A Wrinkle in Time…

By: Emily Kubick

“I shall call him squishy. And he shall be mine. And he shall be my squishy”

Finding Nemo’s Dory eloquently described my feelings about dogs with wrinkles. As a knowledge hungry Beast Master and curious dog lover, I began to ask myself some questions. How did these wrinkly piles of adorable squishiness come to be? Why do they even have wrinkles?  Was there a purpose to these wrinkles? What causes these wrinkles?  And is it possible to die from adorableness?

Let’s start with their “Purpose”.

While researching a ton of modern dog breeds, I have learned most look and act a certain way on for a reason. Humans saw traits they admired and desired and bred them to create their “ideal” companion.

Today I am going to focus on the Shar Pei, but the following is a common terrible path of many wrinkly breeds, such as the mastiff and bulldog. The short course wrinkly skin is rough and difficult to penetrate. Originating in China, these ancient dogs were once used around the farm as guard dogs. They could fend off boars and protect their masters. These loose skinned and once noble providers later became prime candidates for blood sports, dog fighting to be exact. The main reason why? Because people f***ing suck. The stupid reason why? They were physically ideal for fighting. Humans selectively bred these dogs to have more and more wrinkles so their opponents would get a mouth full of skin instead of causing internal damage. When bitten and held by a loose wrinkle, the Shar Pei could actually twist their skin and body to reach and attack the opponent with ease. Luckily these blood sports are now illegal in many parts of the world.

Now that you are depressed, let’s change the subject slightly and talk science. Yay Science!

The adorably droopy wrinkles of the Shar Pei are actually caused by a genetic skin disorder called cutaneous mucinosis. (To clarify, these findings are based on tests done on just Shar Pei skin cells)

Mucinosis causes an increase of mucin in the skin, making it thicker and wrinkly. The increase of mucin is caused by a buildup of hyaluronic acid, located in the space between tissue cells. But what causes this buildup? An enzyme, aka a macromolecular biological catalysts, aka an awesome thing that speeds up chemical reactions (thanks, high school biology). We can thank lead researchers Lluis Ferrer and Anna Bassols from the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona for the answer! Enzymes are responsible for an endless list of chemical reactions, including acid production. One of the three enzymes involved in acid production is the HAS2 enzyme. When the HAS2 enzyme becomes an overachieving little bugger and it becomes over active. This “overexpression” can cause these high levels of hyaluronic acid. The exact location of this genetic mutation is unknown, but with this new enzymatic information, researchers are on the case.

This genetic mutation has become the “standard” for the Shar Pei and wrinkly dogs alike. This research actually expands further than just our lovable canines. These recent findings will provide extremely useful information for researchers studying human disorders such as Familial Mediterranean Fever. Also, it will help us understand how the skin changes with age. So if one day they find the cure for wrinkles, you can thank the Shar Pei (and I guess all those scientists too).

So we know WHY they were breed with wrinkles, and how these wrinkles are formed, but what does that mean for the lives of our wrinkly friends today.

How do you care for your wrinkly dog?

Without going too far into the ethical arguments about selective breeding and inbreeding of dogs, it is known that “purebreds” tend to have more medical conditions than mixed breeds. The reality is that although these mutations have given us some wrinkly blobs of cuteness, there can be some medical side effects. As an owner, the most important thing is to educate yourself on these issues and be willing to provide the utmost care to ensure the best life for your wrinkly friend.

Skin Infections will be your worse enemy. The loose skin folds are the perfect home for trapped bacteria and parasites. Wonderful right? They can develop sores, mold buildup, and even house mites. The Demodex canis mite can cause demodectic mange, which is contagious between other dogs and a pain in the ass to treat fully. Dogs can lose patches of fur and if left untreated it can take over. There are several remedies, such as medicated shampoos, antibiotics, and other treatments, but the key is to avoid those mites from taking over from the beginning.

How do you avoid all that grossness? Basic hygiene can go a long way. Clean and dry your dog’s skin folds regularly with antimicrobial soap and some warm water. No need to be fancy if you make it a part of your regular routine. Overweight dogs are more susceptible to irritation/infection because the excess fat makes the wrinkle folds more prominent, aka more room for grossness. If you notice any abnormalities, including but not limited to excess moisture, redness, discharge, or a foul odor, talk to your vet about treatment and preventative methods. Many vets will prescribe medicated wipes if the irritation is caught early on, which can make a huge difference. When it comes to your pet’s health, well-being, and comfort, putting in the extra work and care will make the world of difference to your wrinkly sidekick.

What did we learn?
Wrinkles are adorable. Wrinkles are caused by an overactive HAS2 enzyme. Wrinkles were used for evil (because people suck). Wrinkles are now used for good (because not all people suck). Wrinkles need love and care. Wrinkles are squishy. And god dammit,  wrinkles are adorable.

Sources

Pets4Homes. “Common diseases of the Shar pei dog.” Pets4Homes. Pets4Homes, 23 Jan. 2017. Web. 27 July 2017.

Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. “Why Shar Pei Dogs Have So Many Wrinkles.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 November 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081111163123.htm>

“Chinese Shar-Pei Dog Breed Information, Pictures, Characteristics & Facts – Dogtime.” Dogtime. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 July 2017.

PetCareRx., Team. “Cleaning Your Bulldog’s Face Wrinkles.” PetCareRx, 2 May 2012, www.petcarerx.com/article/cleaning-your-bulldogs-face-wrinkles/229.

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