Teacup Shih Tzu
Teacup Shih Tzu, Miniature, Munchkin or Dwarf, Tiny Teacup, Tiny Teacup, Chinese Teacup, and Tiny Toy Shih Tzu are all names that are being used interchangeable to refer to Shih Tzu dogs that are smaller than the AKC breed standard of 9 to 16 pounds.
At first glance, one would think that they represent a separate AKC breed. This just is not the case; rather they are Shih Tzu dogs that usually reach adult weights of between four and nine pounds with a height of 9 inches or under.
These names have been invented and used by breeders and the general public and are in no way “official” designations of the breed.
Shih Tzu breed history
The breed’s proper name is spelled Shih Tzu, but sometimes people will spell it “shitzu,” which is also how many Americans pronounce this name. The American Kennel Club explains that the Chinese say “sher-zer.”
The Shih Tzu has a revered place in Chinese history since they were developed by Teacup breeders in the palace of the Chinese emperor centuries ago from Tibetan breeding stock.
And historians believe the Shih Tzu originated from two even more ancient Sino-Tibetan breeds, the Lhasa apso, and the Pekingese.
The name Shih Tzu means “lion dog,” and they may have been bred by lamas (spiritual masters) in Tibet to resemble a tiny lion since the lion holds such a special place in Buddhist mythology. These dogs were the house pets and lap-warmers for most of the Ming dynasty.
Emperors would give lavish gifts to the Shih Tzu breeders who produced the most beautiful and affectionate dogs. After China opened its borders to the outside world in the early 20th century, other people discovered this beautiful dog and breed clubs formed.
At first, the Shih Tzu was classified as an Apso breed, but its unique identity was finally recognized, and the AKC added the Shih Tzu as a distinct breed in 1969.
Teacup Shih Tzu: Accident or Deliberate?
There is always some variation in size among dogs in the same litter. Some puppies are born smaller than expected even though their parents are the normal size.
As with any breed, every once in a while there will be a runt or a puppy that will be smaller than his littermates and will thus be smaller than the breed standard once they reach adulthood. This is an accidental occurrence, but common in many breeds.
Breeding Smaller Dogs
Some breeders have fallen in love with the smaller versions of the Shih Tzu and are purposely breeding smaller and smaller dogs.
Breeders who deliberately breed small Shih Tzu will choose two small dogs that are less than the breed standard hoping to produce offspring that are small as well. Some breeders who purport to breeding Teacups go so far to claim that there is an “Teacup gene” responsible for creating small Shih Tzu. There is no evidence to this claim.
To breed selectively for small dogs, breeders will find a very small male, breed him to a very small female, and continue to take the smallest dog from the litter until they have a very tiny dog.
Some of the breeders who are actively trying to breed small dogs are also working to get their dogs listed as an official dog breed, “Teacup.” or “Chinese Teacup.”
Teacup Shih Tzu: The Debate
In the United States, this is a hotly topic nowadays when it comes to this breed. The American Shih Tzu Club is the official national organization that sets the standards for the breed in the United States. Other countries have their own organizations that set standards and they may or may not be exactly like the American version.
Teacup Shih Tzu: The Controversy
The controversy lies in the fact that some breeders deliberately breed small and then claim their dogs are special in some way and thus should be worth more than those bred to the AKC standard should.
By calling their puppies “Teacups,” they are implying that their dogs are fundamentally different. The American Shih Tzu Club considers these claims to be a Myth. Teacup breeders do not see their dogs as a Myth.
So-called Teacup breeders tend to charge more for their puppies because they insist that these tiny pups require additional nutritional supplements, care, and affection. Due to their small size, they sometimes need to be hand-fed.
In actuality, all toy breeds require this care and most if not all breeders will supplement their puppies with additional nutrients, bottle feeding and even tube feeding if necessary.
Teacup vs traditional Shih Tzu
The AKC recognizes only the traditional Shih Tzu dog. The website All Shih Tzu explains that sometimes a smaller version of the Shih Tzu dog will be described as an Teacup Shih Tzu. If a dog is closer to the lower end of the weight standard for the breed (9 pounds), the breeder might call it an Teacup, miniature, or a teacup.
If you are buying from a breeder who is breeding dogs that are smaller than the AKC standard, choose one that is healthy and represents the best characteristics of the breed.
All Shih Tzu suggests that a 7-or-8-pound dog can still be healthy and sound while a Shih Tzu that is under 5 pounds will likely experience a variety of health problems.
Teacup Shih Tzu & the Law of Supply and Demand
It is unclear whether these breeders of the so-called “Teacups” are doing so in order to make more money, or are doing so in respond to a society who is looking for smaller and smaller “purse” dogs. Most Teacup Shih Tzu breeders will say that they breed for a smaller size because they like small sized Shih Tzu dogs. There is some merit in that.
Shih Tzu are very sturdy dogs and a 16 pound Shih Tzu is quite a handful, even though they are considered a toy breed by AKC standards. Shih Tzu dogs love sitting on people’ s laps and a 16 pound lap dog is formidable weight, especially to a 110 pound woman. To be honest, our dogs have gotten smaller over the years through deliberate attemps by breeders to reduce the size of the dog.
We have many breeds today that have more than one size including Schnauzers, Poodles, American Eskimo, Shar Pei among others. Even among the toy breeds, there have been drastic reductions in size even within the last century or two. The Yorkie, once a much larger dog is now expected to be 7 pounds or under.
A quick survey of Shih Tzu breeders reveals that oftentimes the demand dictates the supply. The law of supply and demand is alive and well in the dog breeding industry whether or not breeders or the general public are willing to acknowledge it.
Breeders are simply supplying society’s demand for small dogs, using the terminology that has become fashionable in recent years. The terms, Teacup Shih Tzu, Teacup, and Tiny toy Shih Tzu are those terms that the buying public has latched onto.
As consumers want new and different inanimate products, so too are they search for unusual pets, often time as status symbols. Is this right? This is just the reality of the world we live in.
Miniature and teacup Shih Tzu
The phrases “teacup Shih Tzu” and “miniature Shih Tzu” are sometimes used interchangeably to describe a smaller-sized Shih Tzu dog, but the American Shih Tzu Club explains that breeders often advertise a runt Shih Tzu as a teacup or an Teacup breed.
However, the American Kennel Club does not recognize a teacup, Teacup, or miniature Shih Tzu. Chihuahuas are another small breed that is often advertised as teacup or miniature, although they are not recognized as an official breed.
The AKC says that a Shih Tzu is considered a member of the “toy dog” group, meaning a dog that is “lap-size.” The official breed standard approved by the AKC and the American Shih Tzu Club calls for a weight range of 9-to-16 pounds for these little dogs, and anything less than that, such as one advertised as teacup, Teacup, or miniature, could potentially be an unhealthy dog.
Caring for Shih Tzu puppies
Shih Tzus were bred to be lap dogs. Therefore, they are not known to hunt, dig, guard, or have any particular skill or purpose other than to provide companionship. Vet Street says they may retrieve a ball, but that’s not what they are known for.
So if you are raising Shih Tzu puppies, train them to have good manners but don’t worry if they don’t have a job to do. While they will bark if someone comes to your door, that’s likely all they’ll do before climbing back into your lap.
Since they are so small, Shih Tzus need only minimal exercise, and they don’t have to be walked or played with as extensively as larger breeds do.
Vet Street says Shih Tzus are intelligent and enjoy learning, so an obedience class for your Shih Tzu puppies will probably be a good experience and they may also be good in agility and obedience competitions.
The Downside to Smaller Shih Tzu
Sadly, there is another side to this breeding tendency. Normally these so called Shih Tzu Teacup dogs are healthy. Still, there is no guarantee. If puppies are less than five pounds, they may have considerable health problems.
As with other small dog breeds, Hypoglycemia can be a problem in tiny breeds. Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar is a possible problem with all toy breed puppies but becomes an even greater risk to tiny Shih Tzu pups. If not caught early, it can be fatal. Other problems associated with the Shih Tzu breed can worsen in the tiny versions of the breed.
One of the saddest problems that seem to occur when we breed for smaller and smaller dogs is skeletal defects that result in discomfort and pain.
This happens in dogs selectively bred to be dwarfs as well as those whose structure is small than the breed standard. Often this “dwarfism” in Shih Tzu dogs is deliberate and desirable. Long bodies and short legs, coupled with outward turned feet are often described by breeders as Shih Tzu with a cobby body, a very desirable trait.
In reality, these dogs may develop serious problems due to the cobby bodies. You can see the results of shorter legs and longer bodies in such breeds as Dachshund and Corgi.
Whether or not there is a right or wrong to this debate remains to be seen. In the meantime, there are tiny Shih Tzu puppies that can be purchased as well as the normal size dogs of nine pounds or more.
New owners have the right and responsibility to research and make an informed decision as to the size of Shih Tzu they prefer. New owners should not be caught up in the terminology and should do their homework prior to purchasing a new puppy. As with any living creature, impulse buying should be avoided.
What To Do If I Own An Teacup Shih Tzu?
If you already have a Shih Tzu puppy, and it seems to be much smaller than normal, your first step should be an appointment with a good veterinarian. They can do the necessary tests to determine if there are underlying health issues.
Dogs that are smaller than nature intended require special care. You will also have to carefully monitor their food intake. New foods should be introduced slowly, and much more carefully than other Shih Tzus who are merely smaller than average.
If your puppy is having trouble with solid food, you may have to get a prescription puppy formula from your vet.
Dogs that are too small are often quite sensitive to temperature. They will find it difficult to adjust to a change in temperature, so you must be careful when taking them outside in the cold. Dog clothing may be more than just a fashion choice. They can also overheat easily when temperatures rise.
The bones of these tiny dogs are also quite fragile. You will have to ensure that your dog can safely avoid falling. They may need a ramp to even get on or off the furniture. Take care when socializing them with large dogs, as it is very easy for the larger dog to injure them unintentionally, even when they are friendly and just playing.
Regular checkups at a veterinarian’s office are crucial. The sooner you are aware of any health issues that may be developing, the more effectively they can be treated.
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