Shih Tzu underbite: understanding the characteristic trait

The Shih Tzu is a small, friendly, and affectionate breed that has captured the hearts of many dog enthusiasts worldwide. One of the distinctive physical features of this breed is their underbite, a misalignment of the jaws where the lower teeth protrude outward beyond the upper teeth. Let’s take a look at the Shih Tzu underbite in-depth, discussing its origins, potential health implications, and how to care for a Shih Tzu with an underbite.

Featured image for article looking at the Shih Tzu underbite.

Origins of the Shih Tzu underbite

The underbite, also known as a mandibular prognathism or reverse scissor bite, is a natural characteristic of the Shih Tzu breed. It is a result of selective breeding for specific facial features, known as brachycephaly, which gives Shih Tzus their distinctive flat face and shortened snout. The Shih Tzu’s breed standard, as defined by the American Kennel Club (AKC) and other breed clubs, includes the presence of an underbite as a desirable trait.

Types of underbites in Shih Tzus

Underbites in Shih Tzus can be classified into two categories:

  • Skeletal underbite: This type of underbite is caused by a misalignment of the jaws, where the lower jaw is longer than the upper jaw. This misalignment results in the lower teeth sitting in front of the upper teeth when the mouth is closed. Skeletal underbites are hereditary and often seen in brachycephalic breeds like the Shih Tzu.
  • Dental underbite: A dental underbite is caused by the misalignment of individual teeth, rather than the entire jaw. This type of underbite is less common in Shih Tzus and can result from genetics or external factors, such as tooth loss or injury.

Health implications of Shih Tzu underbites

While an underbite is considered a natural and acceptable characteristic of the Shih Tzu breed, it can sometimes lead to health issues. Some potential health implications of an underbite in Shih Tzus include:

  • Dental issues: Shih Tzus with underbites may be more prone to dental problems such as tooth crowding, plaque accumulation, and uneven wear on their teeth. These issues can lead to gum disease, tooth decay, and bad breath.
  • Difficulty eating: In some cases, a severe underbite can make it challenging for a Shih Tzu to pick up food or chew properly. This can result in inadequate nutrition or digestive issues.
  • Trauma to the soft tissues: In extreme cases, an underbite can cause the lower teeth to rub against the roof of the mouth or the upper teeth to damage the lower gums, leading to pain and inflammation.

Caring for a Shih Tzu with an underbite

If your Shih Tzu has an underbite, it is essential to provide proper care and monitor their oral health. Here are some tips on how to care for a Shih Tzu with an underbite:

  • Regular dental check-ups: Schedule regular dental check-ups with your veterinarian to monitor your Shih Tzu’s dental health and address any potential issues early.
  • Teeth cleaning: Brush your Shih Tzu’s teeth regularly with a dog-specific toothpaste and toothbrush to prevent plaque build-up and maintain good oral hygiene. Dental chews and toys can also help with cleaning and promoting gum health.
  • Diet: Feeding your Shih Tzu a high-quality, balanced diet can help promote overall health, including dental health. If your dog has difficulty eating due to their underbite, consider providing soft or moistened food to make it easier for them to chew and swallow. You can also experiment with different types of bowls or feeding mats to find the most comfortable option for your dog.
  • Monitor for signs of discomfort: Keep an eye on your Shih Tzu for any signs of discomfort or difficulty eating, such as dropping food, reluctance to chew, or pawing at their face. If you notice any of these signs, consult with your veterinarian to determine if the underbite is causing issues and discuss possible solutions.
  • Addressing severe underbites: In cases where the underbite is causing significant discomfort or health problems, your veterinarian may recommend corrective measures such as orthodontic treatment or surgery. These interventions should only be considered if necessary for the dog’s overall well-being and should be performed by a qualified veterinary specialist.

Breeding considerations for Shih Tzus with underbites

While the underbite is a characteristic trait of the Shih Tzu breed, responsible breeding practices should prioritize the health and well-being of the dogs. Here are some considerations for breeding Shih Tzus with underbites:

  • Health screening: Ensure that both the sire and dam have undergone appropriate health screenings, including dental examinations, to minimize the risk of passing on severe underbites or other dental issues to their offspring.
  • Breed standards: Familiarize yourself with the breed standard and strive to produce Shih Tzus that adhere to these guidelines. While an underbite is an acceptable feature in the breed, it should not be exaggerated or cause discomfort to the dog.
  • Work with a mentor: If you are new to breeding Shih Tzus, consider working with an experienced breeder or mentor who can guide you through the process and help you make informed decisions to prioritize the health and well-being of your dogs.


The Shih Tzu underbite is a unique and defining characteristic of the breed, but it can also lead to potential health issues if not properly managed. Regular dental care, a balanced diet, and monitoring for signs of discomfort are essential for maintaining the oral health of a Shih Tzu with an underbite. When breeding Shih Tzus, responsible practices should prioritize the health and well-being of the dogs, aiming to produce pups that adhere to breed standards without compromising their quality of life.

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