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Shih Tzus are prone to a few health problems and have some specific nutritional needs to consider when it comes to choosing the best dog food for them.
Stay with me, and we’ll take a look at this little dog in detail, followed by my recommendations of the best dog food for Shih Tzus.
Here’s a sneaky peak:
Our 4 top picks of the best dog food for Shih Tzus in 2021:
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How many calories does my Shih Tzu need?
How many calories your Shih Tzu needs depends on her size and activity levels. Shih Tzus are small breed dogs who can weigh between 9 - 16 lb, and there isn’t usually much difference in size between males and females with this breed. According to Pet Breeds, on average, a Shih Tzu weighs 13 lb.
Here are the calorie calculations* based on this weight:
*Calculated using Dog Food Advisor’s handy dog calorie calculator based on an average weight. Consult with your vet to get a specific amount for your dog.
While these dogs may need fewer calories overall compared to large breed dogs, they need more calories per pound of body weight. This is because they have faster metabolisms and burn off energy at a quicker rate.
A typical 13 lb Shih Tzu may only need 420 calories, while a typical Rottweiler weighing 110 lb consumes a whopping 2100 calories. However, if we do the math, a Shih Tzu needs 32 calories per pound, while a Rottweiler needs only 19 calories per pound.
Shih Tzus have small stomachs, however, and don’t eat large amounts. For this reason, it’s important to look for a dog food specifically designed for small breeds, which contains the right amount of calories for her.
Common health problems in Shih Tzus and how choosing the right food can help
Shih Tzus can suffer from hypothyroidism, which occurs when the thyroid underproduces a hormone necessary for metabolism. Signs of an underactive thyroid can include lethargy, weight gain, and hair loss. This condition can be managed well with medication prescribed by your vet.
A dog food that includes fruits and vegetables will help her stay healthy, as many dogs with hypothyroidism lack necessary vitamins and minerals. She should also consume a diet reduced in fat.
The mineral iodine is essential for dogs with this condition, as it helps thyroid function. Kelp is a very good source of iodine, which you can look out for in dog food. You can also buy iodine supplements.
According to the American Shih Tzu Club, more than 85 percent of Shih Tzus ages two years and older have periodontal disease. The condition occurs when there is a buildup of plaque, which hardens and forms tartar on the tooth. This can then spread under the gum line, causing tissue damage and eventually leading to loss of the tooth.
Therefore, your Shih Tzu should eat dry food, as the hard texture of kibble can help to remove plaque. You must also get into a daily teeth-cleaning routine before this condition has a chance to set in, as, once it does, it’s usually too late to significantly improve it.
Shih Tzus are prone to allergies. She can suffer from seasonal, flea, or food allergies, all of which usually manifest as itchy, red skin.
If your dog suffers from these skin problems, a dog food with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids can help to reduce inflammation, calming her itchy skin. You can also give your dog fish oil supplements, which are rich in omega-3s.
If your Shih Tzu has loose stool or diarrhea, it is likely that she has a food allergy. In this case, I advise you to avoid grains like corn, soy, and wheat, as well as beef, and dairy, as these are common allergens.
You can also look for a “limited ingredient” dog food which usually includes just one protein and carb source to try to narrow down what she could be allergic to.
Bone and joint problems
Intervertebral disk disease
Shih Tzus are also predisposed to this condition in their backs, in which the disks of cartilage between the vertebrae rupture, causing pain, nerve damage, and sometimes paralysis. It can happen due to a forceful impact, such as jumping from a height, or it can happen over time as the discs become hardened and fibrous and eventually disintegrate.
Symptoms can include an unwillingness to jump, pain and weakness in the back legs, crying out in pain, and loss of bladder and/or bowel control.
Depending on how severe it is, your dog may be able to recover with six weeks of bed rest while taking steroids and anti-inflammatories, or she may need surgery.
Usually, large dogs suffer from this condition, but according to a study done by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, of 679 Shih Tzus, 20% were found dysplastic.
The condition occurs when the hip joint is malformed, causing the ball of the thigh bone to fit poorly in the hip socket.
With both conditions, it is imperative that you keep your Shih Tzu at a normal weight so as not to put stress on her spine, neck, or joints.
For Shih Tzus, veterinarian Dr. Jennifer Coates recommends a diet high in protein to promote muscle mass (to support her joints and bones), as well as the nutrients glucosamine and chondroitin, which help joint and cartilage health.
Shih Tzus need a fair amount of calories for their size, which they can get a lot of from protein, as it’s calorie-dense. Plus, as already mentioned, they need a high-protein diet to keep their muscles strong to support their joints and backs. I, therefore, recommend between 25 - 30 % protein for typical Shih Tzus, and 30 - 35% for more active Shih Tzus.
Make sure your dog food contains protein from high-quality sources, such as fish, beef, chicken or eggs. Not only are these foods are rich in protein, but they are also easy for your dog to digest, unlike meat by-products, which are taken from the leftovers of a carcass after the meat has been used.
Since these little dogs have a dense, double, and usually long coat, they are going to need a diet that is moderate in fat (particularly omega fatty acids) to keep it shiny and well-nourished.
For Shih Tzus, anywhere between 15 - 20% is good. Any more than this may cause them to gain too much weight.
For your Shih Tzu, I recommend a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet. Dogs don't need many carbs, and too many can cause them to put on weight. Look for a dog food that contains no more than 25% carbs.
Grains are often used as a source of carbohydrates and can cause allergies in some dogs. If your Shih Tzu suffers from allergies, look for a grain-free dog food that uses chickpeas or vegetables like sweet potatoes instead.
Vitamins and minerals
Shih Tzus have a long lifespan (though not as long as Chihuahuas) and can live up to 16 years.
To prevent the cumulative effect of damaging free radicals, you should provide her with a diet that is rich in antioxidants. These break the cycle of cellular damage and help to strengthen her immune system, thereby reducing the risk of chronic diseases, such as cancer and arthritis.
The best sources of antioxidants in dog foods come from whole food sources like fruits and vegetables, including blueberries, peas, and leafy greens.
You should choose a dog food that contains at least a few fruit and vegetable sources rather than one that uses just vitamin and mineral supplements. This is because fruit and veg contain a wealth of important nutrients that your dog can benefit from.
Best dog food for Shih Tzus
So, now, I'm sure, you want to know about our recommendations. We narrowed it down to 4 of what we think are great choices of high-quality for Shih Tzus
Here they are:
#1 Blue Buffalo Life Protection Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe for Small Breed Dogs
Blue Buffalo Life Protection is a very fine-quality dog food, and I believe it to be the best all-rounder for typical Shih Tzus. Not only this, but it is very popular among dog owners and, in my opinion, the best value for money of all four.
First and foremost, this formula contains “LifeSource Bits,” which are small bits of kibble packed with antioxidant-rich ingredients from 7 fruits and vegetables. On top of this, these pieces of kibble have been cold-pressed to preserve the nutrients, making them extra potent. This makes it a great food to keep your Shih Tzu healthy over her long life.
There is a good amount of high-quality protein (26%) from deboned chicken and 15% good-quality fat from chicken fat and flaxseed. Flaxseed provides a good dose of omega oils for skin and coat health, and the omega 3s will also help out Shih Tzus who suffer from skin inflammation due to allergies.
While this recipe is not grain-free (it contains brown rice and barley), it does not contain common allergens like soy, corn, or wheat.
All of the recommended brands provide a source of iodine, but Blue Buffalo Life Protection includes that bit extra, adding kelp into the mix. This makes it a great choice if you want a food to improve your Shih Tzu’s thyroid function.
Blue Buffalo Life Protection kibble is shaped to promote tartar removal and help your Shih Tzu maintain a healthy set of teeth.
There is some glucosamine but no chondroitin, unfortunately, so it’s not the top choice if you want a food that supports your Shih Tzu’s joints.
- I think it’s the most suitable for typical Shih Tzus
- For me, it’s the best value for money
- Contains a high amount of antioxidants
- Good amount of omega oils for skin and coat health
- No corn, wheat, or soy
- Contains an extra source of iodine for thyroid health
- Kibble specially shaped to remove tartar
- Not grain-free - may not be suitable for Shih Tzus with allergies
- Only one added ingredient for joint health
#2 Wellness CORE Grain-Free Small Breed Formula
Wellness CORE is, in my opinion, the best all-rounder for active Shih Tzus, as it contains the highest amount of protein, at 36%, from deboned turkey and chicken. This will also help to promote muscle mass, supporting her back and joints.
There is 16% fat from chicken fat, salmon oil, and flaxseed, providing lots of omega fatty acids for her skin and coat health.
This recipe is grain-free to prevent allergic reactions, plus there is added glucosamine and chondroitin to support her joints.
Wellness CORE provides an impressive 8 whole food sources of antioxidants, including spinach, kale, and blueberries, making it a great dog food for keeping her immune system strong and promoting a long life.
- High-protein - good for active Shih Tzus
- Good amount of omega fatty acids for skin and coat health
- Grain-free - good for Shih Tzus with grain allergies
- Additional nutrients for joint and cartilage health
- Wide variety of fruits and vegetables
- Protein content may be too high for typical Shih Tzus
#3 Merrick Classic Small Breed Recipe
Merrick’s Classic Small Breed recipe is good for typical Shih Tzus who need a food that promotes their joint and cartilage health.
Not only does this food provide a high amount of protein (30%) from deboned chicken and turkey, which will promote muscle mass, it also includes the highest levels of glucosamine and chondroitin of all four brands. The fat content is just right, at 15%.
While it contains fewer fruit and vegetable ingredients than Blue Buffalo Life Protection and Wellness CORE, there are added supplements to provide antioxidants to support her immune system.
This recipe is not grain-free, as it contains barley and brown rice. However, it is free of corn, wheat, and soy, which are the most common grain allergens.
Many customers comment that it is good for picky eaters, so if your Shih Tzu turns her nose up at other brands, this is a good one to try!
Merrick does tend to be pricier compared to other brands. However, I think that if you can afford it, it’s a great choice for typical Shih Tzus, especially those with joint problems.
- Good for typical Shih Tzus
- Great choice for promoting joint and cartilage health
- Contains some fruit and vegetables
- No corn, wheat, or soy
- Good for picky eaters
- Most of the antioxidants come from supplements rather than whole food sources
- Contains rice and barley, which may cause allergic reactions in some Shih Tzus
#4 Wellness Simple Small Breed Limited Ingredient Salmon & Potato Formula
Another quality dog food from Wellness is this Wellness Simple Limited Ingredient recipe. This is a great one to try if your Shih Tzu suffers from food allergies.
It contains 29% protein from just one source, salmon, and it is grain-free; the carbohydrates come from potatoes.
There is just 14% fat, which is just a little low and makes this recipe unsuitable for active Shih Tzus, but great for Shih Tzus who need to shed a few pounds, or for those with hypothyroidism.
However, it is very high in omega-3s, which means it is great for calming inflamed, itchy skin, and helping her coat stay healthy. Plus, there is added glucosamine and chondroitin for her joints.
Unfortunately, there is no fruit or veg in this dog food, but there are lots of supplements to provide the vitamins and minerals she needs.
- Great choice for Shih Tzus with food allergies
- Good for overweight Shih Tzus
- High level of omega-3s
- Additional nutrients for joint health
- Low in fat - not suitable for more active Shih Tzus
- No fruit or veg ingredients
So, for me, Blue Buffalo Life Protection wins in terms of overall quality and suitability for typical Shih Tzus, providing lots of antioxidants. Wellness CORE is a very close second; its high protein content makes it more suited to active Shih Tzus.
Merrick is a great choice for Shih Tzus whose joints need a bit of help, and Wellness Limited Ingredient is a very good option for Shih Tzus who suffer from food allergies or who need to lose weight.
What do you feed your Shih Tzu? Leave a comment below!
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