The Shar-Pei is an ancient breed of dog known for its distinctive wrinkles and dark-colored tongue, as well as the rough coat that gives it its name (which means “sand-skin” in Chinese).
Images on pottery suggest that this breed existed as early as the third century BCE. Adults typically weigh between 40 and 55 (18 to 25 kg) and stand 18 to 20 inches (46 to 51 cm) high, making them medium-sized dogs. Shar-Peis are devoted to their owners, but require early socialization if they are to interact well with children and other pets, and they are often suspicious of strangers.
The deep folds in the skin make this breed somewhat sensitive to heat, so on warm days, they need a shady spot and plenty of water. And while the coat of the Shar-Pei does not require trimming, daily brushing is necessary to keep the skin clean and free of infections.
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Although the Shar-Pei has been around for millennia, breeding programs over the last few decades have been not always been well managed.
As a consequence, these dogs have a relatively short average lifespan of around 10 years, and they are susceptible to a number of hereditary illnesses:
- Canine mast cell tumors: snub-faced breeds like the Shar-Pei are at a relatively higher risk than other dogs for developing cancer of the cells that mediate immune responses. The result is the formation of subcutaneous lesions that may spread to other parts of the body. The disease can be fatal, but if caught early it responds to a variety of treatments, including surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
- Familial Shar-Pei fever: this mysterious, breed-specific ailment causes sudden fevers and swelling of the ankles. Most dogs recover with rest and the administration of drugs, but these drugs can have side effects, and the condition can also lead to secondary medical problems.
- Dysplasia of the hip and/or elbow: these dogs may inherit a condition where the hipbone fails to fit correctly into the pelvis, or where the bones of the legs connect poorly. Over time, wear and tear can cause these joints to become inflamed, resulting in pain and restricted movement. The condition can often be reversed with surgery.
- Entropion: some dogs inherit a condition that causes the eyelids to curl inward rather than outward so that the eyelashes rub against the cornea. The result is pain and infection of the eyes that can be severe. Treatment involves surgically reshaping the malformed eyelids.
- Patellar luxation: the kneecap (patella) of some dogs may become dislodged, causing pain and restricted movement. In severe cases, surgery may be required to re-position the affected bone and connective tissue.
- Renal amyloidosis: this condition occurs when a dog’s body makes an abnormal protein, amyloid, that builds up in the body. Amyloidosis is particularly serious when it affects organs like the kidneys, though the symptoms—such as anorexia, vomiting, and buildup of fluid in the abdomen—can be caused by any number of problems. Diagnosis depends on thorough urinalysis and blood work and may require an ultrasound or biopsy. The disease can frequently be managed with blood transfusions or with surgery to remove damaged parts of the kidneys.
- Yeast infections: the small and uniquely folded ears of Shar-Peis allow for little airflow, which can create environments where microorganisms, especially yeast proliferate. As a consequence, a dog’s ears may become infected; the first sign is an unpleasant odor associated with the affected area. Regular ear care will usually prevent infections from taking root, but the condition can be treated with antifungal drugs.
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The fact is that owning a special breed like a Shar-Pei comes with special responsibilities. It is up to the owner to acquire puppies from a reputable breeder, but even the most scrupulous breeder cannot ensure that a dog will not develop one or more of these illnesses, any of which can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars to treat. Pet health insurance is one way that owners of these amazing dogs can be sure that they will be able to provide lifetime medical care.
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