Zuchon

Stuart Fitzgerald
Dr Stuart Fitzgerald (MVB MANZCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Zuchon
Hamberty / Wikipedia.org

This small designer dog is half Bichon Frise and half Shih Tzu, and is often known as the Teddy Bear Zuchon – for good reason. Fluffy, cuddly, and undeniably cute, this is a very new hybrid that is taking the United States by storm. Zuchons are clever, playful, attention-loving companion dogs that are extremely adaptable, and make excellent apartment pets. Because both pedigree parents are also bred for companionship, the Zuchon has an intuitive understanding of human behaviours, and will adapt its energy levels and attitude to suit the people it spends most time with, and it makes an equally good pet for children and adults alike.

Lacking any hunting instinct, the Zuchon will also usually mix well with other pets, although it is small enough that care should be taken when introducing it to larger dogs. The coat varies from wavy to curled, and sheds very little, thanks to the contribution of the Bichon. As with any designer dog, buyers need to choose their puppy very carefully, as all pedigree lines carry certain inherited health problems that can be passed on, even to their hybrid offspring. Although most Zuchons are healthy, prospective owners should be aware of some of these conditions in order to be able to satisfy themselves they are purchasing from a reputable breeder, and must spend time with both mother and puppies to observe their behaviour, activity levels, and physical conformation. Healthy Zuchons are expected to have a lifespan of 12–15 years.

About & History

The Bichon is a popular choice of parent for designer puppies by virtue of its low-shedding coat and devotion to its owners. Similarly, the Shih Tzu is a companion dog that cannot bear separation, and the crossing of these two breeds creates a hybrid that would love to live in its owner’s pocket and is so cute as to be irresistible. Unsurprisingly, this teddy bear-like dog is much in demand in America since it was first introduced in the last ten years or so, and it is likely to become much more common on this side of the Atlantic over the coming years.

Appearance

Like all hybrids, the appearance of individual Zuchons varies, with some being more like the Shih Tzu, and others closer to the Bichon. They are small dogs, around 24–30 cm (10–12 in) tall, and weigh 4–6 kg (9–13 lb). In general, they have fairly large, domed skulls and big, expressive eyes. The length of the muzzle is an important characteristic, as those with very short noses are likely to experience some of the breathing disorders of the Shih Tzu, and may be limited in their exercise tolerance. For this reason, the muzzle should be no less than one-third the length of the crown, and the nostrils must be open, not collapsing on themselves during inspiration. This can be seen even in very young pups, and is something that should be inspected when one is choosing a pup from a litter.

The coat is abundant and soft, with hair that can be markedly curled or just wavy, and will usually be moderately long if left unclipped. The Zuchon comes in many different colours, with the most common being:

  • Black
  • White
  • Silver
  • Grey
  • Tan
  • Cream

Character & Temperament

The Zuchon is a very lovable dog, living for its cuddles and ever-attentive to its owner. It is also a lively and watchful hybrid, and will usually let you know if someone is at the front door before the doorbell rings. However, it isn’t known to bark excessively or without cause, so isn’t the archetypal yappy small breed. Although it can learn to live a relatively sedentary life, for example, if owned by an elderly or disabled person, this is a playful dog at heart, and will entertain itself and its people with games of chasing and fetch around the house.

It gets along well with smaller pets and other small breeds of dog, but because of its size it may be easily injured by larger dogs. Likewise, it may not be robust enough to tolerate the attentions of very young children who may wish to carry this teddy bear around – a drop from a few inches off the ground can be catastrophic, especially for young puppies.

Trainability

Photo of Zuchon puppy

The Zuchon is usually very easy to train. Seeing itself more as a small human than as a dog, it attempts to mimic its owner’s behaviour, and can become quite a civilised companion with which to share a home. By introducing basic commands like “sit” from a very early age, the owner can lay the ground work for a life of good behaviour and obedience.

This hybrid is naturally sociable, and should be given plenty of opportunities to meet other dogs and to be doted on by strangers. Happily, this just requires the owner to go to the local park – the Zuchon’s appearance is likely to draw a constant stream of admiration from passers-by.

Health

Generally speaking, hybrid pups are likely to be healthier than their parents. However, because of the high incidence of inherited disorders in pedigree lines, there remains a risk of one or more of the following being passed from either the Bichon Frise or the Shih Tzu to the Zuchon:

  • Atopic dermatitis – An allergic skin disorder causing itch and inflammation, especially of the ears, feet, and perineum. The Bichon is particularly predisposed, and signs may be seen from as young as four months of age
  • Brachycephalic airway syndrome – A combination of anatomical abnormalities in very short-nosed dogs that cause increased airway resistance and respiratory distress. Seen in some Zuchons that inherit the Shih Tzu’s facial features. Surgery is necessary in some affected dogs to widen the nostrils, shorten the soft palate, and/or to trim excess tissue from around the larynx.
  • Cushing’s disease – Excess circulating cortisol levels due to hormone-secreting tumours of the brain or adrenal glands. Symptoms include hair loss, weight gain, skin thinning, and excess thirst.
  • Immune-mediated haemolytic anaemia – One of several common autoimmune diseases in dogs. Severe anaemia and accompanying low blood oxygen levels develop as a result of the immune system inappropriately targeting red blood cells for destruction. Signs include breathlessness, weakness, and collapse. Although underlying problems, such as tick-borne infectious diseases, can be involved, most cases appear to be primary, and treatment involves immunosuppression, which may need to be continued for life.
  • Keratoconjunctivitis sicca – Also known as dry eye, immune-mediated destruction of tear glands leads to reduced tear production, causing chronic irritation and trauma to the eye. Sometimes seen in combination with skin allergies (see above), it may also be the result of a drug reaction, but most often has no identifiable underlying cause.
  • Patellar luxation – Hindlimb lameness due to the kneecap slipping out of position when walking or running. Affected dogs exhibit an intermittent three-legged gait, but are often surprisingly non-painful. May require surgery to prevent long-term trauma to the knee joint.

Exercise and Activity Levels

The Zuchon is a sprightly, active dog, always quick to leap to the window whenever something catches its eye. It will never say no to an opportunity for play, and throws itself into games with enthusiasm. However, it doesn’t need a very active owner. Although it will benefit from regular walks, around half an hour on a daily basis is usually enough to keep it fit and healthy.

Grooming

The silky coat will quickly tangle and knot if neglected, and needs to be brushed at least every other day. Many Zuchons also have hair that tends to grow at all angles around the eyes, and need this to be wiped away from the eyes every day with a damp cloth. Some have non-patent tear ducts, meaning that tears overflow from the eyes onto the fur, and these overflows need to be wiped away to prevent the underlying skin from becoming sore and infected. Monthly bathing will help maintain the coat in top condition, and it is likely that most owners will elect to have the dog trimmed once every two months to help keep the hair at a manageable length.

Some Zuchons, especially those with short noses, are prone to dental disease, as overcrowded teeth are more likely to develop significant tartar deposits. Daily tooth brushing is the preferred approach to preventing this, and is easily done with purpose-made brushes and toothpaste. Like all good habits, this is best introduced to the dog in puppyhood. Similarly, nail clipping can be a stressful event for adult dogs that have not learned to accept the procedure, and with care and a patient approach, owners can begin to clip the occasional nail in puppies just a few months old. This then becomes just another routine part of the grooming routine.

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