Imperial Shih Tzu: Are They Different From Standard Shih Tzus?

Imperial Shih Tzu puppy running

An Imperial Shih Tzu is a curious little thing, literally speaking. It is one of the smallest dogs you will ever encounter, fitting right into your hands or in a large teacup, which gives it the alternate name teacup Shih Tzu.

It is easy to mistake one for a normal-sized Shih Tzu puppy, but you might already be looking at its full size, barely reaching 9 inches and weighing less than 9 pounds.

That is the clear distinction between the Imperial Shih Tzu and the standard Shih Tzu, but you might be wondering if there’s more than what meets the eye.

Here is everything you need to know about Imperial Shih Tzus.

What Is an Imperial Shih Tzu?

An Imperial Shih Tzu is a Shih Tzu that is purposefully bred to be smaller than the breed standard. Since the normal Shih Tzu is already classified as a toy breed by most kennel clubs, the Imperial ones are extremely tiny with a height of 9 inches or shorter and a weight between 4 and 9 pounds.

The Imperial Shih Tzu is commonly referred to as a teacup Shih Tzu because it can often fit into a large teacup. Other names for this breed include miniature Shih Tzu, munchkin Shih Tzu, toy Shih Tzu, and Chinese Imperial Shih Tzu.

Shih Tzus originated from Tibet and is one of the most popular dog breeds for house pets because of their temperament, size, and low maintenance nature.

Imperial Shih Tzu vs. Standard Shih Tzu: What’s the Difference?

The difference between the Imperial Shih Tzu and the standard ones lies in size, with the Imperial ones being below breed standards.

Other than that, it is the same Shih Tzu that is beloved all over the world. It can come in different color combinations and have a great personality that makes them great pets.

It’s important to note that the Imperial Shih Tzu is not an official breed; instead, it is a marketing term used by breeders to hype up the rarity of small Shih Tzus when selling them.

Here’s a video showing the difference between a Imperial Shih Tzu and a standard Shih Tzu.

Imperial Shih Tzu Compared to a Standard Shih Tzu

Male vs. Female Shih Tzus: What’s the Difference?

Imperial Shih Tzu Weight: How Big Will an Imperial Shih Tzu Get When Fully Grown?

The American Kennel Club (AKC), the trusted expert in breed standards, dictates that the normal Shih Tzu can be as tall as 9-10.5 inches and weigh between 9 to 16 pounds.

Meanwhile, the Imperial Shih Tzu is significantly smaller at 9 inches and below. They can weigh between 4 to 9 pounds, making them light and extremely fragile dogs.

How Big Do Shih Tzus Get? Puppy Growth Chart and FAQ

Imperial Shih Tzu Coat Colors (With Pictures)

The Imperial Shih Tzu comes in a multitude of colors that range from solid, two-color, or tricolor. The AKC lists down the following as breed standard:

  • Black
  • Black & White
  • Blue
  • Blue & White
  • Brindle
  • Brindle & White
  • Gold
  • Gold & White
  • Liver
  • Liver & White
  • Red
  • Red & White
  • Silver
  • Silver & White

Additionally, the AKC recognizes black markings, tan markings, and black masks as standard. Here are some examples of Imperial Shih Tzu coat colors.


Black Imperial Shih Tzu
Photo from @chicaboo_x (IG)

Black Shih Tzu: The Definitive Guide to the Cutest Black Dog

Black & White



Gold & White


Imperial Shih Tzu Genetics: How Do Breeders Breed Them?

When breeding two normal Shih Tzus, it is common for their litter to have a variation of sizes. The smallest (or the runt) may sometimes be well below breed standard and, therefore, considered an Imperial Shih Tzu.

However, due to the popularity of Imperial Shih Tzus, some breeders will pair together two dogs of smaller size to deliberately produce Imperial or teacup Shih Tzu puppies.

This practice can often create various congenital problems, especially if the breeders are not responsible enough to consider existing health issues.

Are Imperial Shih Tzus Purebred? Do Kennel Clubs Recognize Them?

The Imperial Shih Tzu is not recognized as a dog breed separate from the Shih Tzu, both by the AKC and the American Shih Tzu Club, an organization dedicated to promoting breed quality in Shih Tzu dogs.

Both organizations believe that Imperial Shih Tzus results from incorrect breeding methods, which is common in breeders that specialize in them. This practice can often lead to many health issues, especially if the dam and the sire already have pre-existing conditions.

How Long Do Imperial Shih Tzus Live?

The average life span of Imperial Shih Tzus is similar to the standard ones, between 10 and 18 years. A study by The Kennel Club, the official kennel club of the United Kingdom, determined that the median life span of Shih Tzus is 13 years and two months old.

However, because of their smaller size, they are more predisposed to health problems. They are also fragile, and therefore more prone to injuries, especially if they leap off a surface that’s too high for them, among many other potential accidents.

Imperial Shih Tzu Health: Do Imperial Shih Tzus Have Health Problems?

Imperial Shih Tzu with a vet

While an Imperial Shih Tzu can be a perfectly healthy dog, if incorrect breeding methods are practiced, they may be prone to several health problems, especially if they weigh less than five pounds.

Deliberately breeding an Imperial Shih Tzu can lead to their vital organs being compromised, resulting in skeletal defects, liver failure, heart disease, and eating and breathing problems. They may also have difficulty regulating their body temperatures.

They are also at-risk for ailments often seen in the standard Shih Tzu and other small dog breeds. Here are some conditions that can affect them:

  • Hypoglycemia: Low blood sugar is a common condition in toy breeds and can be fatal if not detected early. When dogs have a hypoglycemic attack, make sure to give them a glucose source right away.
  • Brachycephalic Airway Obstructive Syndrome: A health issue often seen in dogs with short noses, including Imperial Shih Tzus. This causes breathing problems.
  • Eye Problems: Eye irritation is common in Shih Tzus, especially if the fur near their eyes scratch the corneas. Older dogs may also develop cataracts, which can lead to vision loss if not treated.

Imperial Shih Tzu Temperament: Do They Make Good Family Pets?

Imperial Shih Tzus are known for being affectionate, outgoing, playful, and loyal. These qualities have made them one of the most popular dog breeds for pets.

They are well-suited for individuals, couples, and small and big families alike. Since they are extremely friendly, they get along well with children and other dogs.

They may also be affectionate to strangers, which can be a drawback if you want a dog that will look after your home. That said, they are extremely alert and active and will let you know right away if you have a guest through a series of barking.

Socialization and obedience training is essential for Imperial Shih Tzu puppies. The younger, the better, as they tend to be stubborn and resistant.

How Much Does an Imperial Shih Tzu Cost? Puppy Prices & Expenses

Breeders who specialize in Imperial Shih Tzus often have a high asking price, ranging from anywhere between $2,000 to $3,000 per puppy.

They attribute the cost to breeding expenses, especially since the puppies come out extremely tiny and fragile and need dedicated care and attention to survive the crucial first days.

Most small dogs will often require less food and their essentials small-sized, which can save you money. However, if the Imperial Shih Tzu is too small, special care must be taken to make their food easy to swallow and digest. They may need to be tube-fed or bottle-fed when necessary.

Here are some expected essentials you will need for your new Imperial Shih Tzu:

  • Food, including treats
  • Food and water bowls or bottles
  • Collar and leash
  • Microchipping
  • Dog carrier
  • Grooming supplies
  • Vitamins
  • Regular vaccinations

Places to Find Imperial Shih Tzu Puppies for Sale or Adoption

Imperial Shih Tzu puppies for sale price and expenses

If you want an Imperial Shih Tzu, it’s best to look for reputable breeders that practice responsible breeding methods.

This is also to protect your investment, as Imperial Shih Tzus are risky—they already cost so much upfront, but you may need to pay more if a dog comes with several health problems.

You can look through the litters of several AKC-registered breeders or members of the American Shih Tzu Club. Since standard-sized Shih Tzus will produce puppies that vary in size, you’re bound to find a smaller puppy.

Here are some places where you can look into shopping for an Imperial Shih Tzu:

  • AKC Marketplace – A directory of reliable AKC-registered parents, the marketplace has several listings for Shih Tzu puppies all over the United States.
  • Teacups Puppies & Boutique – Based in Florida, this company breeds standard-sized Shih Tzus and Imperial Shih Tzus. All dogs are released with an official health certificate signed by a licensed veterinarian, a 1-year health guarantee protecting against hereditary and congenital defects, all current vaccinations, and a complementary vet visit.
  • Victorian Dynasty Shih Tzu – A California-based breeder of Imperial Shih Tzus for over 25 years, their moms are registered with the AKC, and the puppies come with a 1-year health guarantee.
  • Shih Tzu Garden – Another breeder based in California, they breed AKC-registered Shih Tzus of all sizes but refuse to do so for the extremely small dogs that weigh just 3-4 pounds. All puppies come with health testing and a 2-year health guarantee.

Alternatively, you can adopt a Shih Tzu if you find one from your local animal rescue shelters. While it’s hard to guarantee an Imperial Shih Tzu from adoption, you may still find a puppy on the smaller end.

  • Adopt-a-Pet – North America’s largest non-profit pet adoption organization, with listings for the US and Canada.
  • Shih Tzu Rescue, Inc – A public no-kill charity dedicated to finding forever homes for Shih Tzus in South Florida.
  • US Shih Tzu Rescue – A resource for Shih Tzu rescues all over the United States.
  • Tzu Zoo Rescue – A non-profit volunteer rescue and foster care organization in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas.
  • Save a Shelter Shih Tzu (SASS) – A group of individuals who rescue Shih Tzus from a variety of situations such as high-kill shelters and owners who abandon their dogs

RELATED: 10 Best Shih Tzu Breeders (2023): Our Top 10 Picks!

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Imperial Shih Tzus Hypoallergenic?

Imperial Shih Tzus are often considered a hypoallergenic dog breed and in a sense this is true. They are well-suited to dog owners with allergies because of their hair-like fur, as opposed to the typical dog fur that tends to provoke allergic reactions.

However, the allergic reactions from pets are triggered by saliva and dander, which are dead skin cells. All dogs have both, so there is no true hypoallergenic dog.

Do Imperial Shih Tzus Shed?

Imperial Shih Tzus shed very minimally, which is another reason they are often mistaken for hypoallergenic dogs.

Instead of their fur falling on the ground or sticking to your clothes, they usually just end up buried in their coat until they are bathed or brushed. It is important to groom your dog regularly to get rid of the excess hair.

The Imperial Shih Tzu will have a phase in which they shed excessively, and it is when they blow their puppy coats and transition into adult hair.

This happens when they are around 9 months to a year old, and this phase will last for a few weeks. During this period, it is important to brush your dog’s hair regularly.

Shih Tzu Shedding: How Much And How to Deal With It?

Do Imperial Shih Tzus Bark a Lot?

Most Imperial Shih Tzus are very alert and curious, which often leads to them barking a lot at strangers or anything that strikes their fancy.

They may also bark as a warning, as a way to get your attention, or as a distress signal. It can be cumbersome, especially if you have nearby neighbors if you can’t control your dog.

While it’s hard to stop Shih Tzus from being barkers, you can train them to learn to stop at your command. This is best done at a very young age and requires a lot of patience.

Are Imperial Shih Tzus Good for First-Time Owners?

Imperial Shih Tzus can be ideal for first-time dog owners because of their manageable size and the fact that they can easily get along with people. They are a great pet to learn to care for if you’ve never had one before.

That said, Imperial Shih Tzus do tend to be more fragile and prone to health problems than their standard-sized counterparts.

This may require you to pay closer attention to them and be extra vigilant about them getting into accidents. Tiny puppies may also need specialized care, so consider that before you get one.

4 Tips for Caring Small Sized Dogs Like the Imperial Shih Tzu

Imperial Shih Tzu puppy with wet body

Since they are so small, Imperial Shih Tzus require special care. Here are some tips on how to look out for them.

1. Dog-Proof Your Home

Even if you have other dogs, you will still need to take extra precautions for an Imperial Shih Tzu.

Remove anything that can encourage your puppy to climb to higher surfaces, watch out for any objects that can fall to the floor, secure power outlets, and have a dedicated area where your dog can play safely.

2. Schedule Regular Visits to the Vet

This breed is very prone to health problems, especially when they are unethically bred by backyard breeders.

By having regular visits to the vet, you can be abreast of any issues as they come along and possibly prevent them from getting worse so you can give your Shih Tzu the best quality of life.

3. Have Appropriate-Sized Food & Supplies

Be extremely mindful of the size of your Imperial Shih Tzu’s food, toys, and other essentials. Food, especially, can be a choking hazard if the kibble is large in size, or you leave huge chunks of canned or human food.

Some Imperial Shih Tzus may even need to be bottle-fed or tube-fed. Avoid toys that are too large or heavy, as these may injure your dog.

Can Shih Tzus Chew On Bones?

4. Handle With Care

Imperial Shih Tzus are very fragile due to their size. Monitor or teach your young children to be careful when playing with your dog—any rough play may easily cause an injury. Don’t place these dogs on high surfaces unsupervised, as a fall can be fatal.

Final Thoughts: Should You Get an Imperial Shih Tzu?

It’s easy to see the appeal in Imperial Shih Tzus. They are very adorable and will capture the hearts of anyone with their looks and size.

They are suitable for a variety of dog-owners, whether new or experienced, and their affectionate and loyal temperament makes them versatile pets for individuals, couples, or families.

Breed standards exist for a reason, and that is to uphold the quality of dogs while reducing potential health risks.

That said, if you want an Imperial Shih Tzu, be thorough in looking for a respectable and responsible breeder that practices ethical breeding methods to avoid dealing with health problems that can come with dogs deliberately bred to be smaller than they should be.

Imperial Shih Tzus are a risky investment. They can cost so much upfront for something so fragile. But as long as you’re prepared to provide the proper care and affection for them, they will make lovable and memorable additions to your family.

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