The Shih Tzu Life Span: How Long do Shih Tzu’s Live For?

shih tzu life span

A consideration when buying any breed of dog will be the average life span. Some dogs live longer than others, and some breeds don’t live for many years at all. The Shih Tzu life span falls somewhere in between. Here is how long Shih Tzus live for in human years, what they usually die from, and even the world’s oldest on record.

How long do shih tzus live for? The average Shih Tzu lifespan is between 10 and 16 years. As a small breed, Shih Tzus will live longer on average than larger dog breeds at 13 years, but they are still prone to various health issues due to their breeding and genetics.

That’s the short answer. But if you are planning on getting a Shih Tzu, there will be things you need to be aware of to help increase their average lifespan. You can read those tips lower down the page, but first a little more about how long this breed lives and why.

How long do shih tzus live on average?

Given that we know how long Shih Tzus live for, we can calculate an average age for life expectancy. The Shih Tzu life span ranges from 10 to 16 years, so the average age they live for will be 13 years old.

How long your Shih Tzu lives to in human years will depend on multiple factors though. This will include family genetics, how you care for them in terms of food and exercise, and how happy they are in life.

Handy Hint: Here are some signs to look for so you can tell if your Shih Tzu is leading a happy life and loves you.

What is the oldest living shih tzu?

The oldest living Shih Tzu on record was Smokie the dog. A resident of Florida, lived to the ripe old age of 23. He was reputed to be the oldest living dog at the time before he passed away 2009.

Many pet owners will make claims that they have the world’s oldest Shih Tzu. However, Smokie’s owners can make this claim better than most due to a veterinary record.

According to the website, this Shih Tzu was able to claim to be the oldest because:

“Claims that Smokey was older than the so called oldest dog at the time, was backed up by the VCA St. Petersburg Animal Hospital, which holds records giving Smokey’s birth date as January 18, 1986.”

Can shih tzus live 20 years?

Based on what we know about Smokie, we know it is possible for a Shih Tzu to be 20 years old, but this is extremely rare. In fact, so rare, I didn’t find any other records instances of Shih Tzus living to be 20 years old and over.

In simple terms, you should not expect a Shih Tzu to live to be 20 years old. It is very, very unlikely. If yours does, it could rival Smokie as being the oldest living on record.

how long do shih tzus live for
Your Shih Tzu could live longer on average if you keep them active, healthy, and happy. (Image via

What do shih tzus usually die from?

Health and genetics play a huge part in how long your Shih Tzu will live for. There are also certain health problems you will need be aware of, that typically account for more deaths in this breed than others.

So, the things that Shih Tzus usually die from in order of the most common, are:

  1. Old age
  2. Heart conditions
  3. Kidney failure

The above information is a quick primer on the Shih Tzu life span. If you are still seriously considering buy a dog like this, you should read the rest below… it will help to prepare you!

Shih Tzu character traits

Shih Tzus are small, stocky dogs with long hair. As companion dogs, they are ideal for less active owners as they do not require much of an exercise regime.

They are considered lively, however, and do become animated around people and other pets.

They do not view themselves as guard dogs and therefore do not bark or yap much. This makes them ideal for owners who live in built-up areas.

A Shih Tzu will not have a suspicious bone in its body. This is the type of dog that will gleefully welcome burglars and hopefully delay them with their cute antics until reinforcements arrive.

Although with a price tag of $1,000 and upward on a pup, it is more likely that a thief would be after the dog itself.

They are independent dogs and despite their innate intelligence, are seemingly difficult to train. In Stanley Coran’s book, entitled ‘The Intelligence of Dogs’, two hundred professional obedience judges were of this opinion.

They provided the following comparison:

  • Border Collies require five repetitions of an instruction before mastering it, and then they get it right 95% of the time.
  • Shih Tzu’s require 80-100 repetitions and once having mastered the instruction, are obedient only 25% of the time.

They probably have long memories of their elite standing in Tibetan society, and do not see the need to follow orders.

Physical characteristics and consequent problems to health

Unfortunately, there is a long list of physiological features of the breed that can cause health and hygiene problems, and affect how long your Shih Tzu will live for.

The Shih Tzu has a double coat of fur. It has an undercoat for warmth, much like ducks have downy feathers. It also has a coat with longer strands which helps this breed in colder weather.

In warm temperatures, the short hair is shed in order to cool the dog’s body. These hairs get caught in the longer coat and can cause matting if the dog is not groomed often. Matted hair provides opportunities for a variety of parasites to make their home in the dog’s fur.

If the long hair is cut in line with the shorter coat, less grooming is required but the continuous shedding of its hair will become more noticeable.

How long do shih tzus live on average
On average, you can expect a healthy Shih Tzu to live to the age of 13 in human years. (Image via

Constant grooming using the wrong technique and / or tools can give rise to abrasions or hotspots on the skin which may take a long time to heal.

The breed is also prone to skin allergies, so take care when choosing grooming products and parasite treatments, such as tick and flea powders, etc.

The skin allergies and possible infection, as well as overgrown hair, can cause the dog problems in the ear. Getting water in the ears, during bathing or swimming, as well as a build up of ear wax, can exacerbate these.

Shih Tzu’s are bred to have short faces. This can cause them breathing difficulties and other nasal problems. They also experience shortness of breath when becoming too active. Some airlines have restrictive policies when transporting dogs with this characteristic.

This breed has eyes that protrude slightly. This makes them prone to developing cataracts, dry eyes, tear duct infections and ingrown eyelashes. Care must also be taken not to play too roughly with them for fear of hurting their eyes.

Handy Hint: I’ve previously written a guide about Shih Tzu eye problems which will help you diagnose any issues.

Studies have shown that over a fifth (21%) of Shih Tzu’s have hip dysplasia. This is a painful and ultimately debilitating problem, especially as the dog ages.

They also, unfortunately, are prone to developing problems in the cartilaginous discs between their vertebrae which can cause them pain and difficulty moving about or walking. The first sign you will see will be a pronounced limp like this.

Sadly, the list continues. Shih Tzu’s are prone to digestive problems, hernias, kidney infections, liver disease and urinary stones. If left unchecked any of these can prove fatal.

They also need to have regular blood checks as the breed has a higher-than-average chance of developing blood clots.

Shih Tzu’s are also one of those breeds that are predisposed towards a nasty autoimmune dysfunction known as immune mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA). This can suddenly afflict your dog and put its life in danger within 24 hours, with a 50:50 chance of survival.

How to care for a Shih Tzu to help with a longer life span

Given the list of things that could go wrong with a Shih Tzu, it is advisable to choose your puppy carefully. Get to know the breeder well. An unscrupulous breeder may not know all the potential problems or ignore them for the sake of profit.

Also get to know the history of the puppy’s parents. If they have shown any signs of the conditions described above, the chances are high that the genes will be passed on to the offspring.

The next most important person in your dog’s life is going to be your vet. Regular check ups of all the problem areas are advisable. Also pay attention to the vaccinations required and any potential harmful side-effects associated with these.

Get to know your pet’s potential health problems, and do regular health check-ups at home as well, in order to pre-empt any problems that may occur between visits to the vet.

On a daily basis, the Shih Tzu’s diet is extremely important. Skin irritations are often a good indication that the dog is not responding well to its food. Apparently, they are fussy eaters, and may know what is best for them. A good diet may also stave off the predisposed problems that affect the dog’s internal organs.

How long do shih tzus live in human years
Prolong your Shih Tzu’s life span with a healthy diet, plenty of exercise, mental stimulation, regular vet visits, and of course… some much needed rest and recuperation when needed!

As they were designed to be layabouts, and are not above being bribed to do as they are told, be careful not to overdo it with the treats. Include the calory count in their daily allowance. Try to keep these to whole food such as carrots, cucumbers and cauliflower.

Unnecessary weight gains will exacerbate any latent hip dysplasia and intervertebral disc problems. Obesity also causes digestive problems, hypertension and heart disease, even in dogs.

Frequent and regular grooming will help regulate your dog’s temperature. Because of their compromised airways, Shih Tzu’s can easily develop heat stroke even when conditions are tolerable for humans.

A clean and neat coat will also help to keep the dog free from parasites.

Your pet will need frequent but not strenuous exercise to keep its lymphatic system active. This will strengthen the dog’s immunity and help it to fight opportunistic diseases and infections.

When choosing a lead, opt for a harness which does not restrict airflow to the airways. The dog is already at a disadvantage because of its short snout and you do not want to cause additional stress.

Shih Tzu’s have small bladders and need to urinate frequently in order to prevent the build up of toxins in the system. Some owners have experienced difficulty with toilet training because of this.


On average, Shih Tzus have a longer life expectancy than large dog breeds. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be prone to health issues which could reduce their life span on a an individual basis.

As owners, you need to have adequate pet insurance and make sure this dog gets enough exercise. It won’t need a lot, but it still needs to be kept active and health to live longer.

Shih Tzu means ‘Little Lion’ in its mother tongue. It is a toy dog, first bred in Tibet, as a companion for royalty and the aristocracy. It was designed to lounge around on silk cushions, being fanned by the court staff and constantly groomed.

That doesn’t mean you should not exercise them though.

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Marc Aaron

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

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