Small-size dogs, or Toy dogs, suffer from breed specific health problems. The Shih Tzu is not an exception. There are several congenital diseases (dogs are born with these diseases) that might present serious health risks in this breed of dog: patellar luxation, back problems and eye abnormalities. If the timely and correct preventive care is provided and if the breeding stock is free from genetic defects, then you have a healthy Shih Tzu.
The patella or kneecap is usually located directly in the center of the knee joint. Luxation, or dislocation of the patella, occurs when the patella slides out of its groove. Patellar luxation occurs mostly in toy and small breeds of dogs weighing 22 pounds or less such as the Miniature poodle, Pomeranian, Yorkshire terrier, and some other toy breeds. Females are 1.5 times more affected than males. In most cases, luxation is a congenital condition, but it may appear some time later. It is thought to be inherited although the exact mode of transmission has not been determined. In some cases, the condition is acquired through trauma. Affected dogs may lame occasionally, or walk on three legs. Sometimes, a dog will show pain and hold his leg up. Surgery is the treatment of choice. Conservative treatments with prednisone and/or restricted activity doesn't give much benefit and is recommended mostly for mildly affected or older dogs.
Stenotic Nares is a condition where the narrow resticted nostril puts a strain on the dog's respiratory system which can lead to heart problems. In this disorder, the openings to the nostrils are too small and the puppy has a really hard time breathing through the nose. Stenotic nares is an inherited defect. When the surgery is performed the veterinarian removes a portion of the nasal cartilage to enlarge the nasal openings. An early surgical intervention can provide adequate airway flow that helps prevent the development of secondary problems like tracheal collapse and chronic bronchitis.
Dog cleft palate is a failure of the two sides of the palate to fuse correctly during the embryonic stage of developement. It can just be the soft tissue, in which case it is only cosmetic defect, but if the hard palate is affected, a puppy usually dies. It can be congenital or result from intoxication from using steroids, high dosages of vitamin A, and some antibiotics. A cleft palate can be corrected surgically, however the puppy must be old enough to undergo an anesthesia.
The Umbilical hernia is a small prolapse in the stomach wall, where the umbilical cord was attached. There is the possibility of the intestines stuck inside the hernia being twisted and the puppy dying consequently, especially if the hernia is large. If the hernia is congenital, it usually is non-painful, but when the hernia is caused by trauma the dog will be in pain and its overall condition will get progressively worse. Call your veterinarian if you notice an unusual protrusion from your puppy's abdomen to determine whether something needs to be done immediately. Sometimes cutting the umbilical cord too close at birth can cause an umbilical hernia, but it is generally considered an inherited defect.
Von Willebrand disease is considered to be a mild to moderate bleeding disorder and it results in a reduced quantity of a glycoprotein necessary for normal blood clotting. Clinical signs of bleeding that are typical of the decrease include bleeding from the gums, urinary system, nose bleed, intestinal bleeding, with or without diarrhea. Small haemorrhages on the gums may develop. Dogs affected with this disorder may experience prolonged bleeding at any site of injury, trauma or surgery.
Renal Cortical Hypoplasia
Renal Cortical Hypoplasia is a condition where the kidneys develop inadequately and are smaller than average. It usually results in infection and stone formation. Among other clynical signs are excessive urination, vomiting, convulsions, anemia and weakness. First signs may appear at 10 - 13 weeks of age.
Harderian Gland Prolapse (Cherry eye)
In Harderian Gland Prolapse (Cherry eye) condition, the gland of the third eyelid, which produces about one-third of the tear film, prolapses as a pink fleshy mass protruding over the edge of the third eyelid, between the third eyelid and the cornea (clear front part of the eye that provides the first step in the collection of light). The condition usually develops during the first year of life. The cause of the prolapse is unknown but is considered to be a weakness of the connective tissue around the gland. The gland starts to move and becomes irritated. Irritation leads to swelling and discharge. The third eyelid can become bloody and ulcerated and develops conjunctivitis. The treatment envolves a surgical procedure where the prolapsed gland is pushed back in its pocket. This procedure can be performed under local anesthesia.
Hypothyroidism is a thyroid malfunction that occurs when the thyroid gland stops functioning and producing thyroid hormone responsible for proper metabolism. This mulfunction is commonly attributed to immune system problems. It is usually affects middle-aged dogs and is seen in all breeds. Symptoms include hair loss, weight gain, muscle loss, and lethargy. If left untreated, it can result in heart problems. This disease is usually diagnosed through blood tests. It can be effectively treated with drug therapy.
General Respiratory Problems
Shih Tzu have a lot of respiratory problems related to the shape of their face and head (brachycephalic syndrome) which affects mostly dogs with a short nose (brachycephalic breeds). Due to an obstruction in the upper airways, the dog is forced to labored breathing. Not every brachycephalic dog will develop respiratory problems but most will to some degree or the other. Severe problems may require surgery.
Intervertebral Disk Disease - Back Problem
Intervertebral Disk Disease (IVD) in the dog is a common disorder manifested by acute pain, loss of movement coordination and paralysis. It commonly occurs in certain breeds of dogs called chondrodystrophoid breeds, such as Dachshund, Pekingese, French bulldog, Beagle, Basset Hound, American Cocker spaniel, Shih Tzu, Lhasa Apso, Welsh Corgi.