Health and Care of the Chinese Shar-Pei
(As written by Jerry Doka)
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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.
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 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, this is 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.
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.
Another very common cause of skin problems are fleas. Many dogs are very allergic to the saliva of the flea. Symptoms are intense itching and scratching; it can take only one bite to set a severely allergic dog into ripping its skin apart. The best solution for fleabite allergies is PREVENTION. These days there are some excellent flea preventives available, both Frontline and Advantage are highly recommended, Program is another method, however this particular method does not actually kill the fleas that are biting your dog but sterilizes them so they can’t re-produce. If fleas are a problem they you also have to treat the environment your dog lives in by removing fleas from your house and yard.
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.
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.
It is a sad fact that most vets believe that ALL CSP need entropion surgery. This is a breed that has deep-set eyes, and they do tend to tear, this is not necessarily a sign of problems. A problem would be eyes swollen shut, and/or constant pawing and rubbing at the eyes.
Entropion is when the excess skin surrounding the eye causes the eyelids to roll in and the eyelashes scratch the surface of the cornea. This constant irritation will ulcerate the cornea and unless treated will eventually lead to the dog losing his eyesight in the affected eye. The surgery itself, generally, consists of a small section of the eyelid being removed so that the eyelashes are no longer in contact with the cornea. In extreme cases, surgery sometimes has to be done on the actual skin on the head above the eyes. It is highly recommended that should entropion surgery be needed, it should never (except in extreme cases) be done before at least one year of age. Up until a year, a dog is still growing and the shape of the head and size of the head can change dramatically. Surgery done in too young of a dog frequently has to be corrected when the dog reaches maturity.
It should be noted that CSP’s eyes can be very sensitive to allergies and can swell shut due to environmental allergens (dust, cigarette smoke), this can cause the appearance of entropion but doing the surgery will not solve the problem. Tracking down the offending allergen and removing it from the environment will correct the problem. Entropian can also be cause by stress – commonly referred to as "stress entropion" – this is again a temporary situation and once the dog is removed from the stressful situation, the eyes will recover. If their cornea gets a scratch, or if they bump their eye again the tissue surrounding the eye can swell, causing the eye to shut, tacking is advised for these situations, as it is a temporary problem.
Cherry eye – protrusion of the third eyelid - is another fairly common problem in the breed. The gland for the third eyelid becomes unattached and can be seen a round red blob in the inner corner of the eye. When particularly large it can in fact obscure the entire eye. Whilst it doesn’t hurt the dog or affect it in any way it is unsightly and if left untreated can cause problems. Treatment consists of surgery to place the gland back into place and tie it down with sutures. This type of surgery is generally very successful though there are rare occurrences when the gland pops back out. If this should happen then it is generally recommended that the entire gland be removed. Should the gland itself be removed then drops have to be put in the dog’s eye for the rest of its life to prevent what is commonly referred to as "dry" eye. It should be noted that if one of the glands comes lose, the other eye will also be affected. Should this happen to your dog it is worth trying to wait an extra couple of weeks, if possible, to see if the other gland goes so your dog doesn’t have to go through two doses of anesthesia in a short period of time. Unfortunately, there is no way "preventive" surgery can be done, the gland actually has to come out before it can be repaired.