Mar Vista Animal Medical Center

3850 Grand View Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90066




The Chinese Shar-pei, famous for its wrinkles, has gone from the rarest dog breed listed by the Guinness Book of World Records to its current status of popularity. This breed is famous for its aloof temperament and its special medical issues, still, most Shar-pei owners would not trade their breed for any less controversial one.

The following discussion is meant to assist people who are considering adoption of a Shar-pei. The Shar-pei is a unique animal with unique needs and may not be suited for the first time dog owner or for a family that requires a “low maintenance” dog. The Shar-pei is not a breed to adopt lightly; one must be prepared for an extra time commitment and even extra veterinary expenses.



When one reviews the following problems, it is important to ask oneself, “Will I be prepared to deal with this problem should it arise?” Clearly, the average Shar-pei does not have an on-going list of problems but one should be aware of what can come up.

The Shar-pei’s skin is predisposed to numerous conditions thus some preventive care is in order. In 1990, George Muller DVM, one of the fathers of veterinary dermatology, published a review of Shar-pei skin diseases and proposed the following guidelines for general care:

  • Frequent bathing (often weekly)
  • Daily brushing
  • Immaculate flea control
  • Good nutrition
  • Clean Environment

This type of grooming schedule takes up a great deal of time and while many Shar-pei can get away with less rigorous skin and coat care, consider the possibility that the prospective pet one is considering may not be so fortunate.

The Shar-pei is famous for possessiveness of its family. This can create a problem when people visit or if the dog is to be around small children (especially children the dog does not know.) If you will be adopting a puppy, will you have time to socialize the puppy properly? If you are considering an adult dog, it is important to obtain information about the dog’s temperament. Have there been problem situations?

  • Will the dog try to bite the veterinarian?
  • Will the dog allow you to clean its ears, inspect its skin folds, pick up its feet and look between its toes?
  • Can the dog be trusted should a stranger to try pet it? What if a small child darts up out of no where to pet the dog?
  • If the dog is chewing on something it should not, will you be able to take the object away?

Ideally, a Shar-pei should be obtained from a reputable breeder who is concerned, not only with appearance and conformation but with temperament as well. If possible, meet your prospective dog’s relatives and discuss the issues noted on this page with the breeder.



There are two types of coat textures recognized by the American Kennel Club for the Shar-pei: "horse" and "brush." The horse coat is very harsh and irritating to many people, hence the name "Shar-pei" which means in Chinese "dog with sandy coat." As this more classical length produces rashes in many owners, the brush coat, which is slightly longer, was developed. The brush coat is more pleasant and causes less trouble among people contacting the dog.

There is a third coat, “bear,” which is longer, softer, and tends to have less trouble with skin infections. Unfortunately, the AKC considers coats longer than one inch (at the shoulder) to be a disqualification in the show ring.



The excessive facial wrinkles that make this dog what it is may actually rub against the eye itself causing erosions, ulcers, and even permanent blindness. This condition is called “entropion” and is very common in the Shar-pei. In young puppies the eyelid "tuck"(also called “eyelid tacking”) is commonly performed to hold the eyelids back until the pup "grows into its skin" a little more and the lids do not rub on the eye. It is not unusual for a Shar-pei to require multiple eyelid surgeries as he or she grows up, so be prepared for the possibility of this expense. If you notice that your Shar-pei has a watery eye discharge or seems to be squinting, there is a good chance that entropion surgery will be needed.



The enclosed spaces between the Shar-pei's wrinkles form excellent incubators for Staphylococci and other bacteria. Skin fold infections may result. In this condition, which usually involves the folds around the muzzle, skin becomes red and moist and soon begins to smell. Regular grooming is vital to this breed, as is inspection and cleaning of the skin folds. Brushing stimulates the production of important skin oils that are protective. Choosing a less wrinkled individual may be helpful in avoiding this problem. Special products may be needed to clean the skin folds on certain individual dogs. See your veterinarian if you think your dog needs assistance with this situation.



The demodex mange mite lives inside the hair follicles of all normal dogs. In some unfortunate individuals, especially short-coated breeds such as the Shar-pei, these mites proliferate and cause extensive skin inflammation. If your Shar-pei develops any kind of skin disease, your veterinarian will probably include a skin scraping for mites in the testing performed. Due to the unique nature of Shar-pei skin, often skin scrapes are not adequate for diagnosis and skin biopsy is needed to detect the mites (especially true with skin disease on the feet and between the toes).

For more information on this condition, click here.



Current estimates suggest that one Shar-pei in five is deficient in thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormone is very important as it controls the metabolic rate for every cell in the body. Without thyroid hormone, everything just slows down with the effects in the skin becoming most obvious. Hair loss with dandruff and pigmentation are common and often there is a "water line" pattern, a clear line of demarcation along the body below which the skin is irritated and above which the skin is normal. In general, this condition is not itchy but as the immune system is also slowed down, secondary infections that are itchy may result. If your Shar-pei develops skin disease of any kind, your veterinarian will probably wish to check a thyroid level to make sure this disease is not involved.

For more information on this condition, click here.



The short hairs of the Shar-pei (as with other short coated dogs) may actually impact inside hair follicles leading to skin infections. This situation may or may not be confined to the feet. The short, bristly fur of the Shar-pei with or without ingrown hairs may be responsible for this common syndrome. There are many possible causes of infection of the feet, including allergy, stress, demodectic mange and more. If your Shar-pei has itchy feet, it is likely that a skin biopsy will be needed to sort the possible causes out.



The Shar-pei's ear canal is often too narrow for the veterinarian to examine. This sets up a perfect incubator for all sorts of microbes and makes treatment almost impossible. Ear surgery may be required to control the infections. It may be helpful to attempt prevention with weekly use of a good ear disinfectant. Ask your veterinarian about the best products.

For more information on this condition, click here.



This is a genetic disease, transmitted through a recessive gene, which causes episodes of fever up to 107o F, lasting 1-2 days. Joint swelling, especially the ankles (hocks) commonly accompanies the fever and, if that were not bad enough, the condition is associated with a malignant protein deposition ("amyloidosis") in the kidneys which commonly leads to kidney failure.

Typically the fevers begin in puppyhood or adolescence and kidney failure is pronounced by age 5, though many dogs do not fit this age pattern precisely. The disease is similar to a human condition called "Familial Mediterranean Fever." Currently Cornell University is working on a blood test to identify Shar-pei carrying the gene for this disease. Some treatment is available but hopefully early identification of carriers will eliminate this disease from the breed. At this time, the incidence of this condition is at least one Shar-pei in 10.

For more information on this condition, click here

Owning a Shar-pei requires genuine commitment as this breed has special needs. As an owner, you must be prepared for frequent visits to the veterinarian plus daily grooming and observation. If you have any questions regarding your Shar-pei, please do not hesitate to discuss them with your veterinarian.



Chinese Shar-pei Club of America:

The Shar-pei Club of Great Britain:

Shar Pei Club of Gauteng (South Africa):

 Page last updated: 8/12/09