Shih Tzu Cold Weather Guide: How to Keep a Shih Tzu Warm in Winter

shih tzu cold weather

Shih Tzus don’t really like cold weather and get cold on winter nights. They are breed that’s sensitive to the cold and can also become poorly when the temperature starts to drop. In fact, Shih Tzus can get colds just humans can.

In the following guide, I will explain all you need to know about Shih Tzus and cold weather. It includes tips on how you can keep your Shih Tzu warm in the winter months, plus advice on safety to keep them healthy and comfortable.

Why Shih Tzus don’t tolerate cold weather

You might wonder; do Shih Tzus get cold? The answer would be yes, Shih Tzus do get cold in winter. This breed is brachycephalic which contributes towards them being more sensitive to lower temperatures. Their bodies lose heat quickly compared to other dogs, and they get breathing problems due to the elongated soft palate.

Their short coats don’t help either, as this means they feel the cold more with not as much winter protection as a longer-haired dog would have.

In simple terms, Shih Tzus have not been bred to be outdoor dogs. Being sensitive to cold, they can become dehydrated and suffer with hypothermia in dangerously low temperatures. They are breed that you really need to take special care of in cold winter temperatures.

are Shih Tzus sensitive to cold
Shih Tzus can be very sensitive to cold weather and snow so will need extra cuddles. (Image licensed via StoryBlocks.com)

Signs your Shih Tzu is cold

There are some common symptoms that hint your dog is suffering in cold weather. If you see your Shih Tzu suffering with any of these, you should make them warmer and in some cases seek professional advice.

  • Your dog refuses to go outside.
  • Your dog starts to make a nest, for example pulling at blankets or burrowing in bed.
  • Your dog has the shivers.
  • Your dog appears to be lethargic.
  • Your dog lifts their paws off the ground when outside.
  • Your dog is barking or whining.

During very cold weather, Shih Tzus can even get frostbite and hypothermia. The latter is a deadly condition that results in blood no longer circulating round the dog’s body, weakness, stiff muscles, and eventual slowed heartbeat and kidney failure.

Signs of hypothermia include:

That all sounds very serious, but providing you look after your Shih Tzu properly in the cold winter months, you should have nothing to worry about.

However, even when you do take special care, your Shih Tzu might develop some of the less serious symptoms. For example, your Shih Tzu could actually catch a cold. I have described canine cold symptoms lower down the page, so you know what to look out for.

How cold is too cold for a Shih Tzu?

There will be a point when the winter gets too cold for a Shih Tzu. The temperature that is too cold for Shih Tzus is around 4 degrees Celsius (40 degrees Fahrenheit). This can be too cold, and if combined with wet weather, or with older dogs or puppies, the danger is increased.

If your Shih Tzu is lifting their paws off the ground, then it’s obviously way too cold for them. At this point, it’s too late, so check out the infographic below which shows what temperature your Shih Tzu should be comfortable at.

how cold is too cold
The numbers in this infographic are based on research I found courtesy of the Tufts Animal Care and Conditions scale. If you would like to use it on your own website, then please do – but just link back to Doggysaurus.com as way of credit.

Once the temperatures creep into the green and blue numbers, it’s too cold for your Shih Tzu, and means their health could be in danger.

Handy Hint: Here are some tips you can use to keep your dog warm at night when sleeping inside or outside the house.

How to keep your Shih Tzu warm in cold weather

Here’s what you need to do when temperatures start to drop, and how you can keep your Shih Tzu warm in cold weather. It also includes suggestions for walking in the cold, snow, and ice, and what items you should buy to help keep your Shih Tzu warm.

1. Winter health check

Older dogs are far more prone to suffering in the cold weather, as are young puppies. Low temperatures can bring on illnesses quicker and affect an existing medical condition.

When the temperatures start to drop before winter, make sure you take your Shih Tzu to the vets to get a health check. They will be able to identify anything that could get worse as it gets colder.

2. Move their bed and supply more bedding

Temperatures drop lower during the night, and this is when your Shih Tzu could be at their coldest. Think about where their bed is and whether it could be moved into a warmer position; for example, is it next to a door or near a draft?

You should also consider giving them some more bedding and blankets to keep them warmer. Your Shih Tzu will be able to make a warm nest at night and get all cosy… but don’t let them get too warm as this can also have a negative effect.

do shih tzus get cold
Shih Tzus do get cold but you can help with a warm fire, extra clothing, extra bedding and blankets. (Image via https://pixabay.com/photos/shih-tzu-dog-pet-animal-canine-499390/)

3. Don’t overfeed your Shih Tzu in winter

Most people tend to walk their dogs less during the winter. The combination of the lower temperatures and dampness are enough to put most people off.

Of course, that means your Shih Tzu won’t be getting as much exercise as before, so you might want to consider how much you feed them to avoid weight issues.

Keep your Shih Tzu’s weight at a sensible weight. Whilst “feeding a cold” does have some validity to it, with more food keeping their energy levels up, it’s a fine balance.

4. Make sure their drinking water isn’t too cold

Keep an eye on how cold your dog’s water is. Water that is too cold can make dogs ill, including exacerbating exiting cold symptoms and giving them a sore throat.

Make sure their drinking water isn’t freezing over if left outside and leave their bowl near a warmer place inside of the house. If you do leave water outdoors for them, here’ s how to stop it freezing over in winter.

Also think about the water coming through your tap. If the pipes are near frozen, cold water will be too cold, so run tepid water instead into their bowl.

5. Don’t go for walks when it’s too cold

Your Shih Tzu might be begging to go outside, but exercise a commonsense approach. If it’s too cold outside, use up some of their energy indoors.

With our dog, we play with him using a laser pen which he chases up and down the kitchen until he’s puffed out. It keeps his fitness levels and weight in check, and means we don’t have to go outside when it’s too cold for him.

6. Use potty training pads indoors

When it’s too cold for your Shih Tzu to even go outdoors and pee, you need a solution. I’d recommend puppy pad – you might have used this when potty training your Shih Tzu puppy. They work just as well with adult dogs.

You can buy a large packet of them on Amazon. Your dog is bound to remember how to use them, so should be ideal in cold winter weather.

7. Always use a collar and chip

Wintertime is one of the riskier times of year for dogs to get lost. With those dark evenings, possible snow, and their reaction to the unusual environments, dogs will often wander.

If you are taking your Shih Tzu for a walk, and it’s not too cold, make sure they have a collar and chip on so they can be easily identified.

8. Buy a winter jacket for your Shih Tzu

In recent years there has been an explosion of Shih Tzu accessories and clothing lines. Most are a bit gimmicky, but in cold weather, they are essential for winter walking and paw protection. Here are a couple I recommend.

Canada Pooch dog parka jacket (on Amazon)

This one has luxurious Sherpa lining to keep your Shih Tzu warm this winter. It even has cargo pockets in it, although not sure what your dog will want to carry? Perhaps some small treats?

Gooby padded winter coat

This won’t win any style awards, but that’s not really the point. It’s extremely warm and is rated very highly by Shih Tzu owners the world over. You can attach a leash or lead to it easily, it’s water resistant, has a simply to use zipper, and offers a snug fit.

Before you buy, make sure you measure your pup up properly. There is information and prices on the Amazon page (click the photo below).

Didog reflective winter coat

My third recommendation is the Didog winter jacket. What I like most about it is the reflective material. This should help you see your dog on a dark winter’s night and also ensure cars see them before it’s too late.

It’s just as warm as the Gooby, it’s all down to personal preference on what you buy. Keep your Shih Tzu warm this winter just like others have done.

9. Don’t forget winter paw protection

You should be looking at your Shih Tzu’s paw during the winter months to check for cracks and wounds. Paws are very susceptible to cold weather and ice, and can deteriorate very quickly, becoming painful – with even the possibility of frostbite!

You can buy winter boots for Shih Tzus on Amazon. Here’s a quick Amazon recommendation to check out.

10. Trim nails to stop skidding and injury

If you don’t think it’s cold enough to buy winter boots, you should still maintain your Shih Tzu’s paws in winter, and in particular their nails.

Longer nails and claws won’t have the right traction on ice and compacted snow, and if not trimmed down could lead to slipping and injuries.

11. Avoid street salt and chemicals such as anti-freeze

During icy weather, humans tend to put salt and chemicals on the roads and pavements to stop vehicles and people slipping. Whilst this is ok for us, on doggy paws that are not protective, it can be painful – the same goes for chemicals like anti-freeze which could be split.

This is a risk with Shih Tzus that are not wearing adequate have paw protection in the winter.

12. Don’t let them eat snow

Your Shih Tzu is almost guaranteed to love seeing snow for the first time. It’s an unusual feeling for them, so they will probably want to roll about in it.

Dogs being dogs, they will often want to eat snow too. It might seem cute, but it could make them ill if it has urine, poop, or chemical traces in it. Don’t let your Shih Tzu eat snow, it could make them ill in the cold weather season.

13. Don’t let them get wet

The biggest risk to your Shih Tzu’s health in cold weather is when the cold combines with damp. It can cause hypothermia or in less serious cases, cold symptoms.

After a walk or play in the snow, make sure you towel them down properly, even using a hair dryer if they will let you.

Check for snow stuck into their fur and paws as this will quickly turn to cold water once you get back indoors, making their bedding damp too.

14. Don’t leave them in your car

Everyone knows how fatal cars can be when it’s hot, but it’s equally true in winter too. A cold car can be a killer so don’t leave your beloved Shih Tzu in your car or truck.

15. How to keep a Shih Tzu warm at night

I’ve already touched on a few ideas on how to keep your Shih Tzu warm in winter, some of which can be used at night too. I wanted to offer a few more tips here as well, as once night falls, the temperature will drop.

  • Place their bed away from doors, drafts and out of cold rooms.
  • Use a (not too) hot water bottle.
  • Use a bed that is raised off the floor to avoid the cold floor.
  • Perhaps let them sleep with you in your bed.
  • Put more blankets than usual in their bed
  • Position their bedding in doughnut shaped ring for them to get warmer in.
  • Don’t let them sleep too close to a radiator or heat source.

Handy Hint: Ever wondered why dogs love rolling in snow so much? I put a guide together which explains dogs love affair with snow.

Shih Tzu cold symptoms

As you will now know, Shih Tzus can get colds. If you think your Shih Tzu is ill during cold winter weather and low temperatures, it could be a slight cold.

Like humans, the first sign might be a little sniffle and sneeze here and there.

But, just like us again, the symptoms can soon develop into a more serious illness if not treated appropriately.

Shih Tzus don’t cope well with cold weather and winter. As a brachycephalic breed, the cavities in their skull are smaller than other dogs, meaning mucus can block the cavity.

Once that happens, your Shih Tzu could get a more serious winter illness such as dehydration, hypothermia, or even pneumonia. With that in mind, it’s important to recognise the cold and flu symptoms in your Shih Tzu before it gets too serious.

Here’s what you should always be on the lookout for:

  • Runny nose and nasal discharge.
  • Runny or watery eyes.
  • Sneezing.
  • Wheezing or wet-sounding cough.
  • Lack of appetite.
  • Shivering.
  • Warm ears.
  • Trouble breathing normally.
  • General lethargy.

Should you worry about slight sniffles?

Almost every Shih Tzu will have a cold symptom once in their lifetime, with the winter being the prime season for it. In the main, some sniffles here and there, or wetter nose than usual isn’t something to worry too much about.

When you should be concerned would be if your Shih Tzu starts to cough in winter. This will need immediate vet support, as it could lead to a chest infection in the cold weather.

You can do your own check; put your ear to your Shih Tzu’s chest. It should sound clear but rattling and gurgling sounds are a sign of possible cold and mucus on the chest area.

Some dog owners try to treat their Shih Tzu’s cold without the help of a vet. I don’t recommend it, but the ones who do use a canine nebulizer. More on that in a moment.

How to treat a Shih Tzu with a cold

Here’s how to treat a Shih Tzu cold. Please note though, this should not replace professional vet’s advice and is purely tips I have found after researching online, plus reading vet comments on trusted web forums.

1. Encourage fluid intake

Dehydration is a risk I winter cold weather, so your Shih Tzu needs to be taking on enough fluids to stave off any risk. But of course, when dogs are sick, sometimes it’s hard to get them to drink, so you could try adding chicken broth to the water bowl.

2. Add extra nutrition to their food

Your Shih Tzu might also have lost their appetite due to the cold and can quickly start to lose their strength. Try changing them into something like boiled chicken with brown rice for added nutrition.

3. Feed extra dietary supplements

You can also try adding some supplements into the food to help cure the cold symptoms. These can include items such as coconut oil, cinnamon, and honey. The experts say that these supplements can help Shih Tzus recover from colds as they will help to improve the immune system and can also act as a natural cough medicine.

4. Limit outdoors time and maximise rest

Limit their physical activity and don’t let them outdoors into the colder temperatures. The only reason they should go outside is for toilet breaks – but if you can, switch to puppy pads indoors.

5. Love and affection

What’s the one thing that made you feel better when you had a cold as a kid? It was cuddles and affection from your parents… and some Shih Tzus can be the same. See if they want close up love or need their space – they will all react differently.

Handy Hint: Shih Tzus show love and affection in many different ways. Here’s how to know if your Shih Tzu loves you and is happy with life.

6. Hot water bottle

If they don’t want you getting close to them, you could heat up a water bottle and put it in their bed. Not too warm of course, but enough to raise their temperatures to a comfortable level.

7. Dog nebulizer

Before writing this article on Shih Tzus and cold weather, I didn’t realize you could use nebulizers on dogs. However, a vet told me that some owners will manage their dog’s cold themselves using one of these.

8. Steam vaporizer

Just like us, steam vaporizers can help to clear your Shih Tzu’s bronchial tubes and help relieve many Shih Tzu cold symptoms, making them breathe so much easier. Put it close to their bed, but not so they can knock it over.

9. Apply Shih Tzu nose balm

Shih Tzus can get cracked and dry noses in winter cold weather, or it can go the other way, with their nose starting to run. For cracked and dry skin, you should try dog nose butter or balm on Amazon. It is organic and will soothe and repair any cracks.

When you should call the vet

There are certain things to look out for which really demand a call into your vet. Your Shih Tzu’s cold could get worse, with the following signs:

  • Your Shih Tzu has started to cough.
  • Your Shih Tzu stops taking on fluids.
  • Your Shih Tzu appears to be in constant pain.
  • Your Shih Tzu has a rattling chest sound.

If it’s an older Shih Tzu or puppy, I wouldn’t even wait this long. With the slightest sign of a cold, I would call a vet for advice. They are more susceptible in these ages to develop colds in winter temperatures.

Here’s how one vet said they would treat a Shih Tzu with a cold:

“We often have owners bring their dogs in during wintertime. It’s peak time for sure. We treat Shih Tzus with colds just like we do any other dog; with a small course of antibiotics. This works by killing bacteria and helping them build up their immune system until their cold has subsided.”

Conclusion

Shih Tzus in cold weather don’t really work out too well. These little guys need warmth in the winter, so please be careful at this time of year when snow, ice, and colder temperatures become the norm.

As a breed, they are one of the most at risk when it comes to cold weather intolerance.

Whilst Shih Tzus can tolerate cold weather to a degree, there is a tipping point at which you should pay more attention – you can see those temperature ranges in the graphic higher up in this guide.

You might also like…

I’ve written other guides to help you look after your Shih Tzu, here’s a selection of the most recent.

Image in header via https://pixabay.com/photos/dog-sleeping-shih-tzu-pet-canine-871773/

Marc Aaron

I write about the things I've learned about owning a dog, the adventures we have, and any advice and tips I've picked up along the way.

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