How to care for your Senior Shih Tsu
Most vets classify a Shih Tzu as a senior between 9 and 10 years of age. The Shih Tzu lifespan is 10-18 years according to American Kennel Club and the latter end of a Shih Tzu’s lifespan is typically 14-16 years.
An aging Shih Tzu requires special care and has unique needs. It is important to pay close attention to your aging Shih Tzu's weight, diet and exercise habits, as well as changes in behavior. Vet visits are recommended every 6 months.
You and your pup can still enjoy making many memories. Proper care for your Shih Tzu as he grows older can extend your time together and keep your pet healthy, happy, and comfortable.
Signs of Aging and Tips for Senior Care
While it is difficult to think about our Shih Tzus growing old, it is an important consideration of being an owner. As a Shih Tzu transitions from adult to senior, it's important for owners to know what to expect, the type of changes in care that are needed, and which common age-related health issues and ailments that affect senior dogs.
Unsurprisingly, many signs of your aging Shih Tzu are similar to what a human may experience as they grow older. Not all senior pups will display every sign of aging, and the change is usually a slow transition. As your Shih Tzu gets up in years, you'll will most likely start to notice some of the following indications of aging:
Hearing loss is a prominent indicator of aging, and as your Shih Tzu gets older, his hearing may start to gradually fade. Signs that an older dog is having trouble include not responding to their name or to commands and/or being startled when approached. A vet exam should rule out other issues that can mimic hearing loss, such as ear infections.
-To help a senior that's having trouble with hearing, you can start to incorporate hand signals along with commands and then turning on a light to catch her attention. Try to approach your Shih Tzu from the front or side, not the back.
Weight gain is common if diet and exercise routines are not followed consistently. Similar to humans, as a dog ages, their metabolism slows down. If your dog continues to follow the same diet as he ages and especially if his activity decreases, then you might notice that he starts to gain weight. Weight loss is less common but can also occur. As your dog ages, his dietary needs change. It is necessary to adjust your senior dog's diet and make it a point to keep them moving.
-Sometimes switching to a dog food designed for weight control or to food specifically created for senior dogs, can help keep your Shih Tzu’s weight in check. If your dog has sensitive teeth, or other issues with her gums or teeth as she ages, then you can soften her food with warm water to make it easier for her to eat.
Shih Tzu are known for their lovable temperament and playfulness. As your pet ages, you will notice that he isn’t jumping, playing or getting as excited to go on a walk as he used to. The older your Shih Tzu gets, the less he will engage in physical activity and the more he will sleep during the day.
-Provide a warm, supportive bed. Having good orthopedic support is vital to relieve pressure points, offer the right type of cushioning for the body, and provide warmth. Side bolsters are also excellent for providing good neck support which can cut down on snoring and other breathing disturbances that can interfere with sleep.
A senior Shih Tzu's skin dries out easier as it is not retaining moisture as well as it was when she was younger. Dry skin equals itchy skin, and the health of your dog's coat is directly related to the health of her skin. If her skin is dry, then her coat will start to thin and dry out as well, and her hair can become brittle. When her coat reaches this point, you may start to notice that some of your Shih Tzu's hair starts to fall out in varying degrees. There can also be issues with the nails. As a dog ages, nails can get brittle, causing them to break off or split, which can be very painful. This can be due to issues with nutrient absorption, which is common to a certain extent with seniors and in particular may be linked to vitamin B 12.
-Be sure that your senior Shih Tzu is hydrated enough (you may need to encourage water intake) and consider using humidifiers in the wintertime. You can try to add some foods like liver, fish, or eggs into the diet. And, since shorter nails are less prone to breaking off, keep them trimmed down. Speak with your vet about recommending Omega-3 supplement can help keep her nails, skin, and coat healthy or other supplements to help your pet with her joints and other issues associated with aging.
Lumps, bumps, and warts
Lumps and bumps can be a scary sign of aging. Finding a lump on your Shih Tzu can induce panic. People often associate lumps with a possible sign of cancer, and the first instinct is to fear the worst-case scenario. The wart (or papilloma) is most often flesh colored and looks similar to a head of cauliflower with small flesh-colored “heads” clustered together.
Dog warts are caused by a virus called the Papillomavirus which can be transmitted through contact with an infected dog, through toys, bowls, bedding, through cuts and abrasions, or via pests like mosquitoes and fleas. Whether or not a dog develops warts after exposure to the virus depends on their immune system. Warts are frequently found in older dogs because they tend to have less robust immune systems. If warts are not causing any problems for your dog in terms of movement, infection, or pain, it’s still usually the best choice to leave the growths alone and simply watch and wait. Dog Skin Lumps & Bumps: When You Should Worry (akc.org)
-It is definitely important to get any lump that you notice on your Shih Tzu examined by a vet, however, many times these lumps are harmless and just come with the territory of old age. In fact, many vets will simply call them, “old age bumps.” Make sure harness do not rub on any skin growths and inform your groomer of any areas they need to be cautious around.
Difficulty getting up
Your senior might feel a little stiffer when standing up after laying down for some time and it takes her longer than usual to stand up after she has been resting. This could be due to general stiffness as your Shih Tzu is not using her muscles as much anymore or it can be a sign of arthritis in the joints. Arthritis usually affects the hip, knees, and leg areas for Shih Tzus. If you notice that she cannot stand at all, or her backside drops to the floor, she should see a vet immediately as this can be a sign of a more serious condition.
-For example, if your dog is having hip or joint issues and jumping is painful or hard for her, then you may want to invest in doggy steps or a doggy ramp to help her get up and down from any high places that she is used to going, such as the sofa or your bed (if you let your canine pal sleep with you, of course.)
Cloudy eyes and loss of vision
Along with hearing your pup may experience some loss of vision as well. As his eyes get older, you might notice that they grow cloudy. He could develop cataracts or his ability to see in the dark could be significantly reduced. Signs of decreased vision with senior dogs include: bumping into household objects, possibly appearing disorientated and having trouble finding belongings such as toys and food and water bowls. Some seniors will simply freeze as soon as the lights go out because they basically become blind. Cloudy eyes can be considered a normal sign of aging, but they should be checked by your vet to rule out more serious conditions.
-If your Shih Tzu is having trouble seeing, then make it a point to keep your furniture in the same position, don’t leave random items lying around that can hurt or trip up your pup, and keep pathways clear. Motion lights can help provide confidence during darkness.
Your senior Shih Tzu will need more frequent potty breaks as he does not have the same bladder control as he used to. If your schedule keeps you away from home for most of the day, then you will need to consider your dog’s weaker bladder and provide proper accommodations to your pet.
-If your older dog is having trouble holding her bladder for long periods of time, more frequent potty breaks are helpful, but they are not always practical. A doggy diaper can help keep things under control, or you can train your pup to use an indoor potty area that you set up with training pads or other products designed for indoor doggy “bathrooms.”
Unless you have been extremely vigilant with dental care for your dog, then the odds are good that your aging Shih Tzu s teeth may not be in the best of shape. Preventative dental care is much more widely available but is often cost prohibitive. Bad breath is usually caused by gum or dental disease, but not always. Other reasons include –
Kidney disease/kidney failure
Ingesting a toxin
Tumours in the mouth
Your dog is simply eating poop
In addition to the signs of aging listed above, there are a few other things that you can expect as your Shih Tzu gets older. Some dogs want to spend more time with their owners, while other dogs would rather find their favorite spot and be left alone for long stretches of time. The latter is especially true for older dogs that live in households with young children or puppies. Often senior dogs tend to lose patience for these energetic housemates.
Shih Tzu, no matter what their age, have difficulty handling very warm weather, so you probably have already gotten used to how to make accommodations for your pup so she doesn’t get overheated. Older Shih Tzu, however, have trouble adjusting to chilly weather as well.
A senior dog needs to have routine health visits every six months. More frequent vet visits are necessary because as a dog ages, her immune system weakens, and infections and other issues can attack faster and develop more quickly. In addition to the routine checks performed at wellness visits, your vet will check your senior pet for any issues with her hips, knees, and other joints; liver, kidney and heart function; and for hearing and vision loss. More frequent vet visits are necessary because as a dog ages, her immune system weakens, and infections and other issues can attack faster and develop more quickly. Therefore, more frequent vet visits will ensure that any health concerns are detected as early as possible.
It’s important to note that most of these changes are gradual. In fact, sometimes, they happen so slowly over time that they are not noticed by many owners. If you do notice some significant, dramatic changes in your dog’s behavior, such as not eating at all for more than a couple days, acting extremely frightened or being overly clingy, then these could be signs of a health issue and should be evaluated by a vet.
Health Conditions Specific to Older Shih Tzu
As dogs get older, their immune systems weaken, which makes them more susceptible to these different conditions. An older Shih Tzu is, of course, prone to the same breed-specific potential health issues that exist for all Shih Tzu.
As Shih Tzu get older, though, they can develop the canine equivalent of dementia, known as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. There are a few symptoms that can point to dementia, however, these signs can also indicate a host of other issues, so if you notice any of them, it is best to have your vet evaluate your dog.
The signs that can potentially be a clue that your Shih Tzu has dementia are:
Having trouble negotiating around the house
Not responding to his name and or things that are happening around him
Acting withdrawn or depressed
Trouble following simple commands that were once understood
Staring at nothing
Becoming easily startled
A decreased desire for interaction
Changes in eating patterns
If dementia is found to be the cause, there is an approved medication for this. While it does not cure the disease, it can bring about improvement. The most popular one is selegiline (brand name Anipryl). It is very similar to Deprenyl, which is used to Parkinson's disease in humans and it is also used to treat Cushing's disease in canines. (about $140 for a 1-month supply.)
Overall, you and your aging Shih Tzu can continue to enjoy many happy years together.
Your job as a caring and responsible owner is to make sure that you know how to properly care for your senior pet. It is up to you to get her the proper health checks and make any needed adjustments to help your pet adapt to the changes that she is experiencing.
If you are ever in doubt about what to do for your dog, then talk to your vet!
This article adapted from The Complete Guide to Caring for An Aging Shih Tzu (everythingshihtzu.com) Check out the rest of the site to find great tips and resources about Shih Tzu and how to be the best owner that you can be!