While wrinkled skin is the most prominent characteristic of the Shar-Pei, the genetic mutation responsible for the wrinkles also causes a potentially deadly disease in this Chinese dog breed. Familial Shar-Pei fever, which occurs in no other breed, develops because of excess hyaluronan, or hyaluronanic acid, resulting in an autoinflammatory syndrome. While most affected dogs experience the initial Shar-Pei fever episode by age 18 months, it can appear in older canines.
Familial Shar-Pei Fever
Each individual episode of Shar-Pei fever, with the dog's temperature rising as high as 107 degrees Fahrenheit, lasts between 12 to 36 hours. However, the actual fever isn't the primary cause for concern. Some dogs develop abnormal proteins known as amyloids, which cause serious kidney damage. Amyloids stop the kidneys from performing their major task of protein filtration, so that affected canines pass necessary proteins along with waste material. These dogs eventually develop high blood pressure along with blood clots, since the proteins preventing the latter are eliminated via urine. Dogs diagnosed with Shar-Pei fever should not be bred. With careful management, they can live normal life spans.
Shar-Pei fever is also known as swollen hock syndrome, since that is one of the first symptoms of the illness. Other symptoms include fever, appetite loss, lameness, breathing difficulties, dehydration and abdominal pain. Your dog might appear hunched over, staying in one spot because joint pain makes moving uncomfortable. You might notice swelling in other joints besides the hocks. Some dogs experience mild bouts of diarrhea or vomiting, or symptoms resembling influenza.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Your veterinarian diagnoses Shar-Pei fever based on your dog's symptoms, along with a complete blood count, urinalysis, abdominal and joint X-rays and blood tests to rule out parasite-borne diseases. Your vet might put your dog on intravenous fluids and prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDS, temporarily for pain management. She also might prescribe colchicine, a medication that interferes with cell division and can prevent amyloid development. It's possible your Shar-Pei will require colchicine, an expensive drug, for the rest of his life.
There's no cure for familiar Shar-Pei fever, but once your dog recovers, you want to minimize the chances of the fever recurring. Besides prescription medication, your vet might recommend supplements for amyloid prevention. These might include omega 3 fatty acids -- such as fish oil capsules -- herbs and multivitamins. Don't give your dog supplements without veterinary approval. Nutritional changes, such as a low-protein diet, also might prevent recurrence.