In the story told by the Brothers Grimm, Little Red Riding Hood asks the wolf why his eyes are so big. The wolf says so he can see her better.
When I am asked why my dogs have such big eyes, I answer because health is always more important to me than supposed ideals of beauty.
I don't want to be misunderstood, I think the breed standard is very important. But I also think that many things have to be reconsidered today, especially with regard to the possible health consequences that it can have for a dog. Above all, misunderstandings and misinterpretations should be prevented by clear formulations.
According to the OFA (The Canine Health Information Center), 39.4% of all Shar Pei will be affected by entropion in their lifetime, leading the list of all breeds, ahead of the Neapolitan Mastiff. I have to admit that this high percentage shocked me.
Due to an anatomical quirk of dogs, they are more prone to developing entropion than humans. So the issue is one that affects dogs as a whole. Even the healthiest of dogs can develop entropion during their lifetime.
What does entropion mean?
Entropion is a deformity of the upper or lower eyelid that causes it to roll inward. The eyelashes can then rub very painfully on the cornea of the eye. In most cases, it is a genetic disease (primary entropion) which, if left untreated, can lead to serious eye problems and even loss of vision in the dog.
Primary entropions result from abnormalities such as excessive lid length, insufficient opening of the eyelids, poor lid support, or a deeper seating of the eyeballs in the eye socket. Very often exactly two of these anomalies are found in the Shar Pei. For one thing, Shar Pei have unusually large amounts of hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronan is a gel-like substance that makes the lid edge weaker and the lid heavier.
On the other hand, the standard describes an eye that is dark and almond-shaped and has a sullen expression. Many people think this can only be achieved by having a deeper eye set. Another risk factor for the development of entropion.
Another factor that greatly increases the risk, especially with Shar Pei puppies, is the increased formation of wrinkles on the body, especially in puppyhood. Some puppies cannot even open their eyes on their own due to their extreme hyaluronic acid production. With others, the eyelid support is so poor that the puppy has a very high risk of developing entropion after just a few weeks. To avoid this, many breeders have the eyelids preemptively secured with clips or sutures by the vet. There are also breeders who do it themselves.
The above-average entropion problem with the Shar Pei is just as easily hushed up in many groups as the partially unfortunately necessary and partially preventive tacking of small puppies eyes.
There is much that Shar Pei breeders argue about and often do. But one thing everyone agrees on. Our breed is one of the oldest breeds in the world. Based on genetic knowledge, we can assume at least 2000 years.
So how could a breed exist for so long when 39.4% develop entropion? Quite simply: They could not! The Shar Pei would have died out hundreds of years ago as an evolutionary failure.
We have done this to the breed, for the last 60 years. Through misguided ideas of a beauty ideals and the acceptance of health impairments.
My dogs have their eyes the way they should be by nature. Will my dogs get entropion? Maybe, because any dog can get it. I certainly won't get to 39.4%. And if you read the FCI standard carefully, you will find the following:
Dark, almond-shaped with a scowling expression. Function of eyeball or lid in no way disturbed by surrounding skin, folds or hair. Any sign of irritation of eyeball, conjunctiva or eyelids highly undesirable. Free from entropion.
Diting, PanHu and Lily have very dark eyes. All three have debatable almond-shaped eyes. Debatable, because Chinese almonds look different than what we know as almonds here. Originally, the eyes were also compared to black Chinese cardamom pods. All of them can have a scowling expression, if they want to... but, and that's what is more important to me than anything else: The healthy function of the eyeballs or eyelids is in no way impaired by the surrounding skin, wrinkles or hair.
And that's what's most important to me in terms of eyes.
I purposely refrained from using images of dogs with staples, sutures, or untreated entropion in this article.