The Breed History
This breed originated in Central Africa, but gained popularity in Egypt-they were given as prized gifts in the times of the Pharaohs. They were exported to the US and Great Britain around 1937, and in 1943 they were first registered in the AKC. Basenjis are well known for the absence of a true bark. They can make noise, but their varied vocalizations are described as yodels, brrs, or roos. The name Basenji probably originates from the African word for "Bush Thing". The BCOA and other clubs worldwide are involved with the African Stock Project to bring new Basenjis from Africa to expand the gene pool.
Breeding for Function
The breed was originally developed to point and retrieve, and for hunting reed rats, an indigenous African variety that is particularly large and vicious. They excel both as sight and scent dogs. They are successful in agility competitions and are not now commonly used for hunting.
Height at Withers: female 16 " (40.5 cm), male 17" (43 cm).
Weight: females 22 lb (10 kg), males 24 (11 kg).
Coat: The short, glossy, smooth dense haircoat comes in black, tri-color, brindle, chestnut red-all with white feet, chest and tip of the tail. Distinct borders between colors are desired, and white should never predominate though it can be present elsewhere. They are low shedding dogs, with absent doggie odor and need minimal grooming. Longevity: 10-12 years.
Points of Conformation: The tail is carried over the straight topline in a curled position, head carriage is high, and the medium-sized ears are carried pricked up, with a furrowed brow. Eyes are hazel to brown. They have short backs, a definite waist and are well muscled with strong bone. They have a horse-like smooth running trot.
Recognized Behavior Issues and Traits
Reported characteristics of these high activity dogs include: Playful, smart, and are known to be courageous hunters. They tend to be fastidious about staying clean, washing themselves with their tongues like a cat. They are independently minded, and cautious around strangers, while being calm and friendly with family, including children. They like to be kept busy, and will do best with a household that provides lots of playtime, exercise and attention. They are considered a primitive evolved domestic dog.
Normal Physiologic Variations
Females go into heat once a year. Basenjis have lower resting T4 thyroid levels, similar to sight hounds. Check thyroid status with thyroid profiles.
Pelger-Huet Anomaly: Basenjis have been diagnosed with this autosomal recessive blood anomaly. Causes neutrophils with round, oval, or bean-shaped nuclei and only rare segmented nuclei. No obvious liability to disease seen in affected dogs.
Fanconi Syndrome: Inherited defect in renal tubular transport. Causes glucosuria, hyposthenuria, metabolic acidosis, hyperchloremia, and reduction in glomerular filtration rate. Onset 3-11 years of age. Diagnose by finding glucosuria with normal blood glucose levels. Treat with medications and diet. Seen worldwide. Dorn reports an 11.48x odds ratio in Basenjis versus other breeds. Prevalence of 10% in the United States Basenji population. A linked marker test is offered by the OFA, which suggests an autosomal recessive mode of inheritance. Genetic testing shows 6.3% affected and 41.2% carrier.
Hip Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing degenerative joint disease and hip arthritis. OFA reports 3.2% affected.
Patella Luxation: Polygenically inherited laxity of patellar ligaments, causing luxation, lameness, and later degenerative joint disease. Treat surgically if causing clinical signs. OFA reports 1.5% affected.
Elbow Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing elbow arthritis. OFA reports 2.4% affected.
Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency (PK, Basenji Hemolytic Anemia): Autosomal recessive disorder causing severe hemolytic anemia, progressive osteomyelosclerosis, and hemosiderosis. Death occurs due to anemia or hepatic failure usually at less than five years of age. Occurs at a low frequency in the breed. A genetic test is available.
Persistent Pupillary Membranes: Strands of fetal remnant connecting; iris to iris, cornea, lens, or involving sheets of tissue. The later three forms can impair vision, and dogs affected with these forms should not be bred. PPMs can be associated with corneal opacity or coloboma in this breed. Dorn reports a 110.61x odds ratio in Basenjis versus other breeds. Identified in 47.64% of Basenjis CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. Of these, 9.47% were iris to cornea, 3.71% were iris to lens, and 0.47% were iris sheets. PPMs are shown to be inherited in this breed, but the mode of inheritance has not been determined.
Hypothyroidism: Inherited autoimmune thyroiditis. 10.8% positive for thyroid auto-antibodies based on testing at Michigan State University. (Ave. for all breeds is 7.5%).
Corneal Dystrophy: The endothelial form is associated with persistant papillary membranes in this breed, and can cause edema, keratits, and loss of vision. Basenjis with the endothelial form should not be bred. The epithelial-stromal form causes opacities on the surface of the cornea. Unknown mode of inheritance. The endothelial form is identified in 2.70%, and the epithelial-stromal form is identified in 2.23% of Basenjis CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Cataracts: Posterior and capsular punctate cataracts predominate in the breed. Identified in 2.41% of Basenjis CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. CERF does not recommend breeding any Basenji with cataracts.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): Progressive degeneration of the retina, eventually causing blindness. Typical age of onset between 4 to 10 years, with some reported between ages 3 and 13. Presumed autosomal recessive inheritance. CERF recommends that any Basenji with PRA should not be bred. 1.62% of Basenjis CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005 are labeled suspicious for PRA, and 0.65% are identified with generalized PRA. No genetic test is available.
Demodicosis: Dorn reports a 2.07x odds ratio of developing demodectic mange versus other breeds. This disorder has an underlying immunodeficiency in its pathogenesis.
Optic Nerve Coloboma: Congenital cavity in the optic nerve that can cause blindness or vision impairment. Affected dogs should not be bred. Identified in 0.79% of Basenjis CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. Can be associated with persistent pupillary membranes in this breed.
Immunoproliferative Enteropathy (IPEB, IPSID, Lymphangiectasia): Inherited disorder causing chronic diarrhea, progressive emaciation, malabsorption and maldigestion. Biopsy findings include villous clubbing and fusion, increased tortuosity of intestinal crypts, and diffuse infiltration of mononuclear inflammatory cells. Lymphangectasia may be secondary. Treatment with immunosuppressive drugs and diet. Unknown mode of inheritance.
Cystine Urinary Calculi: Seen at an increased frequency in the breed secondary to cystinuria from Fanconi syndrome.
Epilepsy, Retinal Dysplasia and Umbilical Hernia are reported.
Isolated Case Studies
Intrahepatic Venous Obstruction: Intrahepatic post-sinusoidal obstruction, similar to congenital Budd-Chiari syndrome in human patients, was diagnosed in a young Basenji dog.
Tests of Genotype: Phenotypic test for Fanconi Syndrome is available from PennGen.
Linked marker test for Fanconi Syndrome is available from the OFA. Direct test for pyruvate kinase deficiency is available from HealthGene, Optigen, PennGen, University of Missouri, and VetGen. Direct tests for color alleles is available from VetGen.
Tests of Phenotype: CHIC Certification: Required testing includes hip radiographs, thyroid profile including autoantibodies, CERF eye examination (each year until 6, thereafter every 2 years), and linked marker test for Fanconi syndrome from OFA. (See CHIC website; caninehealthinfo.org).
Recommend patella evaluation, elbow radiographs, and cardiac evaluation.
- Breed name synonyms: Barkless dog, Congo dog, Congo Terrier
- Registries: AKC, CKC, UKC (provisional), KCGB (Kennel Club of Great Britain), ANKC (Australian National Kennel Club), NKC (National Kennel Club)
- AKC rank (year 2008): 85 (774 dogs registered)
- Internet resources: The Basenji Club of America: basenji.org
Basenji Club of Canada: basenjiclubofcanada.com
The Basenji Club of Great Britain: basenjiclubofgb.org
The Basenji Health Endowment: basenjihealth.org
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