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The Shar-Pei first originated in China during the Han Dynasty over 2,000 years ago. This breed is well known for their broad and thickened muzzle, bluish-black tongue, tiny eyes and ears, and numerous folds of skin especially on the face, neck, and shoulders.
Shar-Pei dogs weigh approximately 45-60 pounds and stand about 18-20 inches at the shoulder. Chinese farmers initially used Shar-Pei to protect and herd their livestock, but by the 1900s Shar-Pei were also used for hunting boar and guarding the home. Today, Shar-Pei can be loyal companions but, like all breeds, need proper training and socialization at an early age so they learn good behavior around people, other pets, and children.
Caring for a Shar-Pei
Shar-Pei dogs can make great companions, but they’re not recommended for first-time pet parents. They are very intelligent dogs but can be stubborn and, if they aren’t trained and socialized at a young age, they can be fearful of strangers and anxious away from home. Puppy and obedience training are very important to pursue early on for this breed to prevent unwanted behaviors that arise from anxiety and fear.
Shar-Pei are laid-back dogs that don’t require much exercise. They enjoy going on short walks and are also content in an apartment or small home where there’s less room to exercise. They are very affectionate dogs around caregivers, but can guard their loved ones when they feel threatened. Supervised introductions to children and other pets at a young age are important so they learn that new people and animals aren’t scary.
Shar-Pei Health Issues
Before bringing home a Shar-Pei puppy, know that there are some health concerns this breed is susceptible to.
The numerous wrinkles on a Shar-Pei’s face are cute, but they can cause the eyelids to roll toward the eye in a condition called entropion. The fur on the eyelids and the eyelashes can then rub against the surface of the eye, called the cornea. This is a very painful condition that can lead to corneal ulcers.
Entropion is usually diagnosed when a Shar-Pei puppy is under 1 year old and can be corrected with surgery.
Shar-Pei fever, also known as swollen hock syndrome, is a hereditary condition caused by a genetic mutation that is more common in dogs with excessive skin folds. It causes sudden onset of high fevers, lethargy, swelling of the hock joints (ankles), and a decreased appetite that may last one to two days at a time. These fevers can range from 103 F-107 F and resolve within 2 days without treatment.
Over time, fevers are very harmful to a Shar-Pei’s body because they lead to a condition called renal amyloidosis. Amyloid, a type of protein, deposits within the kidneys and often progresses to kidney failure. Several diagnostic tests need to be done to diagnose this condition, including bloodwork, urinalysis, blood pressure, abdominal ultrasound, and biopsy of the kidney.
Treatment for Shar-Pei fever is not usually effective, as this disease progresses quickly, and once damage has been done to the kidneys it cannot be reversed. Feeding your Shar-Pei a prescription renal diet, giving them fluids under the skin, and certain oral medications may help temporarily. Shar-Pei dogs can be tested to see if they carry the gene for Shar-Pei fever. Shar-Pei that have this genetic mutation should not be bred.
Skin Fold Dermatitis
A Shar-Pei’s skin folds are breeding grounds for bacteria and yeast. These skin folds trap moisture and lead to skin infections.
When caring for a Shar-Pei, it’s important to inspect these folds once to twice weekly. If the skin between the folds becomes moist, red, crusty, black, or has an odor, then a skin infection is likely present and you’ll need to take your dog to your veterinarian. The vet may prescribe medicated wipes and/or medicated shampoo to keep the skin between these folds clean and free of infection.
Shar-Pei dogs are also prone to inflammation and infection on the skin between their toes, called pododermatitis. This may be due to a problem with their hair follicles, or it could be due to allergies, to a skin mite called demodex, or to hypothyroidism (an endocrine disorder).
Shar-Pei that have pododermatitis lick their feet excessively because of their itchy skin. This constant licking causes the skin between the toes to become red, moist, and prone to bacterial and yeast infections. Check your Shar-Pei’s feet if you notice excessive licking, and schedule an appointment with your veterinarian if the skin appears infected. Until the vet appointment, a cone or E-collar can prevent any further toe-licking.
Shar-Pei are prone to ear infections because this breed has very narrow ear canals that trap moisture, which creates a prime environment for yeast and bacteria to thrive. To minimize the risk of an infection, clean your Shar-Pei’s ears with a routine ear cleaner that contains a drying agent every 1-2 weeks for maintenance. Make ear cleaning a part of your regular routine when you first bring home your Shar-Pei puppy so that they get used to the process.
What To Feed a Shar-Pei
During the first 12 months of life, a Shar-Pei should be fed a medium-breed, high-quality puppy formula that’s high in calories to allow for proper growth. When your puppy turns 1, the diet should be slowly transitioned over five to seven days to an adult medium-breed dog formula. At 7 years of age, a Shar-Pei should be transitioned to a senior diet that contains joint support.
How To Feed a Shar-Pei
Shar-Pei dogs should be fed two meals a day, one in the morning and one in the evening. If your Shar-Pei eats too quickly, buy a slow feeder bowl to slow them down at mealtime.
How Much Should You Feed a Shar-Pei?
It’s best to follow the feeding guidelines on the dog food packaging, but you should also consult your veterinarian to determine the proper portion size to feed your Shar-Pei. How much you should feed your dog is based on their ideal body weight and life stage.
Always measure out the food for each meal to ensure you’re feeding your pup the proper amount. Your Shar-Pei’s daily diet should consist mostly of dog food (90%), with only 10% being treats. Baby carrots are healthy treats you can feed your Shar-Pei, but try to avoid feeding them other types of people food.
Nutritional Tips for the Shar-Pei
Because Shar-Pei are prone to skin issues, an omega-3 fatty acid supplement can help support the skin barrier, prevent dandruff, and minimize secondary skin infections. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements also minimize inflammation in the joints.
Behavior and Training Tips for a Shar-Pei
Shar-Pei Personality and Temperament
Shar-Pei can have a kind temperament toward those they know, but they’re sometimes standoffish to strangers. Socialization needs to be a priority when a Shar-Pei is 8-12 weeks old to get them used to children, other pets, and new people. Shar-Pei do not require much exercise, but they do enjoy going on daily short walks or having 30 minutes set aside per day for other forms of exercise.
Shar-Pei dogs have a moderate to high prey drive. If they are not introduced to cats and other small animals when they are young, they may chase after small animals or try to herd them (as Shar-Pei used to herd livestock thousands of years ago in China). Shar-Pei will bark when they feel threatened or anxious, or when they feel they need to protect their family.
Shar-Pei can display fear aggression if they are put into an unfamiliar situation that makes them anxious. For instance, going to a veterinary hospital for a routine appointment can make them anxious if they are not introduced to this environment at an early age. Give your Shar-Pei positive reinforcements, including praise and treats, at each vet visit to make them enjoyable.
This breed can also be fearful around other pets and people, so obedience training classes are important to help Shar-Pei puppies learn to be comfortable in new situations.
Shar-Pei dogs are smart—but they can be stubborn. Start training your dog when they’re young, and give them positive rewards through praise and treats to teach them how to behave politely. Teaching Shar-Pei basic cues, such as “sit,” “stay,” and “come,” is very important. Ideally, a Shar-Pei should take both socialization and obedience training classes with a professional pet trainer.
Fun Activities for the Shar-Pei
Shar-Pei Grooming Guide
A Shar-Pei’s coat needs minimal grooming. They have smooth, short fur and only need a bath and brushing every month or so, depending on when their coat is dirty. Their nails should be trimmed every four to eight weeks.
Shar-Pei are known for their numerous wrinkles, which can be all over their bodies. These wrinkles can trap moisture, leading to skin infections. Pet parents of a Shar-Pei must check the skin within these wrinkles at least two times a week to monitor for signs of infection. As noted, if the skin becomes red or black, experiences hair loss, or has an odor, then take your Shar-Pei to the vet.
If your Shar-Pei has numerous skin folds (some dogs are more wrinkly than others) that tend to get infected, bathing with a medicated antibacterial/antifungal shampoo every week or two can help keep the skin healthy.
A Shar-Pei’s coat is short and not prone to tangles or mats, but it should be brushed once a month to minimize shedding.
Because Shar-Pei dogs can develop entropion, pet parents need to monitor their dog’s eyes for signs of this health condition. Common symptoms include:
Watery eye discharge
Holding the eye shut
Because a Shar-Pei’s ears are small and have narrowed ear canals, they need to be cleaned once weekly and after your pup is in water (like bathing or swimming).
Considerations for Pet Parents
Shar-Pei can make great companions, but they need a lot of training initially to help prevent them from being stubborn or anxious. This breed is not recommended for first-time pet parents.
Shar-Pei dogs need a family that will be dedicated to training them, cleaning their ears weekly, and monitoring the skin folds on their body for signs of infection. Purchasing pet insurance for a newly adopted Shar-Pei is recommended—if the insurance plan is purchased prior to any health issues, then you should be covered for the cost of treatment if your dog develops recurring ear and skin issues.
The perfect home for an 8- to 12-week-old Shar-Pei puppy would be a home with older children and, perhaps, no other pets.
1. Is a Shar-Pei a good family dog?
Yes, but a Shar-Pei does need socialization classes and obedience classes starting at an early age. Also, it’s best for a Shar-Pei to be in a home with older children rather than babies or toddlers.
2. Are Shar-Pei smart dogs?
Yes, Shar-Pei are smart. But they can be stubborn, so enrolling them in training classes with a professional can be helpful.
3. What do Shar-Pei dogs do when they are bored?
Shar-Pei are a calm and low-energy breed. They are not ones to be destructive or mischievous if they don’t get lots of attention, but they can become anxious and bark.
4. Does a Shar-Pei need a lot of exercise?
Shar-Pei do not require much exercise daily and do well living in an apartment—just a few short walks a day will make this breed happy.
Brooks, Wendy. Veterinary Partner. Shar-Pei Recurrent Fever Syndrome. September 2018.
Featured Image: iStock/Alika Obrazovskaya
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