Shar-Pei dogs have a unique appearance. The skin wrinkles and curly tails of this relatively rare breed are easily recognizable. These dogs originated in China where they were used as hunters and guardians.
The Shar-Pei suffers from some health issues, including skin inflammation and joint disorders, but one that is of major significance is Shar-Pei Fever. This is thought to affect as many as one quarter of the Shar-Pei population. The most obvious symptoms include a fever that can last up to three days and swelling of the hocks. The hidden effects of the disease are usually more serious. These dogs seem to be unable to process proteins known as amyloid. The result is that amyloid proteins accumulate in the liver and kidney. This means that many dogs that have frequent episodes of Shar-Pei Fever suffer from failure of these organs and don't survive into old age. It appears that there is a link between heavy wrinkling and the development of Shar-Pei Fever.
Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment for this condition. Anti-inflammatory medications can be used to manage episodes of fever and inflammation, but when there is amyloidosis in the liver and kidneys, there is no cure. Dogs that regularly have bouts of fever can be given colchicine and/or dimethyl sulfoxide to try to reduce the risk of kidney amyloidosis. Colchicine is a human medication that appears to prevent amyloid formation while dimethyl sulfoxide may be able to dissolve amyloid. These results have been observed in a laboratory and not in pets; however, given how serious kidney amyloidosis is, the use of these drugs is thought to be justified. Regular blood and urine tests can identify the first signs of kidney failure so dietary modifications and other supportive treatments can be started.
Because Shar-Pei Fever is such a significant health issue in the breed and it can't be prevented or treated, researchers have been working on a test to detect the faulty gene that is responsible for the disease. If dogs with the defective gene can be identified, they can be removed from the gene pool.
Scientists from Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine have worked with Swedish researchers to design such a test. It's known as ITHACA, and it is particularly useful because it can detect how many copies of the defective gene are carried by a specific dog. Dogs with more copies of the gene are at higher risk of developing Shar-Pei Fever.
The test can be used by pet parents to evaluate the likelihood of their dog becoming sick with this condition. If they're aware that their dog has several copies of the faulty gene, then they can be very watchful for symptoms and tackle them early. However, its greatest use will be for breeders. It's easy to say that dogs with defective genes should not be bred from, but this can reduce the number of dogs available to produce offspring, which may increase the incidence of other genetic diseases. By choosing to include no-risk or even low-risk dogs in a breeding plan, the incidence of the disease in future generations can be significantly reduced.