Any dog can develop skin disorders, and the Shih Tzu is no exception. Skin disorders can cause your pup to be itchy, and excessive scratching may lead to breaks in the skin that allow infections to take hold. If your pup is suffering from a skin disorder, it is best to visit your veterinarian to try to determine the underlying cause of the problem.
Grooming Your Shih Tzu
As with all dog breeds, Shih Tzus should be introduced to grooming at an early age. Grooming your pup's hair will keep her skin healthy by clearing debris and stimulating production of natural oils that protect the skin. Shih Tzus can develop tangles and snarls in their hair, especially around the face, under the arms and near the tail -- frequent brushing with a high quality bristle brush and regular hair cuts at the groomer can help minimize these snarls.
Shih Tzus are prone to developing clogged tear ducts. Your groomer can trim the hair around the eyes to help reduce discharge that can make the tearing worse. In between grooming visits, a damp facecloth can be used to gently clear any tears or debris away from the corners of her eyes. Wipe the skin folds around her nose daily to prevent yeast infections from developing between the folds as well. While bathing your dog will keep her clean and fresh, bathing her too frequently can dry and damage her skin. Don't bathe your pup more than once every two weeks unless directed by a veterinarian and always use a shampoo that is manufactured specifically for dogs, as the pH of human products could irritate her skin. Pets with skin irritation might react unfavorably to extreme weather, so minimize outside activities in very cold or hot weather if your pup is suffering from a skin problem.
Bacterial Skin Infections -- Pyoderma
Bacterial skin infections, known as pyoderma, occur in dogs when there is disruption of the normal surface of the skin. Cuts or abrasions, chronic moisture as occurs with excessive licking, metabolic issues such as low thyroid levels and/or allergic skin disease can all be underlying factors that lead to bacterial skin infections. Staph aureus is the bacteria most commonly responsible for most of these superficial skin infections. In puppies these infections are common in thin skinned areas such as the groin and armpits.
A hot spot forms when a dog continually licks at an irritated part of her skin, causing it to remain moist and allowing bacteria to invade the raw tissue. Hot spots are treated with a combination of antibiotics as well as by placing a "cone" or Elizabethan collar on the dog to prevent her from licking the irritated skin.
Fungal Skin Infections
There are a couple of different fungal skin infections that may affect your Shih Tzu pup. Ringworm, which is caused by a certain type of fungi known as dermatophytes is a superficial fungal infection of the skin. Ringworm typically presents as areas of patchy hair loss with brittle hair at the edges of the lesions. Ringworm is not typically itchy for your pet, but it is transmissible to other pets and to humans. Seek veterinarian care. Treatment usually consists of a series of topical treatments with medicated shampoos as well as oral anti-fungal medications.
Malassezia is a normal yeast found on the surface of a dog's skin, but just as with bacterial overgrowth seen in pyoderma, disruption to the normal barrier of the skin can allow yeast to proliferate unchecked and cause further irritation. Malassezia typically causes hair loss with obvious irritation of the skin. Malassezia infections often have a bad odor associated and leave your dog feeling slightly greasy. Some dogs develop an allergic type reaction to their body's own yeast, further complicating the infection. Seek veterinary attention if you notice these symptoms.
Itchy Skin Disorders -- External Parasites and Allergies
Scratching due to itchiness is the most common reason dogs suffer from breaks in the skin and subsequent infections. External parasites such as fleas, lice or mites can cause intense itching in affected dogs. Several products are available from your veterinarian to treat and prevent external parasites from biting your pet and causing itchy reactions.
For many dogs of any breed, allergies to substances they come in contact with either by inhalation or direct contact results in itching and scratching. This condition, known as atopic dermatitis, can be frustrating to diagnose and treat. While Shih Tzu's are not overly prone to atopic dermatitis, any dog who has reoccurring skin infections or itchy spots should be evaluated by a veterinarian for this disease. In addition to atopic dermatitis, reoccurring itchiness and skin infections can be caused by food allergies. In this case, a strict elimination diet is necessary to try to determine the specific ingredients that causes the allergic reaction in your pup. While there are certain medications that can be used to control allergic reactions and offer relief from itching, the best treatment in all cases of allergies is to determine the offending allergen and eliminate it from the dog's environment. Supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids can be beneficial for pets who suffer from allergies, but all supplements should be discussed with your veterinarian before starting.