Shar Pei

Ancient "Wrinkled" Breed from China

With its distinctive wrinkles, triangular ears, hippopotamus-shaped muzzle and blue-black tongue, the Shar-Pei is easily recognizable.

The dog breed also has some other notable distinctions: Named as the world's rarest dog breed by Time Magazine and the Guinness Book of World Records in 1978, the Shar-Pei is also one of most ancient dog breeds, as determined by DNA analysis.

However, most Shar-Pei owners will tell you that they value their dogs more so for their devotion, loyalty and affection.

Shar-Pei puppies

Speculation about the breed's ancestry points to possible links to the Chow Chow with its similar blue-black tongue, the Great Pyrenees with its double dew claws, and the Tibetan Mastiff.

The origin of the "Shar-Pei" dog can be traced centuries back to southern China during the Han Dynasty in 206 BC, where the breed was put to work in the field, working with peasants to herd cattle, hunt wild pigs and guard the home and family.

Chinese nobility used the Shar-Pei as fighting dogs, a trend that eventually disappeared over time.

After the People's Republic of China became a communist nation in 1946, the Shar-Pei population all but disappeared. In the 1960s and 70s, a small number of Shar-Pei dogs were brought to the Unites States, where dog fanciers in America and Canada dedicated years to reestablishing the Shar-Pei as a strong, healthy breed. By 1991, the Shar-Pei was recognized by the American Kennel Club.

Today, more than 100,000 known Shar-Peis are registered with the AKC.

To strangers, the Shar-Pei is very independent and reserved. With family, the breed reveals its affectionate side and is known to be very loyal and devoted.

If poorly socialized or trained, a Shar-Pei may become territorial and sometimes aggressive. Training can also help curb the breed's common stubborn and strong-willed behavior.

Usually a very silent dog, the Shar-Pei tends to bark only while playing or expressing concern. The breed is very intelligent and responds well to training, although repetitious training may bore the dog over time.

Shar-Pei dogs

Did you know that Shar-Peis can have a fur coat in one of 16 colors? The most commonly recognized is fawn, however, Shar-Peis can also be red, sand, cream, black, lilac, sable, apricot, chocolate, isabella or blue.

The Shar-Pei's fur coat also has three different textures: "horse," "brush" and "bear coat." The horse varietal is rough and prickly to the touch. Brush-coated Shar-Peis have slightly longer hair that is smoother, while the bear coat is the longest and tends to conceal the dog's well-known wrinkles.

The Shar-Pei has a compact body with a curled tail, small triangular-shaped ears, deep-set eyes and a hippo-like muzzle. There are two types of Shar-Peis: one is covered in many folded wrinkles, even into adulthood; the other has tighter skin with wrinkles appearing only on the dog's face and where the base of the neck meets the shoulder blades.

The average Shar-Pei weighs between 40 and 55 pounds.

Shar-Pei dog

Shar-Peis have several conditions that are common in the breed. Some, but not all, of these are outlined below. Of course, your Shar-Pei will not necessarily develop them and choosing a reputable breeder from which to purchase your pet, will help minimize the risk.

Amyloidosis, a chronic, fatal condition, is most likely related to familial Shar Pei fever, caused by unprocessed amyloid proteins depositing in the organs, most often in the kidneys or liver, leading eventually to renal or organ failure. The disease is present to some degree in most Shar-Pei lines due to the small number of dogs responsible for the original breeding pool. If diagnosed early, it can be managed for several years with medications.

Cherry eye is when the gland of the dog’s third eyelid slips out of place. Unlike people, dogs have a 'third eyelid' that contains a tear gland and is located in the corner of each eye. Under normal circumstances, this gland is not visible and aids in the production of tears. When the gland of the third eyelid comes out of its normal position, it swells and creates the condition known as cherry eye. This disorder can be surgically corrected.

Demodectic mange, also called Demodex, is caused by a mite (Demodex canis) that is a normal resident of the skin. It is transmitted from the mother to puppies during suckling. Genetic factors and immunologic response play a role in the development of the disease. The disease is treatable in most cases and not considered contagious.

Entropion, inward curling of the lower eyelid or ectropion, rolling out of the eyelid, is fairly common in the breed. The condition should be corrected surgically to prevent damage to the cornea (surface) of the eye.

Familial Shar Pei fever (FSF) is a serious hereditary disease that causes short fevers lasting up to 24 hours, usually accompanied by accumulation of fluid around the ankles (called Swollen Hock Syndrome). These fevers may or may not recur at more frequent intervals and become more intense. With proper care, a Shar-Pei with FSF can live a completely normal and long life. Dogs with FSF appear to be more prone to developing amyloidosis as well.

Inhalant allergies are very common in Shar-Peis. The symptoms generally express themselves in hair loss, intense itching and infected ears, the skin between the toes of the feet might well be swollen and red. Allergies are caused by an over-reaction of the immune system. Inhalant allergies are generally worse in the summer and fall when pollen, molds and seeds are abundant. As with people, it is possible to get allergy shots for dogs which might help to alleviate some of the symptoms.

Otitis (ear infections) refers to an inflammation of the ear canal, and can be caused by a foreign body in the ear canal, parasites, yeast or a bacterial infection. The Shar-Pei has very narrow convoluted ear canals, which can be difficult to clean. Cleaning your Shar-Pei's ears beginning at a young age will help train your dog to tolerate routine cleanings and help prevent infection.

Stomach bloat or torsion (also known as gastric dilatation and volvulus or GDV) is very serious and often deadly condition where the stomach rotates, twisting off its own blood supply and eliminating the only exit routes for the gas and fluid inside. This condition is common in deep-chested dog breeds such as the Shar-Pei. Take preventive measures: don't allow your Shar-Pei to drink an excessive amount of water or eat immediately before or after exercise. This condition is fatal without immediate veterinary care, so don’t’ wait to go to the vet if your dog’s stomach seems distended or is trying to vomit with no success.

As with any pet, be sure to regularly consult a veterinarian for routine care and medical advice for your four-legged friend.