Saturday, December 18, 2010

If Looks Could Kill

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:  
  1. avoid dogs with misshaped bodies
  2. avoid dogs with exaggerated features, and
  3. 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. 

Think Mike Tyson Vin Diesel with a migraine, and you have the right idea.

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.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _

Follow Up:
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.


Yardy said...

I have posted in the past about my adopted Shar Pei. And while I appreciate and enjoy your website and your commentary I don't always agree with you on everything Patrick but when it comes to Shar Pei I am 110% in agreement with you. My dog is very lovable but she is a genetic trainwreck. I have spent well over $2000USD on surgery and treatments to keep her comfortable. She is only 7 years old but I feel I am losing the battle and I don't know how much longer we can continue together. She is very smart and as a younger dog she was an absolutely amazing example of good behavior and trainability. As she has aged her frailty has revealed itself at an alarming rate. I would never "buy into" this type of dog but since she was a cast-off from a friends messy divorce I felt obligated to give her a home. She has been a wonderful friend but as of late, her condition has been a source of constant concern. I want to do as you suggest and not prolong her misery but I just don't know when is the right time. While she recently went blind (after a $1051 entropion correction surgery)she seems to go from feeling and acting like there's nothing wrong for weeks to behaving oddly for days on end. I have had her at the vet (two vets)dozens of times and they always tell me that they can't seem to determine her problems. She tremors when she sleeps when she is having these episodes. I am beside myself. Please illuminate on this if you can.

PBurns said...

Full applause here for adopting the dog Yardy!

The dogs are always innocent, and it sounds like you have done right by her at every turn.

I cannot tell you what to do next. My only advice is to err on the side of being a week or two early, rather than a week or two late. I have been late, and it is a burden and a guilt you carry with you for a very long time.


Viatecio said...

I saw a purebred Shar pei during my internship.

It hadn't yet had entropion surgery, but it's eyes weren't AS bad as they could have been. It's skin was a bit infected within the wrinkles, and I can't say that the fur was what I would describe as anything I'd want to have contact with on a daily basis. And you pegged it on the ears...I had to clean them out, and not only did I have trouble getting the cotton swab in there, but it was PURE BLACK when I pulled it out. The vet recommended the dog be taken to a specialist to have surgery to enlarge the ear canals. When he shook his head to protest the ear cleaning, he sent gobs of slobber everywhere (well, not a breed problem, but combined with the massive wrinkles, blegh!).

It was a bit disappointing because he was a bit aloof, but very calm and friendly overall. Temperament-wise, he definitely wasn't Mike Tyson with a migraine, just more like Vin Diesel's XXX character--- "I'll be nice to you, but you're not my friend."

While this was just one experience with one dog in a large population of purebreds, between that and the evidence that this is a very troubled breed, it's just not one toward which I would gravitate if given any chance whatsoever.

By the way, Yardy, kudos to you and your dog. It's obvious you've been through a lot with her. I really don't have anything to add other than what Patrick said. Sometimes, it's just a matter of keeping her comfortable and dignified as a dog, and guessing "when it is time" when you see that she is losing the ability to be either one.

seeker said...

We had a 'lucky' SharPei. She was actually a SharPei/PitBull mix. I say lucky in that she didn't suffer from any of the eye/ear/skin problems having almost no wrinkles. And she was a loving joyous dog her whole short life. There in lay the rub. She died of kidney failure at 6 years. We all loved her and her loss was an emotional bomb blast as we didn't know her life would be so short. My old JRT had raised her from a puppy and when she died, Racer lost her mind. We later got another JRT but they never bonded closely. Bonnie was a Beauty and we still miss her. But her bad genes got her in the end.

Debi and the TX JRTs

PBurns said...

See, that's why everyone needs an editor. Viatecio's description actually gets it right: Vin Diesel is a much closer description to what I was looking for, but I just don't see enough action movies to make a decent cultural reference. Perfect!


PBurns said...

Seeker, I think I Shar-Pei X Pit Bull cross would get rid of a LOT of the health issues created by inbreeding and exaggeration with the Shar-pei. I was actually thinking of that particualr cross last night while I was wrestling with the house Pit Bull. Too bad and very sad about the kidney failure. It's what gets so many dogs in the end, of course, but we want that particular problem to show up much later.


Nanook said...

I have two peis, and neither of them fits the description of Mike Tyson. I've never seen Vin Diesel's XXX so can't comment on that. We usually call the oldest pei "Forrest Gump". :D She's sweet, kind, but kinda "slow"... she's special. :D The younger one is smart, aloof, regal and a showoff.
As for your list, I would also add amyloidosis, poor angulation, terrible weight height ratio (small and fat rather than tall and lean) and waaay to many colors.
As for Shar pei outcross. Shar pei x thai ridgeback would definitely be my choice. Similar heads (if you look at the traditional type SP), taller, better angulation (at least the red and black ones), same coat type (horse coat), blue tongue, even the puppies look similar. They can have dermoid sinus and they do have the ridge, but they don't suffer from FSF or amyloidosis + the character is similar as well. There might still be entropion, but it's a start.

Lisa said...

Where I walk my terriers, there is a woman who has a champion Shar Pei female she got from the breeder as a rehome. This bitch has severe entropian and has constant eye infections. And she is very timid, fearful having not been socialized. Rather than get the eyes fixed, the breeder, who co-owns, decided she wants to show her at Westminster. Blue ribbon is more important than dog. Sad.