Lhasa Apso

Your Lhasa Apso

Caring for Your Faithful Companion

Lhasa Apsos: What a Unique Breed!

Your dog is special! She’s your best friend, companion, and a source of unconditional love. Chances are that you chose her because you like Lhasas and you expected her to have certain traits that would fit your lifestyle:

  • Protective of family: good watch dog
  • Energetic, active, and athletic
  • Trustworthy and dependable
  • Alert, curious, and busy
  • Small, but sturdy
  • Loving and loyal to her owners

However, no dog is perfect! You may have also noticed these characteristics:

  • Can be rambunctious and rowdy, especially as a puppy
  • May be territorial when it comes to cats and other dogs
  • Can be independent and strong-willed
  • Suspicious of strangers
  • Can be difficult to housetrain
  • Coat needs to be cared for frequently to prevent matting and tear staining

Is it all worth it? Of course! She’s full of personality, and you love her for it! She is fearless, spirited, and alert. With adequate exercise and socialization she makes an affectionate and mannerly housedog.

The Lhasa Apso is an ancient breed that originated in the mountains of Tibet. The Lhasa is named after the sacred city of Lhasa where they were bred in monasteries by Buddhist monks to act as sentinels. Their long, heavy, insulated coat protected the alarm dogs as they patrolled in the harsh environment of Tibet. Recent DNA analysis suggests that the Lhasa Apso is one of the most ancient dog breeds. Lhasas are intelligent, balancing independence with love and devotion. The Lhasa is a joyful and mischievous family companion.

Your Lhasa Apso’s Health

We know that because you care so much about your dog, you want to take good care of her. That is why we have summarized the health concerns we will be discussing with you over the life of your Lhasa. By knowing about health concerns specific to Lhasa Apsos, we can tailor a preventive health plan to watch for and hopefully prevent some predictable risks.

Many diseases and health conditions are genetic, meaning they are related to your pet’s breed. There is a general consensus among canine genetic researchers and veterinary practitioners that the conditions we’ve described herein have a significant rate of incidence and/or impact in this breed. That does not mean your dog will have these problems; it just means that she is more at risk than other dogs. We will describe the most common issues seen in Lhasa Apsos to give you an idea of what may come up in her future. Of course, we can’t cover every possibility here, so always check with us if you notice any unusual signs or symptoms.

This guide contains general health information important to all canines as well as the most important genetic predispositions for Lhasa Apsos. This information helps you and us together plan for your pet’s unique medical needs. At the end of the booklet, we have also included a description of what you can do at home to keep your Lhasa looking and feeling her best. You will know what to watch for, and we will all feel better knowing that we’re taking the best possible care of your pal.

Brushing your dog’s teeth daily will prevent periodontal disease.

Brushing your dog’s teeth daily will prevent periodontal disease.

General Health Information for your Lhasa Apso

Dental Disease

Dental disease is the most common chronic problem in pets, affecting 80% of all dogs by age two. And unfortunately, your Lhasa is more likely than other dogs to have problems with her teeth. It starts with tartar build-up on the teeth and progresses to infection of the gums and roots of the teeth. If we don’t prevent or treat dental disease, your buddy will lose her teeth and be in danger of damaging her kidneys, liver, heart, and joints. In fact, your Lhasa’s life span may be cut short by one to three years! We’ll clean your dog’s teeth regularly and let you know what you can do at home to keep those pearly whites clean.


Lhasa Apsos are susceptible to bacterial and viral infections — the same ones that all dogs can get — such as parvo, rabies, and distemper. Many of these infections are preventable through vaccination, which we will recommend based on the diseases we see in our area, her age, and other factors.


Obesity can be a significant health problem in Lhasa Apsos. It is a serious disease that may cause or worsen joint problems, metabolic and digestive disorders, back pain and heart disease. Though it’s tempting to give your pal food when she looks at you with those soulful eyes, you can “love her to death” with leftover people food and doggie treats. Instead, give her a hug, brush her fur or teeth, play a game with her, or perhaps take her for a walk. She’ll feel better, and so will you!

Roundworm egg as seen under the microscope.

Roundworm egg as seen under the microscope.


All kinds of worms and bugs can invade your Lhasa’s body, inside and out. Everything from fleas and ticks to ear mites can infest her skin and ears. Hookworms, roundworms, heartworms, and whipworms can get into her system in a number of ways: drinking unclean water, walking on contaminated soil, or being bitten by an infected mosquito. Some of these parasites can be transmitted to you or a family member and are a serious concern for everyone. For your canine friend, these parasites can cause pain, discomfort, and even death, so it’s important that we test for them on a regular basis. We’ll also recommend preventive medication as necessary to keep her healthy.

Spay or Neuter

One of the best things you can do for your Lhasa is to have her spayed (neutered for males). In females, this means we surgically remove the ovaries and usually the uterus, and in males, it means we surgically remove the testicles. Spaying or neutering decreases the likelihood of certain types of cancers and eliminates the possibility of your pet becoming pregnant or fathering unwanted puppies. Performing this surgery also gives us a chance, while your pet is under anesthesia, to identify and address some of the diseases your dog is likely to develop. For example, if your pet needs hip X-rays or a puppy tooth extracted, this would be a good time. This is convenient for you and easy for your friend. Routine blood testing prior to surgery also helps us to identify and take precautions for common problems that increase anesthetic or surgical risk. Don’t worry; we’ll discuss the specific problems we will be looking for when the time arrives.

Genetic Predispositions for Lhasa Apsos

Bone and Joint Problems

A number of different musculoskeletal problems have been reported in Lhasa Apsos. While it may seem overwhelming, each condition can be diagnosed and treated to prevent undue pain and suffering. With diligent observation at home and knowledge about the diseases that may affect your friend’s bones, joints, or muscles you will be able to take great care of him throughout his life.

Intervertebral disc disease. Note how the cushion of the disc materal has extruded and puts pressure on the spinal nerves.

Intervertebral disc disease. Note how the cushion of the disc materal has extruded and puts pressure on the spinal nerves.

Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) is a common condition in Lhasas. The disease is caused when the jelly-like cushion between one or more vertebrae slips or ruptures, causing the disc to press on the spinal cord. If your dog is suddenly unable or unwilling to jump up, go up stairs, is reluctant to move around, has a hunched back, cries out, or refuses to eat or go potty, he is likely in severe pain. He may even drag his back feet or be suddenly paralyzed and unable to get up or use his back legs. If you see symptoms, don’t wait. Call us or an emergency clinic immediately! For less severe cases, rest and medication may resolve the problem. In many cases involving paralysis, we’ll recommend surgical removal of the ruptured discs (within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms to get the best results). As with so many other diseases, weight control helps to prevent this problem. You should also use ramps or steps from puppyhood on so that your dog doesn’t spend a lifetime stressing his back by jumping on and off of the furniture.

Normal Knee

Normal Knee

Patellar luxation

Patellar luxation

Sometimes your Lhasa’s kneecap (patella) may slip out of place (called patellar luxation). You might notice that he runs along and suddenly picks up a back leg and skips or hops for a few strides. Then he kicks his leg out sideways to pop the kneecap back in place, and he’s fine again. If the problem is mild and involves only one leg, your friend may not require much treatment beyond arthritis medication. When symptoms are severe, surgery may be needed to realign the kneecap to keep it from popping out of place.

You’ve probably heard of hip dysplasia, an inherited disease that causes the hip joints to form improperly and leads to arthritis: it is common in Lhasa Apsos. You may notice that he has lameness in his hind legs or has difficulty getting up from lying down. We can treat the arthritis — the sooner the better — to avoid discomfort and pain. We’ll take X-rays of your dog’s joints to identify the disease as early as possible. Surgery is sometimes considered in severe and life-limiting cases of hip dysplasia. Keep in mind that overweight dogs may develop arthritis years earlier than those of normal weight, causing undue pain and suffering.

Eye Problems

Not many things have as dramatic an impact on your dog’s quality of life as the proper functioning of his eyes. Unfortunately, Lhasa Apsos can inherit or develop a number of different eye conditions, some of which may cause blindness if not treated right away, and most of which can be extremely painful! We will evaluate his eyes at every examination to look for any signs of concern.



Cataracts are a common cause of blindness in older Lhasas. We’ll watch for the lenses of his eyes to become more opaque—meaning they look cloudy instead of clear—when we examine him. Many dogs adjust well to losing their vision and get along just fine. Surgery to remove cataracts and restore sight may also be an option.

Because your Lhasa has eyeballs that naturally protrude, he is more vulnerable to eye injuries. Scrapes or punctures to the cornea (the protective covering on the eyeball) are the most common injuries. Not only do they hurt, they can become infected and affect his vision. Don’t let him ride in the car with his head out the window as this is a frequent cause of eye injuries. Call us right away if he has any problems with his eyes. A damaged cornea is painful and should be treated immediately. Medication and sometimes surgery is required.

Glaucoma, an eye condition that affects Lhasa Apsos and people too, is an extremely painful disease that rapidly leads to blindness if left untreated. Symptoms include squinting, watery eyes, bluing of the cornea (the clear front part of the eye), and redness in the whites of the eyes. Pain is rarely noticed by pet owners though it is frequently there and can be severe. People who have certain types of glaucoma often report it feels like being stabbed in the eye with an ice pick! Yikes! In advanced cases, the eye may look enlarged or swollen like it’s bulging. We’ll perform his annual glaucoma screening to diagnose and start treatment as early as possible. Glaucoma is a medical emergency. If you see symptoms, don’t wait to call us, go to an emergency clinic!

Liver Problems

Your Lhasa is more likely than other dogs to have a liver disorder called portosystemic shunt (PSS). Some of the blood supply that should go to the liver goes around it instead, depriving the liver of the blood flow it needs to grow and function properly. If your friend has PSS, his liver cannot remove toxins from his bloodstream effectively. To check for this problem, we’ll conduct a liver function test in addition to a standard pre-anesthetic panel every time he undergoes anesthesia. If he develops symptoms such as stunted growth or seizures, we’ll test his blood and possibly conduct an ultrasound scan of his liver. Surgery may be needed, but in some cases, we can treat with a special diet and medication.

Multiple Skin Problems

Your Lhasa is susceptible to different kinds of skin infections and diseases. One of them is caused by yeast (Malassezia dermatitis). When it infects the ears, it causes itching, redness, and an accumulation of brown waxy discharge. On the skin, it leads to greasy, hairless areas, especially on the neck and throat, with a characteristic odor. Another common skin disease called seborrhea can cause dry, flaky skin or greasy, oily skin. These diseases make your pet itchy and uncomfortable. Bathing with special shampoos and rinses may be helpful, and we’ll treat any underlying problems such as allergies. The earlier you call to have his skin problems checked, the less likely it is that you will end up caring for an itchy, bald, smelly dog.

Bleeding Disorders

There are several types of inherited bleeding disorders which occur in dogs. They range in severity from very mild to very severe. Many times a pet seems normal until a serious injury occurs or surgery is performed, and then severe bleeding can result. Von Willebrand’s disease is a blood clotting disorder frequently found in Lhasa Apsos. We’ll conduct diagnostic testing for blood clotting time or a specific DNA blood test for Von Willebrand’s disease or other similar disorders to check for this problem before we perform surgery.

Stones can form in the urinary bladder resulting in irritation and potentially obstruction.

Stones can form in the urinary bladder resulting in irritation and potentially obstruction.

Bladder or Kidney Stones

There are a few different types of stones that can form in the kidney or in the bladder, and Lhasa Apsos are more likely to develop them than other breeds. We’ll periodically test his urine for telltale signs indicating the presence of kidney and bladder stones; they are painful! If your buddy has blood in his urine, can’t urinate, or is straining to urinate, it is a medical emergency. Call us immediately!

Kidney Disease

Glomerulonephropathy is an inherited disease that slowly damages your Lhasa Apso’s kidneys causing them to fail, often at an early age. Because damaged kidneys leak protein, we may be able to diagnose this disease by testing his urine for excessive protein. We recommend yearly urine analysis because early detection leads to a happier pet and an easier, more affordable treatment plan. We may also recommend a special diet as part of the therapy plan.

Illustration of degenerative valves in the heart. Over time, some dogs will develop heart failure.

Illustration of degenerative valves in the heart. Over time, some dogs will develop heart failure.

Heart Disease

Heart failure is a leading cause of death among Lhasa Apsos in their golden years. Most heart disease in dogs is caused by weakening of a valve. A heart valve slowly becomes deformed so that it no longer closes tightly. Blood then leaks back around this valve and strains the heart. Pets with heart valve disease (sometimes called mitral valve disease) have a heart murmur. If your dog has a heart murmur or outward signs suggesting heart problems, we’ll perform testing to determine the severity of the disease. The same tests will need to be repeated at least every year to monitor the condition. If heart valve disease is diagnosed early, we may be able to prescribe medications that could prolong his life for many years. Veterinary dental care and fatty acid supplementation can help prevent heart disease and weight control can help diminish symptoms.


There are three types of seizures in dogs: reactive, secondary, and primary. Reactive seizures are caused by the brain’s reaction to a metabolic problem like low blood sugar, organ failure, or a toxin. Secondary seizures are the result of a brain tumor, stroke, or trauma. If no other cause can be found, the disease is called primary, or idiopathic epilepsy. This problem is often an inherited condition, with Lhasa Apsos commonly afflicted. If your friend is prone to seizures, they will usually begin between six months and three years of age. An initial diagnostic workup may help find the cause. Lifelong medication is usually necessary to help keep seizures under control, with periodic blood testing required to monitor side effects and effectiveness. If your dog has a seizure: Carefully prevent him from injuring himself, but don’t try to control his mouth or tongue. It won’t help him, and he may bite you accidentally! Note the length of the seizure, and call us or an emergency hospital.

Water on the Brain

Hydrocephalus occurs when fluid builds up inside the skull and puts pressure on the brain. This condition is most common in breeds with dome-shaped heads, like your Lhasa Apso. It is often present when the skull bones don’t fuse properly. Signs include seizures, difficulty training the puppy, dulled mental function, circling, and a spastic gait. It is usually diagnosed early in life, but occasionally we diagnose it in adult dogs. We’ll keep this risk in mind during her visits and recommend early testing and discuss effective treatment options if symptoms develop.

Respiratory Distress Syndrome

This disease, also known as brachycephalic syndrome, affects dogs with a short nose, like your Lhasa Apso. He has the same amount of tissue in his nose and throat as the longer-nosed dogs, but there’s no place for it to go. As a consequence, the soft palate (the soft part at the back of the roof of the mouth), is too long and hangs down into the airway. The nostrils are often too small, and sometimes the trachea, or windpipe, is narrow and undersized. All of these things lead to a narrow and obstructed airway. Many of these dogs can barely breathe! Watch for exercise intolerance, loud breathing, coughing, bluish gums, or fainting. With his short nose, he is also more likely to develop other problems, such as flatulence from excessive air intake, pneumonia from aspirating food, or heat stroke. In severe cases, surgical correction may be recommended.

Mast cell tumors can look like anything. Be sure to have all lumps and bumps checked out.

Mast cell tumors can look like anything. Be sure to have all lumps and bumps checked out.


Cancer is a leading cause of death in older dogs. Your Lhasa will likely live longer than many other breeds and therefore is more prone to get cancer in his golden years. Many cancers are cured by surgically removing them, and some types are treatable with chemotherapy. Early detection is critical! We’ll perform periodic diagnostic tests and look for lumps and bumps when we examine your pet.


The pancreas is the organ that produces digestive enzymes and insulin. Some dogs, like your Lhasa, are prone to developing pancreatitis, which is inflammation of this important organ. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, belly pain, fever, lethargy, and dehydration. This is a very serious disease which may lead to death or long term health problems like diabetes. It’s also quite painful! Most cases require hospitalization for intensive care, pain management, and fluid support. Please call us or an emergency clinic if symptoms develop.

Taking Care of Your Lhasa Apso at Home

Much of what you can do to keep your dog happy and healthy is common sense, just like it is for people. Watch her diet, make sure she gets plenty of exercise, regularly brush her teeth and coat, and call us or a pet emergency hospital when something seems unusual (see “What to Watch For” below). Be sure to adhere to the schedule of examinations and vaccinations that we recommend for her. This is when we’ll give her the necessary “check-ups” and test for diseases and conditions that are common in Lhasas. Another very important step in caring for your pet is signing up for pet health insurance. There will certainly be medical tests and procedures she will need throughout her life and pet health insurance will help you cover those costs.

Routine Care, Diet, and Exercise

Build her routine care into your schedule to help your Lhasa live longer, stay healthier, and be happier during her lifetime. We cannot overemphasize the importance of a proper diet and exercise routine.

  • Supervise your pet as you would a toddler. Keep doors closed, pick up after yourself, and block off rooms as necessary. This will keep her out of trouble and away from objects she shouldn’t put in her mouth.
  • Her long coat requires daily brushing or her coat can be clipped for easier care.
  • Lhasa Apsos often have serious problems with their teeth, so you’ll need to brush them at least three times a week!
  • Clean her ears weekly, even as a puppy. Don’t worry—we’ll show you how!
  • She is well suited to apartment life as long as she is given daily walks and short play sessions.
  • That long back is at risk for injury – use ramps or steps so she doesn’t stress her back by jumping off the furniture.
  • Keep your dog’s diet consistent and don’t give her people food.
  • Feed a high-quality diet appropriate for her age.
  • Exercise your dog regularly, but don’t overdo it at first.

What to Watch For

Any abnormal symptom could be a sign of serious disease, or it could just be a minor or temporary problem. The important thing is to be able to tell when to seek veterinary help, and how urgently. Many diseases cause dogs to have a characteristic combination of symptoms, which together can be a clear signal that your Lhasa Apso needs help.

Office calls

Give us a call for an appointment if you notice any of these types of signs:

  • Change in appetite or water consumption
  • Tartar build-up, bad breath, red gums, or broken teeth
  • Itchy skin (scratching, chewing, or licking), hair loss
  • Lethargy, mental dullness, or excessive sleeping
  • Fearfulness, aggression, or other behavioral changes


Seek medical care immediately if you notice any of these types of signs:

  • Scratching or shaking the head, tender ears, or ear discharge
  • Inability or straining to urinate; discolored urine
  • Cloudiness, redness, itching, or any other abnormality involving the eyes
  • Slow or stunted growth; sometimes seizures after eating
  • Coughing, especially at night or upon rising after sleeping, rapid breathing at rest
  • Any abnormal shaking, trembling, or excessive involuntary tremors
  • Seizures, dull demeanor, spastic gait
  • Loud breathing, tires easily at exercise

Partners in Health Care

DNA testing is a rapidly advancing field with new tests constantly emerging to help in the diagnosis of inherited diseases before they can become a problem for your friend. For the most up-to-date information on DNA and other screening tests available for your pal, visit www.Genesis4Pets.com.

Your Lhasa counts on you to take good care of her, and we look forward to working with you to ensure that she lives a long and healthy life. Our goal is to provide the best health care possible: health care that’s based on her breed, lifestyle, and age. Please contact us when you have questions or concerns.


  • Ackerman L. The Genetic Connection: A Guide to Health Problems in Purebred Dogs. Second edition. AAHA Press; 2011.
  • Bell JS, Cavanagh KE, Tilley LP, Smith FW. Veterinary medical guide to dog and cat breeds. Jackson, Wyoming. Teton New Media; 2012.
  • Gough A, Thomas A. Breed Predispositions to Disease in Dogs and Cats. 2nd Edition. Wiley-Blackwell; 2010.
  • Crook A, Dawson S, Cote E, MacDonald S, Berry J. Canine Inherited Disorders Database [Internet]. University of Prince Edward Island. 2011. [cited 2013 Apr 11]. Available from: http://ic.upei.ca/cidd/breed/lhasa-apso
  • Breed Specific Health Concerns [Internet]. American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, Inc. [cited 2013 Apr 11]. Available from: http://www.akcchf.org/canine-health/breed-specific-concerns/?breed=lhasa-apso

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