The Shih Tzu breed is well known for being a small dog with a big heart. Their friendliness borders on being legendary. But for some people, they just aren’t small enough.
Teacup or toy breeds have become popular in recent times, as breeders try to outdo each other in producing the smallest, cutest dog. And this is where the Imperial Shih Tzu figures, as it is essentially a miniature version.
One thing that has helped boost their popularity further is that tiny dogs are fashionable right now among celebrities and influencers. They love to have a furry companion that fits into a purse or bag to be carried with them wherever they go.
The whole subject of toy dogs, especially those used as fashion accessories, raises some interesting ethical questions, which we’ll take a closer look at as we explore the Imperial Shih Tzu.
What Is An Imperial Shih Tzu?
Basically, it’s a miniature version of the Standard Shih Tzu. It is seriously tiny, literally fitting in the palm of your hand, or, if you wish to try it out, into a large teacup.
But, as always, it isn’t as straightforward as that!
To begin with, the American Kennel Club (AKC) doesn’t acknowledge that they even exist. They certainly don’t recognize them as an official breed and are backed by the American Shih Tzu Club in this.
The latter organization even put quotation marks around the terms referring to these tiny dogs, as in “Imperial” and “Teacup,” suggesting that they are in some way suspect or untrustworthy.
There are good reasons for this. Some unethical breeders have used the names to create the idea that this is a rare breed. This allows them to inflate the price and take advantage of supply and demand to make a lot of cash.
You see, there are different ways of making a tiny teacup dog, some more ethical than others. Neither is without its drawbacks, but one method involves selecting a male and female dog, both of which were the runt of the litter and breeding them to create a smaller dog.
Some breeders even claim that they’re using dogs with the Imperial gene when there is absolutely no proof that it exists.
The AKC and the American Shih Tzu Club stress that the breed standards are there for a reason, to protect and maintain pure breeds that are as healthy as possible.
They question the motives of any breeder who wants to produce puppies that are below the breed standards, as this can increase the risk of health problems.
Their argument is that the Shih Tzu is already considered a Toy breed, so why would a responsible breeder not wish to conform to the accepted standards?
If it’s simply to increase profit without considering the welfare of the animals in question, then it is only right to question their ethics.
The Imperial Shih Tzu Full Grown
An AKC Standard Shih Tzu weighs between 9–16 lbs (4–7.25 kg) and measures 9–10.5 in (22.86–26.67 cm) at the withers.
Imperial Shih Tzus can be anything beneath this, usually with an adult weight between 7–8 lbs. Some are even as low as 5 lbs, which is considered dangerous to their health.
They might be cute, but reputable breeders would never put the breed at risk in a race to find the smallest dog, whatever the current fashion is.
Do Imperial Shih Tzus Have Health Problems
They most certainly do.
The Standard Shih Tzu, as with any dog breed, is prone to a particular set of health issues.
That doesn’t mean to say that they’ll necessarily suffer from them, just that they are susceptible to developing them at some point. Overall, they are regarded as a robust and healthy dog breed, despite their small size.
However, the Imperial Shih Tzu has a greatly increased risk of developing major health problems because of its size. Much of this will depend on how the pup was bred.
Here are a few of the problems they might encounter:
• Ear problems
• Eye problems
• Dental problems
• Sensitivity to heat and cold
• Heart problems
• Liver problems
• Eating problems
Most of these are experienced in some form by the Standard Shih Tzu but are exaggerated in the tiny Teacup version, especially those that weigh less than 5 lbs. Their mouths are so small that the teeth can be cramped inside the jaws.
Their vital organs can’t function properly, sometimes leading to heart and liver failure.
They have difficulty absorbing calcium, resulting in weak, fragile bones that are already under stress from being so small. It isn’t uncommon for them to break bones simply by jumping off furniture.
They struggle to maintain their body temperature and will easily become too cold. However, if you put clothes on them, they may also overheat!
Feeding them is also a challenge, as some can’t even cope with solids and need a special diet of formula. The amount of food they consume at any time must be strictly regulated.
Because the dogs have been bred with a shorter snout, they can have problems breathing. The airways and tubes are crammed into a smaller space, which restricts the passages.
Dogs with long snouts use them as a way to cool themselves down. Air passes through the snout and over the long tongue, where it cools down the blood being circulated through the body.
Brachycephalic breeds lack this ability and can easily overheat.
How Long Do Imperial Shih Tzus Live?
Despite their long list of potential health problems, these tiny Shih Tzus have the same life expectancy as the Standard Shih Tzu. This ranges between 12 to 16 years.
However, this is likely to apply more to those that are only slightly below the breed standards. Those that are significantly smaller will probably live shorter lives and spend a lot of time at the vet during this time.
Generally speaking, smaller size dogs tend to live longer than large dogs. It’s not fully understood why this is, but it may be because big dogs need to grow quickly, which causes them to age faster.
Conversely, tiny dogs don’t need to grow as quickly because they aren’t going to get very big anyway. Because their bodies grow slowly, they don’t age as quickly. If it weren’t for this fact, which seems to go against nature, then the tiny Imperial Shih Tzu would probably have a lifespan of around five or six years.
Imperial Shih Tzu Price
The average price of Imperial or Teacup Shih Tzu puppies is around $1,900, but they can sell for as much as $3,000.
You might find them for less, but when they are advertised, they are often labeled as being rare or limited. This is precisely what the AKC and other organizations are anxious about.
You might find adverts online saying, ‘Rare solid black Imperial Shih Tzu puppies for sale!’
Some will claim that these are purebred or use other names, such as the Chinese Imperial Shih Tzu (or Chinese Imperial Dog), to make them sound more authentic. However, there is no royal bloodline and no such breed.
These names are simply marketing terms to get the public to part with more money for a smaller than usual dog.
Compared with the Miniature Shih Tzu’s average price of $1,900, the Standard Shih Tzu costs on average around $850, depending on the breeder, supply and demand, and the pedigree.
That’s quite a difference, especially when you are more likely to be paying extra for healthcare costs throughout the dog’s life.
The Teacup Shih Tzu Temperament
The Shih Tzu has a long and noble history as a lapdog to the Ming dynasty, possibly bred by lamas (Tibetan spiritual leaders) purposely to resemble lions.
This is supported by their name, as Shih Tzu means ‘lion dog.’ The pronunciation of the name has caused difficulty (and amusement) over the years but is properly pronounced, sher-zer.
They were probably bred using the Lhasa Apso, which was highly-prized as a watchdog in monasteries and palaces.
Over the centuries, they became perfect companion dogs, warming the laps of countless Chinese rulers.
Today, they are known the world over for their lovable and affectionate nature.
Although small Shih Tzus have more than likely been around before now, they haven’t been purposely bred to any great degree. But is a Toy Shih Tzu any more or less friendly and adorable than its larger counterpart?
In terms of temperament and character, they are identical to standard size Shih Tzu dogs.
Imperial Shih Tzu Puppies
These tiny ‘teacup’ dogs are becoming more popular, and it’s easy to see why. They are small and cute, they make perfect companions, and they are sweet-natured and gentle.
The trouble is, popularity can sometimes be a bad thing. Fashions change, and people get bored. Some breeders take advantage of current trends and will produce pups as quickly as possible, without much thought for the welfare of the dogs involved.
These dogs require a lot of love and care and should never be viewed as fashion accessories.
Some Imperial Shih Tzus will simply be the smallest of the litter from a Standard Shih Tzu female. Others will be purposely bred using runts, which can lead to health problems.
It can’t be stressed enough that you need to get your Shih Tzu puppy from a reputable breeder.
Do They Make Good Pets?
For the right person, yes!
They are fragile and need a great deal of care and attention. You might think that they make the ideal choice for young kids.
However, there’s a chance that children will treat them like dolls or teddy bears and carry them around. This is all very cute, and there’s no danger to the child whatsoever, but if they drop them, they may break a bone.
For this reason, they need to be supervised carefully around children.
Their exercise needs are minimal because they are so small. They only need a short walk and a little run around, and then they’ll be happy to hop back on your lap and have a nap.
Cuddling is what they like best, though they might get up and bark at a passing stranger once in a while.
Grooming won’t take up much of your busy schedule either! A brush every couple of days, a bath every three weeks, nail clipping every six weeks or so, and you’re good to go.
Training and socialization should begin as soon as possible, as these dogs can be stubborn once they reach adulthood. When trained as pups, they learn pretty quickly, and you’ll avoid problems later on.
Imperial Shih Tzu Breeders
So, you want a new puppy, and your heart is set on an Imperial Shih Tzu?
Who could blame you? They are simply the cutest things ever! However, now that you’re aware of all the facts, you need to be very careful where you buy your dog.
First of all, remember that there is really no such breed as the Imperial or Chinese Imperial Shih Tzu. They are all just smaller versions of the standard size dog! Anything else is marketing used to artificially inflate the price.
Secondly, poor breeding practices used by unethical and unscrupulous breeders (including puppy mills and so-called backyard breeders) will mean that your pup will come not only with a huge price tag but also with a whole load of health problems.
As well as causing unnecessary suffering to the poor pooch, this will probably cost you many hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in diagnosis, treatment, and medication.
To avoid all this, check out reviews for selected breeders online and get some word-of-mouth references and recommendations. Only ever approach Shih Tzu breeders who have a good reputation and who operate above board.
They will be happy to answer your questions on breeding practice, and they may offer a health guarantee for your pup.
Unless you want a dog that is so fragile that it may break its bones just by jumping off your sofa, has to be fed with a tube, and might die from organ failure, then you need to make sure that your pup has an adult weight of more than 5lbs.
Yes, the smaller they are, the cuter they are. But, as we have seen, this increases the likelihood of congenital diseases and sickness.
As the AKC maintains, the breed standards are there for the sake of the entire breed, not for show. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a small dog: they’re more manageable, super-cute, portable, don’t need much exercise, and can fit into the smallest apartment.
Seeing as a Standard Shih Tzu isn’t a great deal bigger, it might be better to stick within the breed standard. This will save you money, both in terms of the price tag for your pup as well as in connection with any potential health problems later.
The lower end of the size range means that they’ll weigh around 9 lbs, which is small enough for anyone and will have more chance of living a long and healthy life.
The Final Word
When all is said and done, though, it’s up to you. The facts are clear: the Imperial Shih Tzu is not a separate breed, nor is it rare or special.
It is simply a smaller version that falls outside the recommended standards of the regulating bodies.
If you do choose to pay more than the usual price (possibly up to $3,000) for a smaller dog, then the responsibility falls to you to ensure that this adorable little pooch has the best chance of staying healthy.
Given the hefty price tag, it is unlikely that you’ll find one in a rescue center, but it isn’t impossible. Every dog deserves the chance of a forever home, especially one that’s been abandoned because it has become a financial burden on the owner.
For a tiny breed that doesn’t technically exist, they sure make an impact!
Read Next: 19 Best Shih Tzu Breeders In Florida