Whilst many dog breeds have wrinkles, none can quite compare with the impressive wrinklyness of the Shar Pei! Shar Peis are unique, with their excessive wrinkles and blue-black tongues. Their closest relative is the Chow-Chow, the other breed boasting a unique dark tongue.
What causes the wrinkles?
Due to a genetic mutation, Shar Peis overproduce hyaluronic acid. These molecules accumulate in huge amounts under the skin, bind to water, and cause wrinkles.
This characteristic look is really cute, but are there associated health concerns?
Yes, these dogs can develop mucinosis, a skin disease where blisters develop that are filled with a thick, sticky fluid. They can also suffer from otitis/ear disease.
Most worryingly, Shar Peis can suffer from a disorder of chronic inflammation. The hyaluronic acid can break apart into smaller fragments. It is thought that these fragments can trigger the immune system, leading to ongoing episodes of inflammation called Shar Pei Autoinflammatory Disease (SPAID).
What are some of the symptoms of SPAID?
Some typical symptoms include the following: episodes of fever which typically last 1-3 days; swollen joints, often in the hock; lethargy and unwillingness to move; swollen and painful muzzle; and gastrointestinal upset/abdominal pain.
Is this life-threatening?
Generally, the episodes of fever, swelling and discomfort are self-limiting and resolve even without treatment. However, these dogs often have ongoing inflammation. The most worrying potential complication of this chronic inflammation is Renal Amyloidosis.
What is Renal Amyloidosis?
During ongoing inflammation, a protein called Serum Amyloid A is released into the bloodstream. Breakdown products of the protein build up to high amounts, eventually leading to irreversible kidney failure. Common symptoms include: vomiting, lack of appetite and dehydration; and excessive water drinking and urination.
What should I do as an owner?
Learn how to take your Shar Pei’s temperature! If you are concerned about your Shar Pei’s health, take the temperature and act quickly if temperatures are 39.6C or higher. Bring your pet into a cool environment and cool them with wrapped ice packs held over the inner thighs.
Talk to your veterinarian about running routine urine concentration and urine protein testing on a regular basis to screen for any signs of renal amyloidosis.
What should I do as a breeder?
Genetic testing is available that identifies Shar Peis at high risk for SPAID. Dogs at high risk should not be used in breeding programs.