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The Shih Tzu and Renal Dysplasia

close up of shih tzu with mouth open

Hard to detect and difficult to treat, Renal Dysplasia is a genetic defect of the kidneys that is always irreversible and that affects Shih Tzus more than any other breed. Identifying the disease is challenging because it is often slow to develop, sometimes not showing symptoms for several years. Mildly affected dogs can live a normal life, virtually symptom-free, quietly passing the disease down to the next generation. More severely affected dogs will have a shortened life due to progressive kidney failure.

Knowing the signs of Renal Dysplasia

This inherited disease causes the kidneys of Shih Tzus to develop abnormally from birth. Because of this affliction, nephrons—the urine-forming units in the kidney—remain immature and function inefficiently throughout the dog's life. Dogs with Renal Dysplasia also have a reduced number of glomeruli, the structures that filter toxins from the blood. In combination, these abnormalities compromise the Shih Tzu's kidney function and ability to cleanse its system and evacuate properly.

In the first stage of Renal Dysplasia, there is a silent and progressive decrease in kidney function over months, or even years. During stage two, the kidneys are working at about 30% efficiency and symptoms become obvious: Excessive thirst, high volume of pale urine, loss of weight, low energy. If you have a severely affected puppy you may notice excessive drinking after only eight weeks of age. Normal Shih Tzu pups can drink as much as five times the normal amount, considered one ounce of water per pound of body weight. Stage two can also last from months to several years.

At stage three, vomiting, further weakness and severe debilitation indicate renal failure. Stage three generally lasts no longer than a month or two before resulting in death.

Genetic testing may finally stop this deadly disease

While there is no cure for Renal Dysplasia, prevention may come in as little as two years in the form of a genetic test for the disease.

The American Shih Tzu Club is at the forefront of research to identify a genetic marker for Renal Dysplasia. If that succeeds, veterinarians and breeders will be able to easily identify even asymptomatic Renal Dysplasia in Shih Tzus with a simple cheek swab. Once the marker is located, the afflicted dog will be prevented from breeding, thus removing the inherited disease from the gene pool.

Identifying a genetic marker could eventually mean the elimination of Renal Dysplasia in Shih Tzus, creating a healthier, happier breed.

  • The Serious Benefits of Play

    dog carrying a frisbee in its mouth

    Playing and having fun helps to eliminate stress from your life—and the same holds true for your dog. In fact, incorporating various forms of play into your dog's daily routine is vital to helping him develop a healthy, loving personality.

    The benefits of play

    Here are some of the ways that playing and having fun is important:

    • Physical health. Active play helps keep your dog's heart healthy, keeps the joints lubricated, and improves his overall balance and coordination.
    • Mental health. Games with rules force your dog to use his brain, not just his body. This can help keep his mind sharp and focused.
    • Social skills. When your dog plays with other dogs and other people, it helps improve his overall social skills. He learns basic rules and how to play by them.
    • Bonding. Even if it's only for a few minutes a day, playing with your dog helps strengthen the bond between you.
    • Your health. What better way to alleviate the stress of a busy workday and get a bit of exercise than to come home and play with your dog? It's a win-win for both of you.

    How to play with your dog

    There are right ways—and wrong ways—to play. The most important thing to remember is that you're the boss. You decide what games should be played and you set the rules. This helps establish your credibility as the pack leader. It also helps keep your dog from getting overly excited and out of control while you play. If your dog does become difficult to manage, simply put a stop to the game until he calms down again.

    When you're teaching your dog a new game, reward him when he does well. Remember, rewards don't have to be just treats. You can also reward him with his favorite toys or lots of hugs and praise.

    When you start out teaching your dog a new game, keep it simple and go through the game slowly, until your dog fully grasps the rules. Also, wait until he fully understands one game before you teach him a new one, otherwise it will end up confusing him.

    Playtime tips

    • Avoid games like keep away, wrestling, or tug-of-war. Those games encourage biting or dominant, aggressive behavior.
    • Stay in control of the game at all times. Show your dog that you're the pack leader, not just another member of the pack. Retrieval games are good at teaching control.
    • Don't include your body or clothing as part of any game.
    • Incorporate the SIT or DOWN and STAY commands in every game.
    • You decide when it's time to end the game, not your dog. The best time to stop the game is when your dog is still eager to play.
    • If, for some reason, your dog doesn't seem to understand the game at some point, go back to the beginning, or simply leave it and try again a few days later. Don't get angry if you're dog isn't "getting it" right away. Remember it's supposed to be a fun experience for both of you!

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