Common Shar-Pei Skin Problems

by Karen Lac
    Shar-Peis are prone to skin infections caused by allergies, mites and an excessive amount of mucin.

    Shar-Peis are prone to skin infections caused by allergies, mites and an excessive amount of mucin.

    George Doyle & Ciaran Griffin/Stockbyte/Getty Images

    The Shar-Pei is a breed of dog from China characterized by its deep wrinkles and hippopotamus-shaped head. The words "shar pei" means "sandy coat" in Chinese. Originally used to work on the farm, Shar-Peis are known for their obedience, agility and intelligence. The wrinkles cover the entire body of Shar-Pei puppies but become more restricted to the head and neck area as they grow older. Shar-Peis do not require any special cleaning beyond regular ear cleanings, toenail clippings and the occasional bath. However, there are several skin problems common to the Shar-Pei that require special treatment.

    Shar-Peis have an excessive amount of mucin, a jelly-like fluid, in their skin. While cutaneous mucinosis is abnormal for other dog breeds, it is normal for Shar-Peis and is what gives them their wrinkles. Sometimes, an unknown reason causes the mucin to bubble up into the skin's top layer, resulting in clear blisters. Although the blisters themselves do not cause any harm, the dog can scratch the blisters open and create a skin infection. Once infected, treatment involves cleaning the area and dabbing it with a saltwater solution. Salt water helps reduce the swelling and remove the pus. Hydrocortisone creams help with the itching, while steroid therapy decreases mucin production. To prevent infection, keep the area clean and dry.

    Demodectic mange is a skin disease caused by demodex mites. All dogs have mites living on their skin. The mites do not cause a problem as long as the dog's immune system keeps their numbers low. However, their numbers can proliferate during certain adolescent periods or stressful times when the dog's immune system is compromised. The mites cause hair loss, particularly on the head and neck. Small patches can be left alone, as the dog's immune system will come back to fight the mites. However, when the dog has a weakened immune system that allows for hair loss over wide areas, treatment requires chemical Mitaban dips. A less toxic treatment is ivermectin, which is given orally or through injections.

    Sarcoptic mange, also known as canine scabies, is caused by the parasite Sarcoptes scabiei that lives on the skin. A Shar-Pei gets sarcoptic mange through contact with another infected host. More common in Shar-Pei puppies, sarcoptic mange is very itchy and causes hair loss. The mites are usually found on areas with less hair, such as around the elbows, armpits and the belly. As the infection worsens, it spreads to the rest the body. Sores filled with pus and yellow crusts form on the skin. Treatment of sarcoptic mange, like demodectic mange, can involve Mitaban dips. Safer treatments involve topical solutions, such as Selamectin and Frontline Plus, and ivermectin.

    Allergies resulting in hair loss, itching and infection are also very common in Shar-Peis. Like humans, a Shar-Pei can have an acquired or genetic allergy to a certain food, chemical or air particle. Treatment first involves a process of elimination to figure out the cause of the allergy. Tests may include skin and blood tests. The cause of the allergy dictates the treatment. For example, an owner of a Shar-Pei with a certain food allergy should remove that item from the dog's diet. A Shar-Pei with an allergy to pollen should be kept indoors as much as possible during certain periods of the year. Creams and antihistamines are often provided to alleviate the symptoms of an allergic reaction.

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    • George Doyle & Ciaran Griffin/Stockbyte/Getty Images

    About the Author

    Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Karen Lac has been writing since 1999. Her articles have appeared in “The Occidental Weekly.” Lac also works as a corporate concierge, helping clients with travel and event planning. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature and a Bachelor of Arts in politics, both from Occidental College.

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