If you are a Shar-Pei owner, chances are that you already know about Shar-Pei fever, but it never hurts to brush up on the basics. And non-Shar-Pei owners – or those of you who may be considering getting one of these adorable, wrinkled loves – consider this a primer on Familial Shar-Pei Fever, or FSF, for short.
Familial Shar-Pei fever is a hereditary inflammatory disorder. This means that it is passed down from generation to generation.
We’ve talked about inflammation before and its role in healing, as well as its role in other diseases such as amyloidosis. Inflammation is the body’s normal response to foreign cells, be they bacteria, viruses, or even cancer cells. Dogs with FSF have a problem with the way their inflammation is regulated, resulting in a constantly high inflammatory state. High levels of pro-inflammatory proteins, including serum amyloid A, circulate through the body at all times, and can eventually lead to amyloidosis of the kidney.
Part of what we love about Shar-Peis is their wrinkles, and it seems that they may indirectly play a part in this disease process. The genetic mutation that causes those wrinkles also causes an over-production of a substance called hyaluronon, which is pro-inflammatory.
The classic signs of Shar-Pei fever include episodic fevers and joint swelling. The fevers that come with FSF are not your run-of-the-mill fever; temperatures can reach as high as 105 to 107oF, so these dogs feel terrible. As if that weren’t bad enough, these poor pups can have painful, hot joint swelling in their legs and sometimes at the wrist. This makes walking extremely painful.
Sometimes mild vomiting and diarrhea occur, and to top it all off, abdominal pain usually plagues them as well. Needless to say, these dogs feel pretty crummy. And due to the cyclic nature of the disease, even when they recover, it can happen all over again many times.
Unfortunately, there are currently no laboratory tests for FSF, though ongoing research will surely produce one soon. Instead, veterinarians rely on the history and physical signs to arrive at a diagnosis. If kidney values are elevated, biopsies may reveal amyloidosis.
Short term treatment centers on the management of clinical signs – fever and joint pain. Fluids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories are used for this purpose, and the patient’s temperature is followed very closely for several days. For the long term, affected Shar-Peis will likely be started on a drug called colchicine. This medication was found to be effective in humans with a similar condition called Familial Mediterranean Fever, and it seems to also work well in our canine friends. Colchicine delays amyloidosis and reduces the number of FSF episodes.
Because FSF is hereditary, affected dogs should not be bred. Responsible breeders take this disease very seriously. Do your homework regarding your breeder of choice, and don’t be afraid to question your breeder regarding the presence of FSF in his or her lines to make sure your new friend is as healthy as possible before he comes home with you.