If looks could kill, they probably will...
In July of 2009, I wrote an article for Dogs Today in which I gave some general guidelines for avoiding problem dogs and problem breeds.
Along with "avoid giant breeds" and "avoid tea cup breeds," were three other bits of advice:
- avoid dogs with misshaped bodies
- avoid dogs with exaggerated features, and
- avoid any breed with a disease named after it.
The Shar-Pei is a classic health caution on all three counts, and for extra fun it is also one of the most chronically inbred dogs in the world.
In 1978, this dog was listed in The Guindess Book of World Records as the rarest breed in the world.
In short order a few dozen dogs were imported to the United States, and in 1988 the dog was added to the AKC's roles in the "miscellaneous" class before being moved to the "non-sporting" group in 1992.
Today this dog is a common "back of the newspaper" breed cranked out for quick sales to people besotted with the idea of owning a freak that is "so ugly, it's cute."
In fact, far too often, a Shar-Pei is misery on four legs.
A common problem in the breed is "Shar-Pei Fever," which is an inherited autoimmune disease that strikes about 23% of dogs. Among the symptoms are high fevers that can can last several days, as well as swollen hocks.
There is no cure for this disease, only control, and because the disease results in malignant protein deposits, it also works to destroy the dog's kidney and liver function.
While Shar-Pei Fever is common, chronic skin problems are endemic due to a combination of poor air circulation across deep skin folds, a weakened autoimmune system which has a hard time suppressing mange mites, and an almost legendary set of food allergies.
Adding to the misery are the dogs' ears -- tiny little folded rosettes of skin and flesh which are prone to chronic infection, and which are almost impossible to clean out due to the extremely tight ear canals.
Adding more fun to the the mix are chronic thyroid problems (striking one in five dogs) which can lead to hair loss, serious dandruff, and coat-color loss.
And I have not even mentioned the eyes! This is a breed that is extremely prone to serious eye problems due to folds of skin that cascade ever the eye, creating ulcers and entropion (35% of dogs) that can quickly lead to a dog going blind if it is not rushed to a veterinary surgeon for a "tack up" eye-lift.
Of course entropion is only one eye problem with Shar-Peis. There is also glaucoma, cherry-eye, and retinal dysplasia, as well as my favorite -- “sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome” whose major symptom is sudden irreversible blindness. Nice!
Still want one of these dogs? Well there's more ...
You see, underneath all those "cute" skin folds is a powerful dog with a strong and not-too-forgiving personality.
Shar-Peis were once fighting and guard dogs, and they remain prone to temperament problems due to a sometimes toxic combination of owner protectiveness and serious crankiness due to health care miseries.
The bottom line is that whatever Shar-Peis might once have been, or could have been, we now know what they well and truly are: an abomination abetted by the AKC and a real mistake for far too many owners who did too little research before rushing out to buy one of these dogs.
If there was even an indictment on four legs of the closed registry system, the registration of entire litters of puppies without veterinary inspection, and the misery that show ring pretenders can bring to a dog through extreme exaggeration of features, then the Shar-Pei is that dog.
Still want a Shar-Pei?
Please consider a rescue dog, as many are available on Petfinder. I just put in my zip code and lots of purebred dogs came up, including this fellow. I really hope he finds a home.
I had some rough treatment in my puppyhood, but I am still very friendly. Once I realize you aren't going to hurt me, I will warm up to you. I think I was born on 11/6/09, which means I am only a year old. I had my entropion surgery already so am just waiting for my eyes to heal. They are very swollen right now so I am not feeling so well and I don't like this cone they put on me because it is uncomfortable and makes me look funny. I am very frightened right now.
Maybe not the best ad in the world, but let's not criticize the writer, eh? This breed rescue didn't bring this dog into the world or sell it to someone who had no idea what they were doing when they bought it.
This misery was not made by an ad writer.
This misery was made in the AKC.
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The picture at top was purloined from a Roger Ebert (yes, the film reviewer) article in The Chicago Sun Times, and was apparently shot by photographer Tim Flach and featured in his new coffee table book entitled Dogs. I actually read only the first two paragraphs of Ebert's piece and did not realize it was a book review. Jemima Harrison showed the same picture to The Kennel Club's Bill Lambert, who dismissed the dog as being of "incorrect type" and not the kind of thing The Kennel Club approved of. Wooops! It turns out that this dog was bred by a Kennel Club Accredited Breeder, and the top stud dog at this kennel is going to Crufts. More here.