Drop a brown towel on the floor and you’ve got a Shar-pei. Shar-peis are the dogs whose wrinkles have wrinkles. Shar-pei puppies are irresistibly cute. They seem to have been born with the adult amount of skin. They actually do grow into that extra skin somewhat. Adult Shar-peis don’t have as many wrinkles as the puppies do. They retain the wrinkles on their face and shoulders. Sharp-peis are usually black or shades of brown; fawn, cream, red, and chocolate. As adults, they usually weigh 45 to 55 pounds. They have a short, bristly coat.
The Shar-pei breed has existed for centuries in China. The breed was used for hunting, herding, protection and dog fighting. The loose skin that makes the Shar-pei so adorable was originally a benefit because it allowed the dog to twist in the bite of another dog and attack it. Shar-peis have tiny ears that leave less surface area available to injury. Skin wrinkles shield his deep set eyes. I’ve read that a Shar-pei’s bristly coat was unpleasant in an attacker’s mouth, but I can’t tell you that from experience.
The characteristics that breeders selected for in Shar-peis that made them good fighters and unique looking dogs also have their drawbacks. A dog that is bred for fighting, like a Shar-pei, is likely to have a short fuse. Getting ferociously angry quickly is a good survival quality for dog fighting, but not a good character quality for a home with a family with small children. It can also be a bit hard on veterinarians. Shar-peis are prone to allergies and skin infections. The skin located in the dips of the wrinkles isn’t exposed to air and can develop some really stinky bacterial infections. Not only will the dog look like a dropped gym towel, but it will smell like one too. Ear and eye infections are common. Wrinkles too close to the eyes may rub on the eye surface and cause ulcers. Surgery may be needed to pull wrinkles away from the eyes.
One of the medications commonly used by veterinarians to treat allergic skin conditions in dogs is prednisone. If it is used in Shar-peis, it sometimes causes their wrinkles to iron out, permanently.
Shar-pies are uncommon, unusual looking dogs. They often need expensive and time consuming health care. Even though as puppies, they look like cuddly wrinkled bath towels, this breed may not be a good choice for families with young children.
Dr. Anndrea Hatcher is a veterinarian at Olive Branch Parke Veterinary Clinic in Greenwood. She provides medical and surgical care, and boarding for dogs, cats and exotic pets. She graduated from Center Grove High School and Purdue University and her children attend Center Grove schools.