affect a Shih Tzu’s breathing and consists of several other conditions. Signs of Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS) include excessive snoring, respiratory noise, mouth breathing, and respiratory distress.1

There is no cure for BOAS, and it’s extremely common with Shih Tzus. If your Shih Tzu suffers from BOAS, they can’t handle excessive amounts of exercise, and they’re especially prone to heat stroke.

Elongated Soft Palates

Shih Tzus often have elongated soft palates in relation to their overall head shape.2 This leads to an abnormally narrow windpipe, and it’s extremely common for Shih Tzus. In layperson’s terms, the Shih Tzu has a very flat face, which doesn’t give them enough space to have thicker windpipes, leading to breathing problems.

Stenotic Nares

Stenotic nares are talking about the nostrils of the dog. Many people call this symptom “pinched nostrils.” This condition occurs when the nostrils of the Shih Tzu are extra small, which makes it harder for them to pull in air through them.

shih tzu with puppy cut
Image Credit: AlexFilim, Shutterstock

Collapsed Tracheas

This is a very severe and potentially life-threatening condition that can affect your Shih Tzu. As the name implies, it happens when the Shih Tzu’s windpipe collapses inward. Trauma can cause this condition, but it can also occur naturally. Shih Tzus are especially prone to this condition.

Tips to Avoid Shih Tzu Breathing Problems

Now that you know that Shih Tzus often suffer from breathing problems, it’s up to you to take the necessary steps to keep those problems from worsening and limit the likelihood that your Shih Tzu will suffer from the worst symptoms in the first place. Below, we’ve highlighted a few things you should do if you have a Shih Tzu.

Get a Family History

Before you adopt your Shih Tzu, do yourself a favor and get a complete family history from the breeder and reach out to references. Since most of these breathing issues are genetic, if the parent doesn’t suffer from the worst symptoms, it’s less likely that the puppies will.

Black shih tzu puppy sitting in grass
Image Credit: Brian Muck, Shutterstock

Keep Temperatures Cool

Shih Tzus are especially prone to heatstroke, so keeping their environment cool will go a long way in preventing some of the worst symptoms from seriously affecting your pup. Keep them indoors as much as possible during the hottest days of the year, and limit exercise even further as things start to warm up.

Get the Right Sized Collar

A collar that is too tight can put extra pressure on your Shih Tzu’s trachea. Since the Shih Tzu is more likely to have a narrower airway that’s more prone to collapse, it’s important to get a collar that fits them correctly.

Use a Humidifier

Dry environments tend to irritate your Shih Tzu’s airways, so having an area with enough humidity can help alleviate some of the worst symptoms. It’s especially beneficial to put a humidifier near your pup’s sleeping area.

humidifier with light
Image Credit: Anke Sundermeier, Pixabay

Limit Exercise

While you want to keep your Shih Tzu healthy and happy, you can’t give them too much exercise. The problem is the more you exercise them, the higher their body temperatures get, making it more likely for them to suffer from heat stroke.

You can certainly take them out for walks, but try to avoid the hottest days of the year, don’t take them for long runs, and ensure they get plenty of water.

divider-dog paw

Other Common Shih Tzu Health Concerns

Shih Tzus are more prone to breathing problems than many other breeds, but it’s not the only health concern you need to keep an out for. Below, we’ve highlighted a few more problems Shih Tzus are likely to develop.

Ear Infections

Shih Tzus have floppy ears and hair in their ear canals, which is a prime recipe for ear infections. Ear infections can also come from allergies. If your Shih Tzu is suffering from frequent ear infections, bring it up to your vet and they should be able to help you get to the bottom of what’s going on.

Female veterinarian cleaning ears to nice Shih tzu dog with ear cleaning rod or cotton stick
Image Credit: Orawan Pattarawimonchai, Shutterstock

Canine Dental Disease

Canine dental disease is far from a problem that solely affects Shih Tzus. It’s one of the most common issues affecting dogs, and Shih Tzus aren’t exempt. To help prevent this problem, brush your Shih Tzus teeth at least once a day.

Eye Problems

A Shih Tzu’s eyes protrude a bit from the head, making them more susceptible to a wide range of eye problems. Common eye problems affecting Shih Tzus include glaucoma, dry eye, and cataracts.


Final Thoughts

Now that you know about a Shih Tzu’s common breathing problems, it’s up to you to take the necessary steps to control the situation and keep them safe. They’re a very loving and adorable breed, though, so don’t let their breathing problems keep you from adopting one—just know how to handle the situation beforehand and don’t hesitate to reach out to a vet for further advice!

Featured Image Credit: Anne Kitzman, Shutterstock

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