A new study sheds light on ‘extreme welfare issues’ in Shar Pei

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Shar Pei

A recent study by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) sheds light on the prevalent health issues faced by Shar Pei dogs in the UK, pinpointing in-turned eyelids and ear disorders as the most common ailments.

These conditions stem from the breed’s distinctive loose, thickened, and folded skin, attributed to a genetic disorder known as hyaluronosis. Researchers are now calling for “urgent action” to “discourage the normalisation and high public demand” for dogs with extreme body shapes that threaten their welfare.

The research, led by the RVC’s VetCompass Programme, analysed the health records of 1,913 Shar Pei dogs, seeking insights into prevalent health issues, demographics, and mortality rates within the breed in the UK in 2013.

The study revealed in-turned eyelids (entropion) as the most common disorder diagnosed in Shar Pei dogs, affecting nearly 1 in 5 dogs (17.9 percent) annually, a substantially higher rate than in non-Shar Pei breeds. This condition, caused by the loose skin around the eyes, results in eyelashes and hair scraping across the eye’s sensitive front, leading to severe pain and eye ulcers.

Ear infections (otitis externa) ranked as the second most common disorder among Shar Pei, affecting 16.4 percent annually, compared to 7.3 percent in non-Shar Pei breeds. The thickened and folded skin narrows the ear canal, causing these infections.

Other prevalent conditions included ear disorders (6.7 percent), elevated aggression levels (5.2 percent), skin infections (4.3 percent), and conjunctivitis (4.0 percent). Moreover, the study highlighted Shar Pei fever, a specific auto-inflammatory disease due to the breed’s genetic mutation (3.0 percent).

Dr Dan O’Neill, Associate Professor in Companion Animal Epidemiology at the RVC and lead author of the paper, said, “Animal welfare legislation in England and Wales places a legal responsibility on owners to prevent unnecessary suffering in their dog. This new evidence from the Royal Veterinary College clearly shows that the extreme conformation of loose thickened and folded skin leads to painful in-turned eyelids and several other serious health issues.

“It is now time for us all to unite in protecting dogs by refusing to accept extreme body conformations as normal or acceptable for any dog.”

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