Complete Guide To The Basenji: Health, Personality, Grooming and More

Possibly the world’s oldest breed, the Basenji’s history began in ancient Mesopotamia and the Nile River Basin. A basal breed unchanged by the Western world until a century ago, they look nearly the same today as they would have in Cleopatra’s Egypt.

I’ve seen some amazing Basenji dogs in my 20 years as a veterinarian. These are unique dogs yet highly recognizable. I think they’re likely to get more popular with time.

How Big Does A Basenji Get?

Male17″ at the shoulder24 lbs
Female16″ at the shoulder22 lbs

What Does A Basenji Look Like?

Graceful, their tall, erect ears and tightly curled tail offset a lean, balanced musculature. A wrinkled forehead and assertive carriage give them a proud, poised look.

Their short coats come in four standard shades:

• Red and White
• Brindle and White
• Black and White
• Black, Tan and White

White is the least dominant color.

The Basenji’s wide-set eyes range from hazel to dark brown. The muzzle is gently tapered with a round edge, setting them apart from similar breeds like the Greyhound. They most resemble dogs native to their region of origin — the Ibizan and Pharaoh Hound.

What Is The Personality Of A Basenji?

Basenjis are deeply affectionate with family but slow to make friends. They’re gentle with children but reserved with strangers and particular about other dogs. Small and quiet, they’re popular among apartment dwellers and travelers.

Intelligent and inquisitive, a bored Basenji is likely to dig, chew and climb. They need firm guidance and consistent reinforcement but can be a handful to train. It’s a lifelong commitment, but the reward is a loving, devoted, and well-behaved companion.

How Much Exercise Does A Basenji Need?

Basenji are active dogs, so exercise is a must to channel their boundless energy. A brisk, half-hour walk daily is enough, but they thrive on games that appeal to their hunting instincts — fetch and DIY obstacle courses are favorites.

Tireless, they’ll chase anything interesting, so a secure, fenced-in area is the safest place for them to play when they’re not closely supervised.

How Much Grooming Does A Basenji Need?

Basenjis are fastidious. Like a cat, they self-groom continually, licking and chewing debris off their fur. They shed lightly year-round but their short coats are a breeze to care for. Weekly brushing with a grooming mitt or hound glove removes loose hair and distributes skin oils, so they stay soft and shiny.

Essentially odor-free, they don’t need a bath unless they get into something unusual. An occasional rub down with a warm, wet washcloth is a speedy alternative. Dogs with heavy wrinkles on their foreheads may develop skin infections if the folds are moist, so it’s good preventive care.

Nail trims are recommended for dogs that aren’t active enough to wear them down naturally, but Basenjis can be fussy about having their feet handled. Filing them every few weeks with an emery board is a gentler option if they’re squeamish about nail clippers.

What Kind of Dog Food Is Good For A Basenji?

Personally I believe that most foods are fine for most dogs. Some dogs may not do well on some foods. However, as a rule I don’t blanket-prohibit any dietary ingredient from any breed at this time.

Best Puppy Food For Basenjis:

Best Adult Food For Basenjis:

Please don’t listen to the folks at the pet store trying to convince you to buy a grain-free diet for your dog. There’s zero science behind that and vets are actually seeing diseases now related to feeding grain-free foods.

It’s very important they remain at their optimal weight throughout their life. Have your vet go over with you exactly where to feel to know when your dog is too big.

How Long Does A Basenji Live?

13-14 years based on information from the AKC

What Health Problems Can A Basenji Have?

Basenjis are a pretty healthy breed. While any individual dog can have dental disease or obesity, I’ve not found that in any of my Basenji patients as of yet.

There is one condition that can be associated with Basenjis that I would watch out for and that is called Fanconi Syndrome. This is a disorder of the kidneys in which normal substances that should be reabsorbed in a certain part of the kidneys are allowed instead to lost out of the body in the urine. For many owners, the first sign of an issue would be excessive urination and drinking.

Where Can I Find Out More About The Basenji?

Basenji Club of America

AKC Breed Page

Where Can I Find A Basenji?

Breeder Listings from the Basenji Club of America

AKC Breeder Marketplace

Looking for a Rescue? The Basenji Club of America provides a state-by-state listing of Rescue contacts.

Interesting Facts About the Basenji

Basenjis have a rich heritage steeped in centuries of lore. Here’s are some thought-provoking facts about this captivating breed.

• A Model for the Gods

Ancient Egyptian art not only depicts the Basenji, but it may also have been inspired by it. Statues of Anubis, the god of death, bear a striking resemblance to their tall, erect ears and slender muzzle.

What’s in a Name?

Basenjis were once known only as the Congo Dog. In 1937, Mrs. Olivia Burns of Great Britain rechristened them Basenji at the prestigious Crufts Dog Show.

They Can’t Bark

The Basenji have an irregularly shaped larynx. Unlike other dogs, they can’t bark, but they’re hardly mute. They can be quite vocal, making a range of sounds from a musical gargle to a thankfully-rare, banshee-like scream.

Why the Tall Ears?

Basenjis have comically large ears, but they may have served an evolutionary purpose. No one knows for sure, but some canine researchers believe they were a climate adaptation. Active on the hot African plains, it’s thought that their generous pinnae helped dissipate body heat.

High-Jump Champions

Basenjis are strong vertical jumpers, a skill they needed to scout prey in tall grass. In Africa, their name means “the jumping-up-and-down dog.” They’ve been known to scale chain link fences in a single bound, prompting some owners to cover their pens.

• The Slow Road West

Basenji’s have a dedicated global fan base, yet they’re still relatively scarce in the US. Why? Efforts to breed them in nineteenth-century Great Britain were a failure. Imports were an instant hit with the public, but breeding pairs soon died of canine distemper.

It wasn’t until the 1940s that a Boston breeder had better luck. But because of their rarity, fresh stock was hard to come by, and it took decades to grow the population despite their AKC recognition in 1944. Breed awareness is growing but remains low.

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