The "Barkless" Yodeler
Basenji dogs are arguably one of the more interesting dog breeds: some say they resemble a miniature deer; they trot like a horse and possess an unusual double-suspension gallop that allows them to skim the ground at high speeds; they don't bark — they yodel; they don't have a noticeable smell; they enjoy climbing and standing on their hind legs like meerkats; and they are one of the oldest dog breeds known to man.
That being said, the Basenji is also very affectionate and forms a tight bond with family members. Ancient history and quirky behavior aside, this dog breed has found a place in American homes.
Images of Basenji dogs have been discovered in Egypt, carved into stone slabs located in the tombs of pharaohs. The carvings portray the Basenji — looking very much like modern day's Basenji — sitting at the feet of their masters.
Clearly, this dog has had a connection with people for thousands of years. According to historians, the Basenji was utilized mainly as a small game hunting companion. Originating from Africa, the Basenji was bred for its endurance, speed and relative silence — barking dogs could alert predators and warring tribes to a location, so the dog's tendency to howl or yodel rather than bark was well appreciated.
After many failed attempts to import the dog breed to Europe, England and America due to fatal reactions to vaccines or exposure to new diseases, the first successful Basenji establishment wasn't until the 1930s.
The breed was accepted to the American Kennel Society in 1946.
The Basenji has a playful personality, with a seemingly endless source of energy. "Frisky," "energetic," "curious," "clever” and "affectionate" are words commonly used by owners describing their Basenji companions.
This dog breed is known to form tight bonds with family, sometimes becoming emotionally attached to one family member in particular.
While the Basenji is known to be patient, it is also advised that Basenji owners take the time to train their dog regularly so that they can curb the friskiness and clever antics (Basenjis have the ability to climb fences).
Sometimes described as a jackal, other times as a small deer, the Basenji is a small dog, weighing, on average, 25 pounds.
The Basenji has large pointed, erect ears, a tightly curled tail and a long neck. The breed is deceptively powerful for its size — the Basenji is very fast on its feet. An interesting tidbit: the dog's curled tail will straighten out while running, giving the dog more balance and the ability to run even faster.
The Basenji's coat can be red, black, black-and-tan, brindle or solid white.
The dog's wrinkled forehead and almond-shaped eyes create what some owners refer to as the "serious" look. One that may certainly be hard to resist while the dog is patiently begging for treats.
Basenji dogs have several conditions that are common in the breed. Some, but not all, of these are outlined below. Of course, your Basenji will not necessarily develop them and choosing a reputable breeder from which to purchase your pet, will help minimize the risk.
- Eye disorders: Various conditions such as coloboma, corneal dystrophy and persistent papillary membrane can occur in Basenji dogs, so a complete eye exam by your veterinarian is strongly recommended.
- Fanconi syndrome is an inherited disorder in which the kidneys fail to reabsorb electrolytes and nutrients. Symptoms include excessive drinking, excessive urination, and glucose in the urine, which may lead to a misdiagnosis of diabetes. Fanconi syndrome usually presents between 4 and 8 years of age, but can present as early as 3 years or as late as 10 years. Fanconi syndrome is manageable and organ damage is reduced if treatment begins early. Without treatment, the disorder is fatal. Basenji owners are advised to test their dog's urine for glucose once a month beginning at the age of 3 years.
- Hernia (inguinal or umbilical) are holes in the lining of the abdomen which may or may not cause serious medical issues for the pet. A visit to the veterinarian can help identify if these are present and if they require treatment.
- Hip dysplasia is a hereditary malformation of the hip joint that is more commonly associated with large breed dogs, but has been shown to affect Basenji dogs. It can cause discomfort and lameness and result in arthritis. X-rays of the hips when dogs are young (under 2 years) can help identify if this problem is present will allow owners to identify a proper exercise, diet and treatment regimen if their dog is affected.
- Hypothyroidism is a decrease in production of thyroid hormone by the thyroid glands. It appears to be more common in Basenji dogs than in many other breeds. Lack of this hormone causes weight gain, lethargy, poor hair coat, infertility and susceptibility to chronic infections. Thyroid hormone levels should be checked annually in adult dogs or if the dog appears to have any of the symptoms listed.
- Immunoproliferative small intestinal disease (IPSID) is a disorder of the intestinal tract which results in an inability to properly absorb and utilize nutrients. Symptoms might include chronic diarrhea, inability to gain weight, vomiting and gas. This disease is managed with a combination of medications and dietary changes and will require a close relationship with your veterinarian.
- Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) is an adult-onset condition which typically occurs between ages 4 and 10. It is a gradual degeneration of the retina which leads to blindness. There is no treatment for this disorder and it is suspected to be inherited in the Basenji dog.
- Pyruvate kinase-deficient hemolytic anemia is a disorder that is caused by a shortage of functional red blood cells, which may result in not enough oxygen getting to the body tissues and can then result in death. Symptoms include fatigue, jaundice (yellow skin, gums), enlarged spleen, excessive panting, fever, seizures, and red-colored urine. There is a DNA test that can rule out this disease in Basenji dogs and anyone purchasing a purebred puppy should check with the breeder to ensure the dam and sire have tested negative.
Basenjis are also sensitive to environmental and household chemicals which can cause liver problems.
As with any pet, be sure to regularly consult a veterinarian for routine care and medical advice for your four-legged friend.