The Breed History
Dating about 200 BC in the Kwantung province of China, first records of the breed consisted of artwork depictions. The name Shar-Pei means sand skin or sandpaper coat in Chinese. The breed was also found in the province of Guandong. Only this breed and the Chow Chow share the distinctive blue-black tongue. Perhaps Mastiffs and Chow Chows had a role in breed development, though records are not available to confirm this. First exports to the United States occurred in 1973. Full AKC recognition of this breed occurred in 1991.
Breeding for Function
These dogs were originally bred to be fierce fighting dogs, but now are used for companionship.
Height at Withers: 18-20" (45.5-51 cm)
Weight: 45-60 lb (20.5-27 kg)
Coat: The straight, short standoff coat is very unusual in texture, being very short (< 1") and very rough (bristles). Solid colors such as black, cream and red and sable are accepted, but some shading of solids is often present and is acceptable.
Longevity: 11-12 years.
Points of Conformation: Blue-black tongue, palate, gingivae and lips/flews are present. Significant skin wrinkles are also a unique characteristic of this breed. Note that puppies have much more extensive wrinkles than the adult. In the adult the wrinkles may remain on the head, neck, and anterior thorax. Their dark eyes are small, deep set and almond shaped, and the expression is defined as scowling. Irises may be lighter in light coated dogs. The neck is short and strong, with a well-developed dewlap, the topline is fairly level though a dip behind the withers should be present. The thorax has moderate depth. Square, compact conformation, and medium in size, the head is large for the body, and their triangular thick-leathered clamshell ears are small and lying folded flat forward against the head. Prick ears are a disqualification. Their muzzle has a shape described as "hippopotamus" because of its fullness. Soft tissue may even cause a slight bulging or fold of the nose on top of the muzzle. The stop is moderate, and skull is broad and flattened, the butterfly nose is black or matching the coat color, nostrils are wide. The tail is thick at its origin, tapers to the tip and is very high set. It curls over the back when the dog is alert. Metatarsals are short, and rear dewclaws are removed. Forelimbs are straight and moderately boned and muscled, feet are medium-sized and toes are arched (not splayed). Their gait is smooth and ground covering.
Recognized Behavior Issues and Traits
Reported breed attributes include: Courageous, alert, intelligent, dignified carriage with scowling visage, aloof with strangers, independent, loyal. Note that some dogs can be aggressive.
Normal Physiologic Variations
Flame follicles in microscopic skin sections are more frequent and found in significantly higher numbers in the Shar-pei breed compared with other breeds. Flame follicles from Shar-pei dogs do not have the same diagnostic significance as in other breeds. Pseudohyperkalemia, as reported in other breeds of Japanese origin, is a benign condition that has been identified in some Shar Pei.
Elbow Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing elbow arthritis. Reported 4.6x odds ratio for ununited anconeal process form of elbow dysplasia versus other breeds. OFA reports 24.5% affected.
Hip Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing degenerative joint disease and hip arthritis. OFA reports 13.4% affected.
Patella Luxation: Polygenically inherited laxity of patellar ligaments, causing luxation, lameness, and later degenerative joint disease. Treat surgically if causing clinical signs. Reported 11.4x odds ratio versus other breeds. OFA reports 9.9% affected.
Primary Lens Luxation: Autosomal recessive inherited disorder in the Shar Pei. The average age of onset of affected dogs is 4.9 years (range 3-6 years). Relative risk of 44.66x versus other breeds. Identified in 1.89% of Shar Peis CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. CERF does not recommend breeding any Shar Pei with lens luxation. No genetic test is available.
Entropion: Entropion, a rolling in of the eyelids, can cause corneal irritation and ulceration. It is reported in 38.68% of Shar Peis CERF examined by veterinary phthalmologists between 2000-2005. Reported at a frequency of 34.9% in the CSPCA Health Through Education Health Survey. CERF does not recommend breeding any Shar Pei with entropion.
Ear Disease: Bacterial ear infection was identified in 16.0% of Shar Peis, Yeast ear infection was identified in 31.8%, and Stenotic (narrowed) ear canals was identified in 9.2% of Shar Peis in the CSPCA Health Through Education Health Survey.
Shar Pei Fever, Recurrent Fever of Unknown Origin (RFUO): Breed-related disorder causing high fever, swollen joints (especially hocks), and predisposing to renal amyloidosis and renal failure. An epidemiological survey of privately owned dogs indicated a RFUO prevalence of 23% in Shar Pei dogs. Reported at a frequency of 23.0% in the CSPCA Health Through Education Health Survey.
Allergies: Inhalant allergies were identified in 7.7%, and Food Allergy was identified in 14.1% of Shar Peis in the CSPCA Health Through Education Health Survey.
Cutaneous Mucinosis: Breed-related disorder of dermatitis secondary to mucin accumulation in skin. Studies show a defect in hyaluronic acid metabolism associated with the HAS2 gene. This condition may be related to abnormal mast cell function or accumulation. Treatment is with steroids. Reported at a frequency of 12.1% in the CSPCA Health Through Education Health Survey.
Cobolamin Deficiency: Affected Shar Pei present with signs of chronic small intestinal disease, gastrointestinal protein loss, and possibly exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. Shar Pei have a 55.6x odds ratio versus other breeds. A region of chromosome 13 has been identified that cosegregates with cobalamin deficiency in the Chinese Shar Pei, but the actual gene and mechanism causing the disease has not been identified. Undetermined mode of inheritance. Test with serum cobalamin and B12 levels. Treat with cobalamin supplementation. Affected dogs should not be bred.
Persistent Pupillary Membranes: Strands of fetal remnant connecting; iris to iris, cornea, lens, or involving sheets of tissue. The later three forms can impair vision, and dogs affected with these forms should not be bred. Identified in 6.60% of Shar Pei CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005, with 3.77% iris to iris, 1.89% iris to cornea, and 1.89% iris to lens. Dorn reports a 7.47x odds ratio versus other breeds.
Aggression: Inter-dog aggression is reported at 15.0%, and aggression toward people reported at 6.4% in the CSPCA Health Through Education Health Survey.
Primary Seborrhea: Abnormality of epidermal differentiation, keratinization and cornification, where the epithelial turnover rate increases to as short as 3-4 days. Characterized by a greasy, flakey, thin haircoat. Dorn reports a 54.36x odds ratio versus other breeds.
Bacterial Skin Infection: Reported at a frequency of 5.0% in the CSPCA Health Through Education Health Survey.
Hypothyroidism: Inherited autoimmune thyroiditis. 4.5% positive for thyroid auto-antibodies based on testing at Michigan State University. (Ave. for all breeds is 7.5%.) Reported at a frequency of 10.6% in the CSPCA Health Through Education Health Survey.
Renal Amyloidosis (RA): Breed-specific syndrome seen in young Chinese Shar Pei dogs causing renal failure. May be preceded in some dogs by intermittent fever and joint swelling (Shar Pei fever). Pathological findings include deposition of amyloid in the renal medulla, with possible deposition in glomeruli, liver, spleen, stomach, small intestine, myocardium, lymph node, prostate gland, thyroid gland, and pancreas. Shar Pei dogs under 7 years of age have a 10x odds ratio of developing RA. The prevalence of RA among littermates is between 25% and 50%. Reported at a frequency of 4.5% in the CSPCA Health Through Education Health Survey.
Demodicosis: Focal or generalized demodectic mange has an underlying immunodeficiency in its pathogenesis. Reported at a frequency of 3.5% in the CSPCA Health Through Education Health Survey.
Primary (Narrow Angle) Glaucoma: Ocular condition causing increased pressure within the eyeball, and secondary blindness due to damage to the retina. Diagnose with tonometry and gonioscopy. Diagnosed in 4.40% of Shar Peis presented to veterinary teaching hospitals.
Megaesophagus: Dilated esophagus resulting in regurgitation and possible inhalation pneumonia. Can be secondary to hiatal hernia in this breed. Reported at a frequency of 4.0% in the CSPCA Health Through Education Health Survey.
Cataracts: Capsular and anterior cortex cataracts predominate in the breed, though posterior and nuclear cataracts also occur. Identified in 3.77% of Shar Peis CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. CERF does not recommend breeding any Shar Pei with a cataract. Reported at a frequency of 3.0% in the CSPCA Health Through Education Health Survey.
Chronic Superficial Keratitis (Pannus): Chronic corneal inflammatory process that can cause vision problems due to corneal pigmentation. Treatment with topical ocular lubricants and anti-inflammatory medication. Identified in 2.83% of Shar Peis CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Corneal Dystrophy: The epithelial/stromal form occurs in the breed, causing a bilateral, white to gray, non-inflammatory corneal opacity. Identified in 2.83% of Shar Peis CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Mast Cell Tumors: An increased incidence of mast cell tumors is seen in Shar Peis. In one study, 2.2% of all mast cell tumors submitted for pathology occurred in Shar Peis, despite the breed accounting for only 0.7% of all pathology submissions. In addition, 28% of the mast cell tumors occurred in Shar Peis under 2 years of age. Reported at a frequency of 3.5% in the CSPCA Health Through Education Health Survey.
Ectropion: Ectropion, a rolling out of the eyelids, can cause frequent conjunctivitis, and ocular discharge. It is reported in 1.89% of Shar Peis CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Retinal Dysplasia: Focal folds and geographic retinal dysplasia are seen in the breed. Dogs with the geographic form should not be bred. Reported in 1.89% of Shar Pei CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (bloat, GDV): Polygenically inherited, life-threatening twisting of the stomach within the abdomen. Requires immediate treatment. Reported at a frequency of 1.3% in the CSPCA Health Through Education Health Survey.
Esophageal Hiatal Hernia: Congenital disorder seen at an increased frequency in the breed. Clinical signs are regurgitation, vomiting, and hypersalivation. Diagnose with survey or barium radiographs showing displacement of the esophagogastric junction and stomach into the thoracic cavity. Affected dogs can also develop secondary megaesophagus, gastroesophageal reflux, esophageal hypomotility, or aspiration pneumonia. Treatment is with surgery.
Primary Immunodeficiency: Primary immunodeficiency syndromes are described in the breed; including IgA deficiency, and combined IgM, IgA, and IgG deficiency. Clinical signs include frequent recurrent infections (respiratory and skin), and malignancy.
Pemphigus Foliaceus: The breed has an increased risk (7.9x odds ratio) of developing pemphigus foliaceus. Clinical signs include crusting lesions to the dorsal part of the muzzle and head, progressing to the body. Diagnosis is with biopsy.
Lingual Melanoma: Malignant melanoma of the tongue occurs at increased frequency in Shar Peis compared to other breeds.
Brachycephalic Syndrome, Brachygnathism, Cleft Lip/Palate, Factor XII Deficiency, Fold Dermatitis, Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca, Osteochondritis Dessicans - Shoulder, Prognathism, Progressive Retinal Atrophy, Prolapsed Gland of Nictitans, Seborrhea, and Subaortic Stenosis are reported.
Isolated Case Studies
Neutrophilic Vasculitis: Three young Shar-Pei dogs presented with fever, malaise, and widespread cutaneous lesions consisting skin discolouration, edema, and pus-filled bullae that progressed to ulceration, necrosis, and granulation. Immune-mediated vasculitis was diagnosed, and treatment was with steroids. Two of the three recovered.
Gastrointestinal Epitheliotropic Lymphoma: Three Shar Pei dogs between the ages of 4-8 years were diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma of the gastrointerstinal system. Clinical signs were diarrhea, progressive anorexia, weight loss, and vomiting.
Ciliary Dysfunction: A litter of Shar Pei pups was studied with recurrent repiratory infections without immunodeficiency. Absent ciliary function was identified in one of the pups.
Tests of Genotype: Direct test for coat and nose color is available from Healthgene and VetGen.
Tests of Phenotype: CHIC Certification: Required tests are; CERF eye examination, hip and elbow radiographs, patella examination, and thyroid profile including autoantibodies. (See CHIC website: www.caninehealthinfo.org) Recommended cardiac evaluation.
- Breed name synonyms: Shar-pei, Chinese Fighting Dog
- Registries: AKC, UKC, CKC, KCGB (Kennel Club of Great Britain), ANKC (Australian National Kennel Club), NKC (National Kennel Club)
- AKC rank (year 2008): 47 (2,583 dogs registered)
- Internet resources: Chinese Shar-Pei Club of America Inc.: www.cspca.com
Shar-Pei Club of Great Britain: www.sharpei-clubofgb.co.uk
Chinese Shar-pei Club of Canada: www.peiclub.com
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