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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.

  • When Should You Switch Your Senior Dog to Soft Food?

    smiling lab sitting in front of brick wall

    As your dog ages, you’ll likely notice changes in your best pal’s energy levels, routine and even muzzle. Older pets may require adjustments to help them get around, exercise and live their best life as a senior. One important aspect of caring for a dog entering their golden years is diet.

    When it comes to diet, every dog has unique, individual needs, regardless of age. So, there's no one easy answer to the question of soft food versus hard food. Both types of food can provide your dog with the nutrition they need — as long as you feed your dog a high-quality dog food that’s nutritionally balanced and complete.

    two dogs eating from two bowls

    Signs Your Senior Dog May Benefit from Wet Food

    If your dog has very specific health concerns, such as aging joints or weight issues, consult with your vet for more information about what type of food best addresses your dog's needs. That being said, there are a few reasons why you may consider switching your senior dog to soft food.

    fluffy brown dog yawning showing teeth

    Teeth Sensitivity

    As your dog gets older, their teeth may become more sensitive, which can make chewing kibble more difficult and even uncomfortable. Switching to a soft food can help to alleviate your pet’s oral discomfort when eating.

    However, if your dog is experiencing serious pain at mealtime from a condition like tooth decay or gingivitis, switching to soft food won't remedy the problem. Make sure you talk to your vet about oral care and dental treatment.

    Digestion Aid

    Digestion begins in the mouth with saliva, so if your dog has a tendency to scarf down meals, they may not be adequately chewing the food or adding enough saliva to it. Soft food can aid with digestion because it's more easily chewed.

    Hydration Help

    It’s no surprise that wet food has a higher moisture content when compared to dry kibble. If your senior pup is prone to urinary-tract issues or simply needs a little help staying hydrated, canned dog food may be a good choice.

    girl kissing older dog on the head

    Slower Metabolism

    Aging dogs tend to have a slower metabolic rate compared to their younger years, which puts them at a higher risk of becoming overweight or obese. Many nutritionally balanced wet dog foods offer high protein content with fewer carbs than dry food, which can benefit older dogs with slower metabolism. Always talk to your vet if you have concerns about your pup’s weight.

    Picky Eaters

    While wet food may be less than appetizing to humans, the opposite is true for dogs! If your aging best friend has started turning their snout up to dry food, wet food tends to be more appealing to picky eaters. Mixing wet food and kibble offers your pup a variety of flavors and textures; try adding wet food as a topper on dry food for a real treat!

    Whether you choose dry food, soft food  or a mix of both, ask your vet before making any transition. And when it's time to switch your dog's food, remember to do it slowly — even if it's the same brand and flavor — to help prevent stomach upset and allow your dog time to adjust.

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