Many people adore tiny dogs, and when looking for the ideal canine companion, many pick the charming Shih Tzu. However, it's only while searching that most aspiring pet parents come across the much smaller version of this adorable dog breed – the Imperial Shih Tzu.
Literally speaking, an Imperial Shih Tzu is an interesting small dog. It is also known as the teacup Shih Tzu since it is one of the tiniest dogs you will ever meet, fitting right into your hands or a large teacup.
However, as you may know, unusually small dogs, can be plagued with several health issues. This is especially true with Imperial Shih Tzu dogs that were purposefully bred using unethical breeding practices to produce puppies that are way smaller than the breed standards.
These tiny teacup dogs are undeniably adorable and naturally irresistible. So, it is so easy to be swayed into getting one. But before you do so, it’s important that you look beyond its physical appearance. And that’s what this guide is all about.
Everything you need to know about Imperial Shih Tzus, including their size, temperament, cost, and how they differ from regular Shih Tzus, is provided here.
Breed at a Glance:
- Size: 6 to 8 inches tall
- Weight: 4 to 9 pounds
- Energy Level: Low to Moderate
- Lifespan: 10 to 16 years
Imperial Shih Tzus are Shih Tzus that are too little to fulfill the AKC requirements for Shih Tzu weight and size but are ideally still within the range where they can be healthy dogs. However, in other instances, Imperials are bred specifically to be exceedingly small or weigh less than 5 pounds, which can be very dangerous.
Some of the names used to refer to the well-known Imperial Shih Tzu dogs are Teacup Shih Tzu, Toy Shih Tzu, Miniature Shih Tzu, Munchkin, Dwarf Chinese Imperial, and Tiny Toy Shih Tzu.
At first sight, one could believe they belong to a different AKC breed. This is simply untrue; they are Shih Tzu dogs, which typically weigh between four and nine pounds at maturity and stand no taller than nine inches. And the names mentioned earlier were simply made up and are being used by breeders and the general public; they are not in any way “official” names for the breed.
History and Origin
The Imperial Shih Tzu is a teacup-sized breed that originated from the standard Shih Tzu. Hence, their histories are connected.
The Shih Tzu can be seen on tapestries that date back more than 2000 years for the earliest creative depictions of the breed. We don't really know where they came from.
The Shih Tzu is said to be a cross between the Pekingese and the Lhasa Apso. These were presented to Chinese royals by the Tibetan monks who produced them.
According to archeological data, the breed might have a significantly longer history. Early Shih Tzus can be traced as far back as 8,000 years ago according to bones discovered in China. Regardless of whether this is the truth, they are regarded as one of the earliest dog breeds.
This would explain how the Shih Tzu entered these ancient kingdoms' royal courts. They were venerated and thought to be sacred in imperial courts, maybe because the lion is a Buddhist symbol, and their name, Shih Tzu Kou, translates to “Lion Dog.”
Shih Tzus are thought to be the dog of Chinese aristocracy, particularly, the Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi. They were held in high regard by Empress Tzu Hsi. The Dalai Lama had given her a pair, and the Empress took good care of the dogs while they lived in their own palace.
The Shih Tzu was regarded as the sole property of the royal court during the Ming Dynasty. Shih Tzu ownership was illegal and carried a death penalty. Anyone who stole or purposely injured a Shih Tzu received the same penalty.
Many royal families were very passionate about Shih Tzu breeding. The breed would become more polished during the ensuing generations. This came about because Shih Tzus with desired features were bred for ceremonial purposes. These fine characteristics include exquisite coatings and hues.
In 1928, the first instance of a Shih Tzu pair in Britain was documented. The wife of the North China command's quartermaster general brought them into the nation. In 1933, a certain Mrs. Hutchins brought a single Shih Tzu to Ireland.
The three dogs in this group were the inaugural breeding pairings of the future Lady Brownrigg kennel. It didn't take long for the breed to travel to the US after that. The American Kennel Club officially recognized the breed as a part of the toy breed category in 1969.
Shih Tzus that are significantly smaller has been developed over time by Imperial Shih Tzu breeders. While having smaller bloodlines, the Imperial Shih Tzu is essentially the same breed as the standard Shih Tzu. Thus, they are not considered to be a distinct breed.
Because these tiny pups are smaller than the usual breed's height and weight requirements, neither the American Shih Tzu Club nor the American Kennel Club accepts the Imperial Shih Tzu as members of the Shih Tzu breed.
The majority of the typical Shih Tzu dog traits are present in the Imperial Shih Tzu, which is just a tiny teacup-sized version. Their fluffy mane and stubby faces help to identify them. They have brown eyes, which, depending on the coat, can be lighter or darker. A noticeable underbite is common in Imperial Shih Tzu.
Imperial Shih Tzus share the renowned beautiful coat with their larger relatives. They have a quick-growing, silky coat, and they come in a variety of colors that could either be solid, two-color, or tri-color. Below are the coat colors that are recognized by the AKC as breed standards:
- Black; Black and White
- Brindle; Brindle and White
- Blue; Blue and White
- Red; Red and White
- Gold; Gold and White
- Silver; Silver and White
- Liver; Liver and White
The AKC also accepts black masks, tan markings, and other colors as standard.
Imperial Shih Tzus are renowned for being devoted, affectionate, gregarious, and lively. They are one of the most popular dog breeds for pets because of these characteristics.
They work well for single people, married people, and families of all sizes. They get along well with kids and other canines due to their friendliness.
Also, if you want a dog to guard your house, they would not be the ideal option since they could be loving with guests, which might be a disadvantage. But nonetheless, they are constantly on the go and very attentive. They will repeatedly bark to let you know if a visitor arrives.
For Imperial Shih Tzu puppies, socialization and obedience training at an early age are crucial as they have a tendency to be resistant and stubborn.
Generally speaking, the Shih Tzu needs to be brushed every day, and this is also true for the Imperial Shih Tzus. Their coats are too delicate. So, if they aren't routinely brushed, their fur might mat and tangle.
Imperial Shih Tzus shed relatively little, which is another reason they are frequently mistaken for hypoallergenic dogs. And until they are cleaned or brushed, their fur typically ends up buried in their coat rather than falling to the ground or attaching to your clothes. Hence, regular grooming is essential to remove extra hair from your dog
Their hair must be brushed out in layers using a fine, high-quality slicker brush. It is crucial to be thorough because their coat might tangle near the skin.
The hair on top of the head should be tied up in a top knot to prevent eye irritation. It would be necessary to brush the topknot and mustache twice a day.
It is also recommended to give your Imperial Shih Tzu a bath using a mild dog shampoo, every three to four weeks. You should also clean your dog’s eyes every day.
To prevent dental issues, which can cause problems to your dog’s heart and liver, it is important to wash your dog's teeth frequently.
Nails must also be kept short using a high-quality clipper or grinder. Due to the breed's propensity for ear infections, routine ear cleanings are essential.
If you don't have the time to properly care for your Shih Tzu's coat, you might choose a shorter cut. Any “puppy” cut will make the Imperial Shih Tzu adorable. The Imperial Shih Tzu will look charming in any variety of “puppy” trims.
Common Health Issues
The Imperial Shih Tzus are more susceptible to health problems than regular Shih Tzus because of their smaller stature and weaker bodies.
Health problems are quite typical for smaller dog breeds, but they become more severe in an Imperial Shih Tzu that weighs barely five pounds.
Like most small variations, Imperial Shih Tzus may experience the following health problems:
- Dental Problems
- Thyroid Problems
- Digestive Issues
- Renal Dysplasia
Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is one of the more serious health issues that affect Imperial Shih Tzus. This is due to their smaller bodies and even smaller organs, which make it challenging to control blood sugar.
However, purposefully breeding Imperial Shih Tzus that are excessively little will make these health issues worse.
Skeletal abnormalities can occur and cause discomfort and agony in dogs that are significantly smaller than average. Additional complications could include difficulties breathing and eating.
How to Care for Imperial Shih Tzu Puppies
Exercise & Living Conditions
Dogs with low energy levels typically belong to the lapdog breed. They are bred for exactly what their name implies, and they have long since lost the motivations that keep other dogs active. They are therefore perfect for a laid-back household.
They do require some exercise and mental stimulation. Walking around the garden or to the end of the block and back is more than enough for these tiny dogs.
Play is a great way to connect with them and keep them active if your Imperial Shih Tzu needs a little more exercise.
No demanding exercise should be made mandatory for them. Too much exercise might harm your Imperial Shih Tzu's lungs, even if they are energetic.
The Imperial Shih Tzu is ideally suited to tiny homes and flats since it has less need for space. Smaller spaces might even be better for them because they can be properly proofed and guarded to safeguard a little pet.
They are courageous, perhaps even bold-hearted, and their small stature doesn't dampen their vivacious natures. If you have other, larger dogs, especially canines with a strong instinct for hunting, this might be something to be concerned about.
Because of the size disparity, dogs like the German Shepherd may be predisposed to respond violently to teacup dogs or may even accidentally hurt them.
Diet & Nutrition
Always choose a diet that is appropriate for your dog's age. You can choose what your pet requires at various phases of development with the advice of your veterinarian. A diet that is suitable for a puppy or young adult may not be the best choice for an older dog.
Imperial Shih Tzus function best with a food regimen that spreads out their meals throughout the day. This aids in the digestion of food so that their tiny stomachs can keep them nourished and content. As a result, they are shielded from hypoglycemia.
The Imperial Shih Tzu is a very intelligent tiny dog. Yet, teaching them will require a lot of commitment on your part because they are excellent at persuading their owner to do things their way.
You should be firm in everything that you do. Resist your dog's attempts to talk their way out of having to do something. If you do, it will be difficult to convince them to change their conduct once more.
Ensure that any training programs you enroll your dog in are built around positive reinforcement. For this one, put aside any rigid, “disciplinary,” approach. They don't take negative reinforcements well.
Also, as mentioned earlier, early socialization is important for these little dogs.
What to Look For
The AKC advises that you locate a reputable breeder if you decide that you want to bring an Imperial Shih Tzu into your household or perhaps you have already met one that has captured your heart.
Watch out for breeders who employ sick dogs with multiple health conditions to produce small puppies, or even worse, some breeders who purposefully add a gene that causes dwarfism.
The dogs that weigh closer to that 7 or 8-pound threshold would be your greatest hope for a healthy and morally bred Shih Tzu.
It is perfectly acceptable to choose an Imperial Shih Tzu as your next pet, but it's crucial that you thoroughly investigate the breeder you'll work with.
Shih Tzus, both standard and imperial, can make fantastic companions, but it is your job to be aware of the parentage, history, and pedigree of your new puppy.
Beware of “backyard breeders,” who sell little Shih Tzu as expensive pets in an effort to make a quick buck.
Imperial Shih Tzu Cost
Expect to pay between $2,000 and $3,000 for a puppy if you're looking for an Imperial Shih Tzu.
It is simple to understand the allure of Imperial Shih Tzus. With their appearance and size, they are quite adorable and will win anyone over.
As mentioned earlier, they are adaptable pets for single people, married people, and families thanks to their friendly and devoted attitude. And they are excellent for a variety of dog owners, whether novice or experienced.
However, we should remember that breed standards exist for a reason, and that is to maintain the high caliber of dogs while lowering any possible health risks.
In light of this, if you're interested in an Imperial Shih Tzu, do your research thoroughly to find a reputable breeder who uses ethical breeding practices. This will help you avoid dealing with any health issues that may arise from dogs that have been bred specifically to be smaller than they should be.
Imperial Shih Tzus can be extremely expensive upfront for something so delicate. Yet, if you're willing to give them the right attention and care, they'll make wonderful additions to your family.