About Shar Pei Dogs

The Shar Pei breed of dog is known for its wrinkled face.
The Shar Pei breed of dog is known for its wrinkled face. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

It's hard to miss a Shar Pei. The dog breed originally from China has a few distinguishing features, including its loose skin and wrinkles (which it eventually grows out of) and blue-black colored tongue. Shar Pei's are a rare breed almost wiped out in its native China in the 1960s.

Shar Pei appearance

From its face to its tail, the Shar Pei has some unique characteristics. A Shar Pei's loose skin gives the dog a wrinkled face as a puppy, but eventually the dog grows into its skin and has a less wrinkled appearance at maturity. The Shar Pei also has a blue-black tongue, which ties it to its ancestor breed, the Chow. Shar Pei's also have short, curled tails and a short, rough coat. The Shar Pei's name comes from the Cantonese word for "sand skin."

Shar Pei's History

Shar Peis originally came from the Chinese province of Guangdong, where they served as game hunters and guard dogs. Eventually the dogs became popular with the noble classes, who used them as fighting dogs. The Shar Pei's loose skin made it well-suited for fighting, because it made it harder for other dogs to grasp onto. Based on genetic studies, Shar Peis may be one a handful of ancient dog breeds which originally broke off from wolves and spread around the world.

Shar Pei's Rarity

Shar Pei's were not as popular with the Chinese Communists as they had been with the nobility and the breed nearly was extinguished in the 1960s. But activists in Hong Kong saved the breed and took some of them to the United States in the 1960s and 1970s. The first Shar Pei was registered in the United States in 1976. In 1991, the Shar Pei was recognized by the American Kennel Club.

Shar Pei Health Issues

The Shar Pei struggles with some health issues caused by its small breeding stock when the dog was introduced to the United States. A common malady that Shar Peis must deal with is Familial Shar Pei fever, a disease common to the breed. It causes short fevers as well as fluid buildup in the dog's legs. Shar Peis also are susceptible to amyloidosis, which causes protein buildup in organs, eventually leading to renal (kidney) failure.

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