Basenji Breed Guide
Health Issues Associated with this Breed:
Basenji Breed Info & Background:
- The Basenji retains several primitive characteristics, most notably its general lack of barking and its yearly, rather than twice yearly, estrus cycle.
- The Basenji’s ancestors came from the earliest domesticated dogs in Asia. There is no evidence as to how they ended up living in the African Congo with Pygmy hunters.
- The native tribes used the dogs as pack hunters. The dogs, often wearing large bells, would drive game into nets. Many Basenjis are still used for this same purpose today. The dogs typically live as village dogs, roaming freely and not belonging to any one person.
- The first Basenjis to come to Europe in the late 1800s and early 1900s all died of distemper. In 1929 several survived and became the foundation of the breed outside Africa. The foundation was based on only 12 imports, several of which were closely related, and not all with present day descendents.
- This is a very small gene pool. Eventually Basenjis had several too-common hereditary problems. Beginning in the 1980s, American breeders journeyed to Africa to acquire new Basenjis from the natives. These dogs were tested for these diseases, evaluated for breed typical features, and those that passed were integrated into the AKC Basenji population with special permission from the AKC. These African imports introduced the brindle pattern to the AKC gene pool.
- The African stock project has sponsored several more trips to import dogs, and the dogs have greatly improved the health of the breed. It is considered one of the most noteworthy and successful examples of integrating unregistered stock into a registered gene pool to improve canine health.
Basenjis are classified as Hounds by the AKC because they hunt mammals. They are further classified as sighthounds because they chase their prey by sight, but they are not prototypical sighthounds in that they don’t have a Greyhound-build and they rely nearly as much on hearing and scent when hunting.
Other classifications consider them “primitive” dogs, or sometimes, pariah dogs. These dogs resemble prototypical semi-domestic dogs found around the world. DNA evidence confirms that the Basenji is among the most primitive of breeds.
- The Basenji is built along primitive lines: Moderately slender body, prick ears, nothing in exaggeration. It is more slightly built, with longer legs, compared to most primitive breeds.
- Also unlike most primitive breeds, the tail is short and tightly curled.
- The coat is short and close. They have very little doggy odor, and shedding is light.
- Basenjis are known as the only breed that cannot bark, supposedly because their larynx is more narrow than in other breeds. They are far from mute, however. They make all the same noises as a wolf: they howl, scream, whine and growl, and they also make a chortling or yodeling sound when excited or happy. Also, some Basenjis can bark just fine when they want to.
Basenji Temperament & Personality
- Like most primitive dogs, the Basenji is clever and independent. It is extremely resourceful and can figure out how to steal food or escape from fences if you’re at all careless.
- The Basenji was one of five breeds tested in the famous Scott and Fuller behavior genetic tests. They determined that when confronted with a problem, the Basenji was the least likely to turn to humans for assistance, or to give up. Instead, it worked on its own to solve them.
- Like all hounds bred to chase game, Basenjis will chase fleeing small mammals. They are fine with household cats if raised with them.
- Like most sighthounds, Basenjis are not “snap-to-it” obedience dogs.
- They are not good at coming when called, and can easily go AWOL unless securely fenced.
- Basenjis are reserved with, and even distrustful of, strangers.
- The breed is generally cheerful and active.
- They get along fairly well with other dogs, but can be a little scrappy if given an excuse. In fact, they are probably one of the scrappiest (if not the scrappiest) of the AKC Hound breeds.
- Adults need to be brushed once a week or so. It only takes a minute or two. Shedding is minimal.
- Basenjis tend to lick themselves like cats which can help keep them clean.
- They enjoy warm weather and high places.
- They should get about an hour or two of walking or running daily. However, this is not a good breed for off-leash activities as they tend to run away and not come back. They are also not a good candidate for dog parks, because they are relatively small and like to run—making them bait for large aggressive dogs. And they themselves can chase even smaller dogs.
- Many Basenjis enjoy lure-coursing, although some can be argumentative when running with housemates!
- Although only a few people train them in agility, those Basenjis that do compete are quite good.
- They are not generally a breed seen in obedience or tracking competitions.
- Most Basenjis do not like the water or swimming.
Basenji Lifespan & Health Problems
Typical age at death is 12 to 14 years. The following problems occur in the Basenjis at a higher rate than average, or have a significant genetic contribution:
- Fanconi syndrome, a hereditary kidney disease caused by a recessive gene. Symptoms include excessive drinking, excessive urination and glucose in the urine. If untreated, Fanconi syndrome results in poor condition, muscle wasting, acidosis and eventually death. Onset is usually between four and eight years of age. A DNA test is available; at the time it was introduced about 7% of Basenjis had Fanconi. Since the DNA test has made it possible to avoid breeding affected dogs and carriers together that incidence has dropped significantly. Owners who do not wish to DNA test their Basenji should monitor the dog’s urine with urine glucose strip tests. Because both Fanconi and diabetes cause glucose in the urine, Fanconi is often misdiagnosed as diabetes. Basenjis with Fanconi should eat dietary supplements for acid neutralization and replacement of lost electrolytes and nutrients.
- Immuno-proliferative small Intestine disease (IPSID). Also known as Basenji enteropathy, immunoproliferative lymphoplasmacytic enteritis, Basenji diarrheal syndrome, and malabsorption, IPSID is a type of inflammatory bowel syndrome that causes inability to absorb nutrients properly. Symptoms can include diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, increased or decreased appetite, gas, and depression. It can be difficult to diagnose. A genetic predisposition seems to be part of the cause, but not the entire story. Treatment is with diet, prednisone and antibiotics. Dr. Michael D. Willard of Texas A&M is considered the authority.
- Coloboma, a weak or depressed area in the retina of the eye. depending on the location and severity, a coloboma may or may not interfere with vision. It is not progressive.
- Persistant pupillary membrane, strands of fetal membranes extending across the pupil opening. Basenji have one of the highest rates of PPM of any breed (about 75%) but most have a mild form that doesn’t affect vision. A few have more strands or a solid sheet, which will blur vision.
- Basenji retinopathy / progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), a progressive retinal deterioration that can lead to blindness in old age. It is typically diagnosed between ages 4 and 10. basenjis appear to have more than one type of PRA, one of which appears to be a different form of PRA than that seen in many other breeds. It cannot be treated.
In addition, the following problems are noted in the breed at a fairly low incidence:
- Pyruvate kinase deficiency, which causes anemia.
- Cystinuria, a hereditary condition that causes bladder stones and urinary blockage.
- Corneal Dystrophy, small areas of ulceration on the eye’s clear cornea.
- Patellar luxation, in which the knee cap slips in and out of place causing intermittent lameness.
- Hip dysplasia, in which the hip joint is not formed correctly, causing lameness.
- Low thyroid.