Health and Care of the Chinese Shar-Pei
(As written by Jerry Doka)

 

Many questions are asked about how to take care of a Chinese Shar-pei. They are dogs, much the same as other breeds of dogs, many common problems that effect Shar-pei effect other breeds just the same. The following is an attempt to de-bunk the myths associated with Chinese Shar-pei and to offer some help for those who have dogs that are suffering from some of the more common ailments.

Skin

The Chinese Shar-pei skin is slightly different from most other breeds, in fact it is more akin to the skin of a feline. This is due to the large amounts of mucin, which give the skin its flexibility and wrinkles. The skin itself tears relatively easily but it also heals rapidly and with a minimal amount of scarring. For a healthy Chinese Shar-pei no extra care needs to be taken of the skin and coat beyond regular baths and some vigorous brushing when the dog is shedding. The wrinkles do NOT need to be individually cleaned, they don't need to have baby powder, corn starch or even baby oil placed in them, a simple a bath in a good quality shampoo with a towel dry is sufficient. As a rule Chinese Shar-pei do not shed year round but will shed at seasonal intervals (spring and fall), some dogs will develop a moth-eaten look to their coat at this time (this is particularly noticeable in horsecoats) but regular bathing and vigorous brushing with a rubber curry comb will get the old, dead hair out and help promote new growth.

Skin problems are one of the most common complaints of Chinese Shar-pei owners there can be a variety of causes.

 

 

 

Demodectic Mange

Demodectic mange is caused by the demodex mite, ALL dogs have these mites living in their skin. In a healthy animal the parasite and host co-exist in relative harmony. The dog's own immune system will keep the numbers of the mites in check and maintain the balance. Certain periods of growth (adolescence) or times of stress (vaccinations, coming into heat for bitches) can cause temporary impairment to the dog's immune system, which leads to a proliferation in the mites numbers. What will be seen is small patches of hair loss (generally circular) particularly on the head and sometimes on the trunk, thisis referred to as juvenile or localized demodex. Current veterinary theory is to leave such small patches well alone, in a healthy puppy or dog the immune system will re-assert itself, the patches of hairlessness will recede and the hair will grow back. More of a problem is when the immune system cannot, for some reason, cope with the large numbers of mites and it turns into generalized demodex. Generalized demodex shows large numbers of mites in a skin scraping, large patchy hair loss, and in very bad cases, total baldness. Dogs with generalized demodex have a faulty immune system and should NOT, under any circumstances, ever be bred. Treatment consists of Mitaban dips once every two weeks until several concurrent negative skin scrapings have been obtained or more popular now, ivormectin given either orally or via injection. Mitaban is a highly toxic chemical, and care should be taken when using it both for the people and the dog, use in puppies under six months is contra-indicated and dips should NEVER be closer than two weeks apart. Ivormectin as a treatment of demodex is becoming more popular and is generally considered to be less toxic on the dog's system. Whichever method is used though, it should ALWAYS be done with veterinary supervision. Some very hard cases need this treatment maintained for the entire life of the dog and some do not respond to any treatment.

Allergies

Both inhalant and food allergies are very common in most dogs. The symptoms generally express themselves in hair loss, intense itching and infected ears, the skin between the toes of the feet might well be swollen and red. Allergies are caused by an over-reaction of the immune system and again can be split into two groups, acquired and inherited. Acquired allergies show up in a mature dog which previously never had any problems. Trying to find the offending substance can be like searching for a needle in a haystack, various allergy tests are offered and can be either by the traditional "skin scrape" method or by blood tests. The blood test is mostly used in an attempt to track food allergies, it is not a terribly reliable test, but it is useful in indicating what direction to go in. The "skin scrape" is similar to the kind of testing done in people.

Food allergies whilst hard to track down are also relatively easy to treat - the offending food substance is removed from the dog's diet. The best way to prevent food allergies is to feed your dog a high quality, PREMIUM dog food, without soy, corn or wheat.

Inhalant allergies are, for the most part, impossible to treat. The best that can be hoped for is maintaining the dog as comfortably as possible. Inhalant allergies are generally worse in the summer and fall when pollen, molds and seeds are abundant. As with people, it is possible to get "allergy" shots for dogs which might help to alleviate some of the symptoms.

Inherited allergies will generally show up in a much younger dog, sometimes as young as three months but nearly always by the time a dog has turned a year. Again dogs with inherited allergies should NEVER be bred. The treatment for dogs with inherited allergies is the same as for those with acquired.

Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is a common complaint of all dogs. The thyroid gland is unable to function and maintain adequate levels of the various hormones needed to keep the body systems functioning. The commonest reason for hypothyroidism is thought to be "auto-immune thyroiditis". This is when the dog's own immune system turns on the thyroid gland and systematically destroys it.

Symptoms of inadequate thyroid production are varied and range from hair loss (generally symmetrical and starting with the thighs and back legs), lethargy, weight increase and inability to keep warm. Diagnosis is done via a blood test which checks for various values of the different thyroid hormones, Michigan State is the main testing facility in the United States. Treatment is simple, a daily dose of synthetic thyroid is given to the dog. Care must be taken though in monitoring the dosage and thyroid panels do need to be run on a regular basis to make sure the correct dose is still being given. Again, thyroid supplementation is something that must be done with veterinary supervision.

http://acmepet.petsmart.com/content/health/thyroid.html

Cutaneous mucinosis:

As mentioned in the opening paragraph, mucin is the substance in Shar-pei skin that allows the wrinkling. For some unknown reason it can "bubble" up into the top layer of skin, forming clear blisters, generally under the the neck, on the flanks and/or on the hocks. These blisters can be broken open and will leak a sticky, clear fluid - mucin. No treatment is necessary for this condition and causes no problems. However, if the dog has other skin problems the dog can scratch the blisters open and a superficial skin infection can result. Keeping the area clean and dry will prevent infection and and treat these areas much as you would hot spots.

Entropion:

        Entropion is a common congenital defect of the eyelids. Sometimes entropion may be caused by dust or debris collecting in the eye, by eyelashes growing in thewrong direction, or by an eye injury.  Entropion is the term given to the overall condition when the lower eyelid inrolls, bringing the eyelashes into direct contact withthe cornea.  This contact creates an irritation, making it necessary for the animal to blink constantly.  As the animal blinks, it is compounding the problem by scrapingthe eyelashes across a more extensive area of the eye.In breeds with large heads and loose facial skin, entropion can be found in the upper eyelids as well.The entropion can also be complicated by blepharospasm.  Blepharospasm is when the muscles around the eye spasms, causing severe squinting.Blepharospasm can be relieved by the application of anesthetic drops but the relief is temporary unless the factors causing the spasms has been removed.Entropion should never be left to take care of itself.  If left untreated, the condition could cause sore watery eyes, infection, ulcers on the cornea and even blindness.  Entropion condition requires surgical correction by a veterinarian.

Ectropion:

  The lower eyelid protects the eye.  Age, excessive scaring, loose facial skin can each be causative factors resulting in the pulling or drooping of the lower eyelidaway from the globe of the eye itself.  The punctum is the drainage hole on each lid near the nose.  As the lower eyelid droops the punctum is pulled away from its normal position.  Tears do notdrain naturally.  As protection for the eye breaks down, irritation, inflammation, burning, itching and the deposit of debris will result.  The dog will experiencediscomfort and attempt to itch the eye.Mild forms of ectropion can frequently be treated with artificial tears.  More advanced forms of ectropion may require surgery.  The evaluation and treatment of ectropion eye condition should be evaluated by a veterinarian.

Ear Mites (Otodectic Mange)

  Otodectic mange is caused by Otodectes cynotis, the common ear mite of dogs and cats. The mites are highly contagious amongst pets and feed on the superficial debris and waxes in the ear canal. Clinical signs vary greatly and some animals may show no signs whatsoever, while others will have a dark black discharge in the ear canals that resemble coffee grounds. Head shaking may be pronounced in these cases and damage and trauma to the ears may result, especially in dogs with floppy ears. Actual hemorrhage into the area between skin and ear cartilage may result and is caused aural hematoma.

  The diagnosis may be suspected in animals with heavy discharge in the ears, especially young puppies and kittens reared intensively which allows contagion to occur. The diagnosis is confirmed by either visualizing the mites with an otoscope or by microscopic evaluation of the discharge.

  The treatment of ear mites is more difficult than most owners expect. First, the mites are quite mobile, and merely squirting insecticide into the ears is rarely effective; the mites simply crawl out of the ears and as far away from the insecticide as possible (usually to around the tailhead) until it wears off and is safe for them to return. It is therefore important to treat the entire body surface with a safe flea product to be effective. The other point of concern is that ALL animals in the household must be treated or they can harbor the mites, even if they remain unaffected. Ivermectin is a very effective insecticide for many mites (except demodicosis) including ear mitesbut is currently not licensed for this purpose.

 

Amyloidosis

 Amyloidosis is the presence of abnormal amyloid protein deposited throughout an animals body.  When inflammation occurs, specific chemicals are produced and released into the dogs blood stream.  These chemicals are called Acute Phase Reactant Proteins (APP).  Once the inflammation has cleared, the APPs are broken down by the body and excreted.  In a dog with amyloidosis the body can not break the APPs into an excretable form.  The partial break down results in the conversion of APPs into Amyloid AA.  Amyloid AA is not excretable by the body.  Amyloid AA is deposited outside the cells but remains within the body.

   With repeated bouts of inflammation the Amyloid AA is progressively built up until the deposits start compressing adjacent cell walls.  These compressed cells can not properly function.  The resulting damage or disease will be dependent upon the locations involved in Amyloid AA deposits.

  The kidneys are most commonly affected by Amyloidosis.  Unlike other cells within the body, when a kidney cell is damaged, it dies.  However, kidney cells can not be replaced.  The kidneys do not generate new cells.  For this reason the amyloid protein most often causes kidney failure first.

  Amyloidosis is fatal.  Deaths have be reported ranging from eight months of age to 12 years.  The most common ages being between 3 and 5 years old.

The most common signs of advanced Amyloidosis are:

a)  Unexplained weight loss

b)  Increased thirst and frequency of urination

c)  Vomiting

d)  "Bad Breath" due to uremia or toxin/wastes build up in the bloodstream.

        Amyloidosis can be diagnosed based on tissue examination by a veterinarian.  Dogs with Amyloidosis should not be used for breeding!!!!   

Medical questions about the Shar-Pei should be directed to Dr. Jeff Vidt. or to your Veternarian!