Why Is My Shih Tzu Dog Overheating?

shih tzu laying on ground in front of concrete wall

Key Points

  • It is crucial to understand the Shih Tzu dog behavior in order to avoid heat exhaustion, heat seizures, or even death.

  • Shih Tzu dog behavior changes significantly when the dog is overheating.

  • The Shih Tzu dog breed is more prone to overheating due to their stenotic noses and thick fur.

  • The ponytail is more than just a style, but a good heat exhuastion prevention method.

Shih Tzu dogs have long coats that continuously grow and become unmanageable without proper care and can also be dangerous during hot weather. Shi-Tzu dogs need to be cared for in a particular way because they are susceptible to heatstroke and heat exhaustion through overheating.

It is important to understand the Shih Tzu dog behavior in order to avoid any unnecessary heat exhaustion and be able to identify dog overheating symptoms.

What Is Overheating?

Shih Tzus have long, thick coats that store heat well, which is not positive when these lovable pups live in locations with extreme heat. Dogs overheat in temperatures above 103 degrees Fahrenheit. Overheating is when dogs acquire too much heat and can't get rid of it naturally through their panting and the pads underneath their paws.

A dog's internal temperature is on average between 101 degrees F to 102.5 degrees F. 

With this in mind, the seasons that Shih Tzu dogs are most susceptible to heat strokes are Spring and Summer due to the heat. Summer heat can get trapped in a Shih Tzu dog's coat, causing overheating, even more so on a hot and humid day. Wind during these days may help decrease the chances of overheating, but even a breeze may not be enough.

Causes of Overheating in Shih Tzus

There are several causes of overheating especially in Shih Tzus. It is important to be aware of these, as some of them may surprise you.

Stenotic Nares

Shih Tzu dogs are one of the only brachycephalic breeds of dogs.

Brachycephalic breeds have stenotic nares, elongated soft palate, and laryngeal saccules. This can cause multiple health problems. Shih Tzu dogs cannot breathe easily because they have a short snout due to years of breeding. The development of their short nose is because of their compressed skulls which allow less room for air circulation. This is a problem because dogs expel heat through their panting, and Shih Tzus struggle to pant quickly and efficiently.

Shih Tzus are also born with stenotic nares, known as pinched nostrils. Shih Tzus struggle to breathe deeply because of their stenotic nares, causing the snorting sounds. These pinched nostrils also mean that Shih Tzus have narrow breathing pathways in their nostrils and throat. Shih Tzu dogs breathe sharply because of their narrow breathing pathways and cannot do so quickly as there is limited room for the air to travel.


Another cause of overheating is Shih Tzus being exposed directly to the sun. This exposure is dangerous because Shih-Tzus have naturally thick and long fur. Their fur traps in the heat and keeps them warm in cold climates. While this is great in cold climates, it can be deadly in warm and humid environments. In those environments, the trapped heat causes a rise in temperature and heat stroke. 

Shih Tzus, like most dogs, cannot be outside when temperatures are over 103 degrees F because their bodies cannot sustain extreme heat. It is dangerous for Shih Tzus to be left outside for more than a few minutes in hot climates. Shih Tzus can also overheat when left in a car on a hot and humid day. Even if they are not in direct sunlight while in a car, the hot metal traps heat inside and can increase to a higher indoor temperature than the outdoor temperature. A car can easily surpass 103 degrees F. This can prove fatal to Shih Tzus as they cannot cool themselves properly through their panting.

In fact, leaving dogs in a car makes up approximately 5% of all overheating cases.

Dogs should not be left in a car regardless of if the car is running or not. Shih Tzu's especially should not be left in a car under any circumstances because they can overheat and die.  

Drying Cages

Shih Tzus can also overheat because of a device called drying cages. These devices are typically used in grooming salons but bring danger to long-haired Shih Tzus. The cages or boxes have large blowing systems that rush hot air to dry dogs quicker. When groomers have too many clients, they use the boxes to store dogs and dry them quickly. Some of these boxes, however, do not have adequate open space to circulate the hot air. This traps dogs with blowing hot air, which can overheat a dog causing life-threatening symptoms.

It is not recommended for Shih Tzus to use these devices to dry their coats quicker.


Overheating can also occur because of exercise. Dogs do not know their strength, and according to one study, 74% of overheating cases were due to exercise. This could be because they do not drink enough water. Shih Tzu dogs are small and playful, and running and jumping on a hot day can lead to overheating quickly.

Body Type

Another cause of heatstroke in Shih Tzu dogs is their inability to release large amounts of heat through their paw pads. The pads on the bottom of the dog's paws help release heat. Not covered in fur, paw pads are the only place for heat relief on a dog. Since Shih Tzu dogs are small, their paws cannot remove significant amounts and may even trap heat if their fur is long and wraps around the paws.

The thickness and coat color of Shih Tzus can be another culprit of overheating. Every Shih Tzu has a unique coat color, although all coats are thick and warm. Dark colored coats, such as black and dark brown, attract the sun's rays. Because of this Shih Tzu dogs with dark coats are more susceptible to overheating and dehydration. 

shih tzu running through field

How Overheating Can Affect Your Shih Tzu

Heatstroke can affect Shih Tzus by causing dehydration, seizures, organ failure, and death. Heatstroke affects Shih Tzu dogs more by altering their lifestyle. These dogs need extra care and attention when playing and in outside situations. Shih Tzus should not stay outside for long when the climate is hot and humid, as they can overheat in their thick coats.

This condition can become serious very quickly. If not treated urgently, overheating in Shih Tzus can lead to seizures and death as dogs struggle to maintain their breathing and cool their bodies independently.

Since Shih Tzus overheat quickly during high temperatures, these dogs are mainly indoor dogs with limited playtime. Shih Tzu pet owners should provide proper care for their dogs, as they are prone to overheating, which can prove to be fatal.

Overheating can also cause anxiety in Shih Tzu dogs. Shih Tzu dogs develop anxiety because of the fear that they feel during the condition of overheating, and this experience can create lasting trauma. One way Shih Tzu dogs may experience anxiety, is by overheating in a car, which can result in the development of separation anxiety.

Separation Anxiety is a condition where dogs experience anxiety when left alone. This condition occurs because Shih Tzu dogs associate being left alone with the awful symptoms of overheating. Dogs suffering with separation anxiety may destroy furniture, overeat, pace, and urinate uncontrollably.  Anxiety can affect the way Shih Tzu's interact with their owners and other humans. 

The Life Expectancy of a Shih Tzu While Overheating

Overheating is not a chronic condition dogs can be diagnosed with. Instead, it occurs when the dog's body overheats with a lack of water or the ability to cool itself. If heat strokes aren't treated, they can lead to dangerous problems, however, overheating in Shih Tzu dogs does not lower the overall life span of the dog. 

Shih Tzus happen to have ancestors from the Tibetan mountains. This is one of the main reasons they have long and thick coats to keep them warm — they love the cold weather. However, Shih Tzus have come a long way in the last few centuries and are now furry friends who live worldwide, typically in the comfort of air conditioning.

Shih Tzu dogs can progressively get worse with the condition of overheating. When dogs overheat, they run the risk of developing organ failure. Even if dog owners can rush their pets to veterinary care, there is still a chance their dogs may have to undergo surgery. Dogs that live through organ failure quality of life may decrease, and they may need additional help to function with everyday tasks like walking.

Shih Tzus that have seizures because of overheating run the possibility of developing a loss of senses and feeling in their legs. Once active dogs can become bedridden because of seizures produced by overheating.

two shih tzus laying in grass lawn

Signs That Your Shih Tzu Might Be Overheating

There are obvious signs to look for to know when Shih Tzu dogs are overheating.

When signs of overheating in dogs are missed, it is an emergency. It can be deadly, which is why owners should carefully monitor their furry friends during extreme heat and outside play. Shih Tzu dogs can experience these symptoms of overheating:

  • Heavy panting

  • Heat stress

  • Dizziness

  • Vomiting

  • Unconsciousness

  • Seizures

  • Excessive drooling

  • Hot to touch

  • Diarrhea

  • Inability to move

These signs can indicate your Shih Tzu is overheating. If they are, treatment needs to happen quickly to save their lives! When Shih Tzu dogs overheat, they are more likely to develop heatstroke, dehydration, liver failure, and heart attacks. These four conditions can easily lead to death.

These signs of overheating in dogs are only the most common signs. Another sign is purple gums. Heavy panting is a sign dogs are overheating because they cope and cool their bodies. Monitoring your pet's condition is necessary when owners notice signs of overheating.

While it is true dogs can control and lower the temperature of their bodies when they are overheating, Shih Tzus and other short-snouted breeds may need additional help as their airways are not efficient at cooling their bodies down.

If your Shih Tzu is experiencing extreme symptoms like seizures and unconsciousness, it is necessary to seek vet care.

How to Treat Shih Tzus When Overheating

Thankfully, overheating is not a chronic condition and will not last forever, but it can also cause severe complications if not treated quickly.

When pet owners notice the signs of overheating in dogs, they must begin cooling down their furry friend. Cooling a Shih Tzu's body should be done with a cold and wet towel. Owners should place not cold, only cool, wet towels around their Shih Tzus to bring down the temperature of their bodies.

Cold temperatures administered too quickly can cause shock and overwhelm Shih Tzus causing seizures and heart attacks. Owners should not submerge their overheating Shih Tzus into icy cold water, as this can cause more harm than good.

Another quick treatment owners can administer if their Shih Tzu is experiencing overheating is to take them to a ventilated spot with air conditioning immediately. This way, an overheating Shih Tzu can conserve their energy and focus on cooling their bodies.

For example, if Shih Tzu dogs experience a hot body temperature outside at a dog park, owners should carry their small dogs to the car and blast the A.C. This can help cool Shih Tzus by providing them relief from the intense outdoor conditions. Owners need to hold and carry their furry friends instead of walking them. Also, the heat from hot concrete can increase the body temperature, leading to death in overheating dogs.

Dog owners should also provide their dogs with water. If signs of overheating in dogs are noted by owners, like dehydration, water should be provided. It may be difficult for Shih Tzu's experiencing overheating to move to a water source, so owners should provide their dogs with a filled water bowl. The water in the bowl should be cool but not cold. Ice cubes may sound like a reasonable solution but can cause shock, just like providing dogs with icy cold towels.

Owners can also call an emergency veterinarian near them if they are unsure of what to do. This is especially necessary when bringing them into a cooler situation does not work. Because overheating can cause death, owners should get their Shih Tzus to a vet for examination and treatments immediately. Sometimes the condition of an overheating Shih Tzu is too far along for simple home remedies to work.

If Shih Tzu dogs are having a seizure, which is one of the signs of overheating in dogs, owners should watch and not place their hands on the dog. Seizures typically last less than five minutes and can be harmless.

It is dangerous if pet owners try to restrain their Shih Tzus because they may thrash and harm their heads. Owners watching their Shih Tzus undergo a seizure should refrain from placing their hands in the mouths of their pets. Contrary to popular belief, dogs will not swallow or choke on their tongues.

close up grey shih tzu

Overheating Prevention Tips

Although Shih Tzu dogs are susceptible and more prone to overheating, there are ways to prevent their bodies from heating too much. Routine grooming is necessary to decrease trapped heat in Shih Tzus.

Owners should regularly groom their Shih Tzu dogs with proper brushing, cutting, and bathing techniques. Shih Tzu should undergo misting at least once every 1-3 weeks. Proper bathing of the Shih Tzu pup is necessary to keep your dog clean and happy and to release hair that sheds. The less hair trapping heat in, the less chance your Shih Tzu will develop overheating.

Your Shih Tzu dog should receive haircuts regularly because their hair grows long quickly. Having less hair during the spring and summer months in hot weather climates can eliminate or decrease the possibility of overheating in dogs. Frequent brushing is another technique owners should use while trying to prevent overheating as well as matted hair. Matted hair can increase the chances of overheating because it tends to trap even more heat, increasing the temperature of their body.

Grooming is not the only preventive technique. Owners should also be aware of their surroundings and only allow their Shih Tzus on walks when temperatures are under 90 degrees. Although walks are healthy and keep dogs active, concrete can reach blistering temperatures during hot weather. Dogs that walk on this concrete can harm the pads of their paws, which inhibits their ability to cool themselves in hot weather.

Owners should provide Shih Tzus with plenty of shaded spots and drinking water during outside play. Owners with backyards that allow their dogs to run around freely should create spaces that offer shade and a pool of cool but not cold water. Having water readily available for Shih Tzus is a preventative method of overheating because dehydration is one of the leading causes. When water is easily accessible, Shih Tzus can drink when necessary, decreasing the chances of dehydration. Owners should train dogs and guide them to water sources during warm weather.

The Pony Is The Way To Go

Since Shih Tzus have long hair, one way to prevent them from overheating because of their long coats is to tie their hair up in multiple ponytails. The pony isn't just stylish, but it is also a great preventative measure.

This way, there is less fur touching their bodies. With their long strands of hair up, air can flow through the open areas allowing for relief against the extreme heat.

Even with all of these preventative measures, owners should always be on the lookout for signs of overheating as Shih Tzus are highly susceptible.

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