What to Know About Chinese Shar-Peis

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on April 27, 2022
6 min read

Chinese shar-pei have long been known as devoted family dogs. They originated in China, where they were farm dogs and guardians. Shar-pei are very loyal to their families but can harbor an independent streak and may need a firm hand during training. 

The physical characteristics of Chinese shar-pei are unmistakable. They are a medium-sized breed with a wrinkly coat that is a little rough to the touch. They boast many different coat colors, from red sable to cream or even lilac. They also have a trademark black and blue tongue. 

Their life expectancy is, on average, 8 to 12 years. 

Shar-pei dogs have a medium build, standing 18 to 20 inches tall and typically weighing 45 to 60 pounds once they are fully grown. Their coats are extremely wrinkly as puppies, but they grow into them as they get older. As mentioned, they’re also a little rough to the touch. No surprise there, as the name shar-pei literally translates to “sand skin”. 

Their rough, wrinkly coat serves a purpose, though. One of their original functions was to guard the royal family. Their coat was designed so that if they got into a dog fight, the other dog would only get a mouthful of skin if they bit the shar-pei, and they could pull away virtually unharmed. 

They have a broad snout of medium length and very small triangular ears that sit close to the head.

Chinese shar-pei are known to be incredibly loyal to their families and can even be overprotective if they’re not socialized properly as puppies. Training and socialization not only with people but with other dogs is essential to ingrain proper behaviors. 

They are watchdogs by nature, so getting them used to people and animals is very important if you want them to be relaxed and open in the dog park or when you’re hosting guests. 

They are extremely intelligent dogs, and while they are loyal and affectionate with their families, they can come across as aloof to strangers. They will be standoffish when encountering new faces and can display aggression toward other pets if they perceive a threat.

As far as noise levels go, Chinese shar-pei aren’t big on barking. They’ll sound the occasional alarm but tend to live life on the quieter side.  

You’re in luck when it comes to grooming your shar-pei. These short-haired dogs don’t require much upkeep when it comes to their coats. You can get away with brushing them on a monthly basis, with more frequent brushing possibly needed during shedding seasons. The shedding level for Chinese shar-pei is moderate most of the year. 

Ears should be cleaned regularly using a cleaning solution recommended by your veterinarian. 

Nail and tooth care should be a regular occurrence with Chinese shar-pei, as with all dogs. Nails should be trimmed at least every two weeks. Daily tooth brushing will keep your pup’s pearly whites shining. Shar-pei are more likely to develop dental issues than most other dogs, so dental hygiene is especially important when caring for this breed. 

Weather-wise, these dogs thrive in a neutral to cool environment. They are prone to overheating, so be sure to keep a watchful eye during extended summer outings or following prolonged sun exposure. 

Shar-pei can be more or less active, but they are extremely adaptable to their owner’s activity habits and will be happy to stay on the couch and walk outside two or three times per day. Alternatively, they will be happy to accompany you during hikes or long walks. 

Obesity can be an issue with Chinese shar-pei. Keep them on a nutritious diet that’s meant just for them and avoid giving human food to your pup. 

As with most dogs, you must invest in parasite prevention to keep your furry friend in the best health possible. Heartworms, ticks, and fleas are just a few of the creatures waiting for a chance to jump onto or into your beloved pet. Your pet can contract heartworm by getting bitten by an infected mosquito. 

Hookworms, roundworms, and whipworms can get into your pup’s body after the dog drinks contaminated water or walks on soil that contains the parasite’s eggs, so year-round preventative medication is advised. 

Vaccination is similarly important for any pet to maintain proper health. Bring your new friend to the vet as soon as you are able to and stay on track with their core vaccination schedule. It may seem like an unwelcome cost, but the prevention will cost you less in the long run than a lengthy treatment plan will. 


Chinese shar-pei have distinct, wrinkly skin that can make them more prone to health issues. Allergies, also known as atopy, may visibly affect the skin folds and belly, feet, and ears. They are usually caused by the same factors that cause humans to have allergies in the spring, but shar-peis react a bit differently by showing it in these areas. 

You can see your vet for solutions to these allergies. 

Respiratory Distress Syndrome

Also known as brachycephalic syndrome, RDS is a threat to all dogs with a short snout. They have the same amount of tissue as other dogs, but it is crammed into a smaller area. This can cause their airways to be obstructed. Danger signs include bluish gums, noisy breathing, and fainting. Corrective surgery is an option in extreme cases. 

Skin Disease and Infections

Shar-pei have floppy lips. The corners of those lips can harbor bacteria and yeast along the lip fold line. This can develop into a disease called lip-fold pyoderma. The symptoms are usually a reddish color and a strong smell. A veterinarian will administer antibiotics to resolve the situation. 

Seborrhea is a skin disease that Chinese shar-pei are prone to. It’s a flaky skin rash that also has a strong smell. It can make the skin oily or flaky and dry. Your dog will probably be scratching the area quite a lot. There are several causes of seborrhea. Your vet can help you narrow down the cause and create a treatment plan. 

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Shar-pei are prone to Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). The warning signs are chronic diarrhea and vomiting. IBD is an immune system disorder that occurs when the lining of the intestines is thickened and becomes unable to absorb nutrients properly. If your dog is afflicted with this condition, they are likely to live with it for the rest of their life. Medications can make it more manageable. 

Hip and Joint Problems 

Hip and elbow dysplasia is common in Chinese shar-pei as they age. You might start to notice them having difficulty getting up from a lying position or feeling stiffness in the legs. This is usually an inherited condition where the joints have not developed properly and have led to arthritis. Keeping your pup at a healthy weight, though, will help them a lot if they have joint issues because there will be less weight on these painful points. 

Shar-pei might also have a condition where their kneecap pops in and out of place. This can range from a mild to serious condition. The remedies range from medication to surgery. 

Chinese shar-pei were bred to be guard dogs. Their loyalty lies with their family. They can be suspicious of strangers, but with proper socialization, they pay them no mind. If they weren’t socialized properly, they could exhibit aggressive behavior. 

They usually have something to say to other pets, too. They may bark and mark their territory. They’ll react to any potential threat promptly by sounding the alarm, but if they see their family accepting someone, they will likely accept them too. 

The Chinese shar-pei has been around for thousands of years. They’re thought to have originated in ancient China as far back as 200 B.C. in a village called Tai Li. 

They were once extremely rare to own. There were heavy taxes on dog sales coming from communist China in the 1940s, so most people would choose to go with another breed, causing the shar-pei to almost go extinct. They were named the rarest breed in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records in the 1960s and 1970s. 

In 1979, a Hong-Kong-based shar-pei breeder was concerned the breed would go extinct. Life magazine chose to publish an issue with a Chinese shar-pei on the cover. This made the demand and sales skyrocket in the U.S., contributing to saving the breed.