Case File

Bailey the Shar Pei

by Liz Watkins MRCVS

Many illnesses are more common in some breeds than others, but sometimes we come across diseases that are unique to one breed. Bailey was an example of this.

Bailey is a 2 year old Shar Pei. This is a very ancient breed that originates from China, and is distinctive because of the deep wrinkles that cover the body. They are most pronounced on the head, and are due to a natural genetic mutation that changes the make-up of the matrix of the skin and adjacent tissues. The skin has a natural mucoid (mucus-like) component rather than the more water-based tissue with which vets are familiar.

Bailey came to us as an out-of-hours emergency because he had progressively become more disinterested and slow, and was showing swelling of both his hocks. He had been losing his coat in patches for a few weeks and looked a bit ‘moth-eaten’. He was a bit itchy and generally unhappy.

On clinical examination, he had a high temperature, and oedema of the hocks. Oedema is a passive fluid collection, often seen in people as swollen ankles. Its interesting property is that if you press the swollen area with your thumb, a thumb print remains as a dent for a minute or so. Other causes of swelling will regain their original shape immediately.  Much of his skin was very thickened, involving mainly his hind legs, but also his forelegs and under his tail.

The initial suspicion was of Shar Pei fever. This presents as a sudden high temperature with swelling of the hocks, although hair loss and itching is not usually part of the picture. It is not known exactly what causes it, and some dogs get repeated attacks, which can eventually lead to kidney failure. We needed to investigate further to see if there was any other underlying condition, and booked Bailey in for blood tests, skin scrapings and skin biopsy.

The skin scraping was fascinating (at least to a vet!). This is a process where we use a blade and run it over the skin surface to get a sample of the surface layer of the skin. We usually get a small amount of skin cells with a little blood, but in Bailey's case as soon as we breached the skin surface, the whole area oozed mucus, as if his skin was a runny nose! The samples were all examined in the lab, and changes were consistent with Shar Pei fever. The blood tests were normal, and no other disease process was identified.

Bailey was treated with anti-inflammatories, and regained his normal character quickly. Within a few days, coat regrowth was obvious, so we concluded that the skin changes were all part of the Shar Pei fever syndrome, although he had obviously not read the text book about the expected symptoms!

Many modern breeds have been changed by breeders for cosmetic reasons, and suffer diseases as a consequence of these changes. The Shar Pei is unique in that the changes to create the breed characteristic happened in ancient times, and no other breed suffers from Shar Pei fever. Bailey’s owners are very vigilant and will let us know immediately if he has another attack, so that we can help to minimise any long term deterioration.

Read about our Shar Pei Services at Watkins & Tasker Vets.