Of all dog breeds, the shih tzu looks the most like your childhood teddy bear come to life. And these little lap dogs are even better cuddlers than that teddy bear. Known for being extremely affectionate, this breed also has an extremely soft coat, which you’ll appreciate when they curl up in your lap. But, how else will that soft coat affect you? Do shih tzus shed? And are shih tzus hypoallergenic?
Shih tzus don’t typically shed, which makes them a good choice for many — but not all — allergy sufferers.
However, there is no such thing as a 100% hypoallergenic dog, so any dog, including shih tzus, has the potential to trigger an allergic reaction. Plus, this breed isn’t as good for allergy sufferers as a poodle, which is considered the best dog for people with allergies because of their completely non-shedding coat (although people with severe dog allergies might still react to poodles). And yet, most allergy sufferers are able to live comfortably with shih tzus. So, what’s the deal?
We’ll explain why shih tzus are typically a good choice for allergy sufferers, how you can figure out if they’re right for you, and how to minimize your chances of having an allergic reaction to a shih tzu.
So, Are Shih Tzus Hypoallergenic or Not?
“Are shih tzus hypoallergenic?” is a yes or no question, and you want a yes or no answer. But the shih tzu breed is a little more complicated than that. The American Kennel Club (AKC) doesn’t include the shih tzu on its list of hypoallergenic dog breeds. And yet, it ranks the shih tzu’s shedding as a one on a scale of one-to-five, making it a low-to-no shedding breed.
Low-to-no shedding dogs are typically the best options for allergy sufferers. Although dog hair doesn’t cause allergies, it often has dander attached to it. Dander, a protein found in dog dander, saliva, and dead skin cells, is the allergen that triggers dog allergies. When dogs shed, they spread pet dander around your home, triggering allergy symptoms. So, less shedding means less allergens in your home.
Again, the shih tzu is a very low shedding breed. The AKC also gave a one out of five shedding ranking to poodles, schnauzers, and Yorkshire terriers — all of which do appear on the hypoallergenic breed list.
But the difference between shih tzus and those breeds (and the reason those breeds are slightly more reliable choices for allergy sufferers) is the dogs’ coat type.
What Type of Coat Does the Shih Tzu Have?
The shih tzu has a double coat, which means their coat is made of two layers: a dense undercoat that keeps them warm in the winter and cool in the summer, plus a silky outer coat that provides some water resistance to keep the undercoat dry in the rain.
Most double coat breeds, like the Australian shepherd, husky, and golden retriever, are heavy shedders. Their outer coat sheds moderately all year-round and their undercoat sheds more in the spring and fall.
The shih tzu is an extremely rare double coat breed that almost never sheds. It does have a few weeks of shedding when it transitions from its puppy to its adult coat, but once its adult coat is in, this little dog differs from its double-coated companions because its adult coat is made up of hair instead of fur.
Like human hair, hair on a dog can grow for a long time. Compared to dog fur, it takes much longer for individual strands of hair to die and fall out, which means there’s much less shedding. Hair is also typically finer than fur, so it may carry less dander and fewer dead skin cells when it falls out, making it less likely to trigger allergy symptoms.
Because the shih tzu’s hair coat can grow very long, most owners take their dogs for regular grooming. When shih tzu owners take their dogs in for a puppy cut or a lion cut (shih tzu does mean “little lion dog” in their native country of Tibet, after all), the groomer will clip and brush the dogs’ hair, leaving much of the dead strands at the salon instead of floating around your house.
How Can You Tell If You Will Be Allergic to Shih Tzu Dogs?
If you have pet allergies and you’re considering bringing home a new furry friend, you should spend time with the breed before you commit. Whether you’re considering a shih tzu, a poodle, a Yorkie, or any other type of non-shedding dog, test your reaction to the breed before you bring them home.
To test your reaction, you should spend considerable time (1-2 days) with the breed in your home or with you visiting a home where the breed lives. You can offer to dog sit for a friend or family member who owns the breed. You can reach out to a local shelter or a breed-specific rescue organization and offer to foster a dog in your home. Or, you can contact your preferred breeder to ask if they can help.
This trial period could be the first step to a happy (and allergy-free) life with a shih tzu.
How Can You Reduce Your Exposure to Dander?
Even if you choose a low-to-no shedding dog, like a shih tzu or a poodle, that dog will still produce dander. Their non-shedding coat helps to reduce your exposure to that dander, but you can take additional steps to decrease your exposure even more. Here’s what to do if you have dog allergies and live with a shih tzu:
- Brush their hair once a day: Daily brushing not only keeps the shih tzu’s long hair tangle-free. It also helps remove loose hair before it sheds around your house.
- Feed a high-quality dog food: A healthy diet is the first step to preventing excessive hair loss, dry skin, and other health issues. Choose a food that has real meat as the first ingredient and contains whole fruits and vegetables in the ingredient list.
- Use a fish oil supplement: Fish oil is rich in omega-3s, which help keep your dog’s skin and coat healthy, moisturizing the skin from the inside out and helping prevent excessive hair loss.
- Take your dog for regular grooming: Regular trips to the groomer keep your dog’s coat healthy and beautiful while loose hair and dander from your home.
- Invest in a robot vacuum: A robot vacuum runs daily, picking up pet hair around your house and saving you from both dander exposure and a daily chore.
- Use an air purifier: An air purifier helps remove allergens from the air in your home. Place one in every room where you spend a lot of time.
A Shih Tzu May Be for You
A shih tzu isn’t the right dog for every allergy sufferer. They're very low-shedding, but they do shed more than poodles. But because this small breed’s unique coat falls out like human hair instead of like traditional dog fur, it spreads less dander around the home than most dogs’ coats. So, many people with pet allergies find that they can live comfortably with this adorable small dog.
However, there are no 100% hypoallergenic dogs. Even the poodle can trigger allergies in some people. So, if you’re not sure if the shih tzu is right for you, you should organize a trial period. Spend a day or two sharing your space with a shih tzu before you commit to a lifetime of ownership.
If you decide a shih tzu is right for you, reduce your exposure to dog dander even further by providing regular grooming, feeding your pet a health-promoting fish oil supplement, and using a robot vacuum and air purifier. These steps will help you live allergy-free with your little lion dog.
For more information on your favorite dog breeds, visit the Native Pet blog.