Breed At A Glance


Intelligent, alert, cat-like and mischievous

Life Expectancy
10-14 years

Average Height
Males approximately 17 inches; Females approximately 16 “

Average Weight
Males approximately 24 lbs; Females approximately 22 lbs

Coat Color
Combinations of chestnut red, black and white

Coat Length/Texture
Short and fine

Shedding Propensity
Light shedding year round

Also known as African Bush Dog, African Barkless Dog, Ango Angari, Avuvi, Congo Dog, Congo Terrier, Zande Dog

General Temperament

Basenjis are often described as “cat-like” owing largely to their propensity to lick their coat clean. They can be loving and crave attention if socialized from a young age, and make ideal family and companionship dogs, although they might nip at young children during play. They are generally aloof with strangers. Although they have no true bark, they are not mute: they often yodel, howl, whimper or growl. They can even learn to mimic the barks of other dogs if raised with them.

Basenji adults do not lose their puppy-like tendency to cause destruction, and Basenji owners quickly learn to keep shoes in a closed closet, dirty clothes in the hamper, and the remote control in a drawer or on a high shelf. Their mischievous nature can be endearing, although proper training is essential from an early age or they can out-smart and out-train their human companions.

The Basenji is a very energetic and intelligent breed, but owners will be hard-pressed to get them to fetch a stick or catch a frisbee. They prefer to spend their time chasing squirrels, rabbits, cats or any other small animal it sights, and therefore they have a tendency to wander. For this reason, it’s best to keep a Basenji on it’s leash or in a fenced yard.

Breed History

The Basenji, an African sighthound, is one of the most ancient dog breeds (also known as a primitive breed). Basenjis can be seen on steles in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs, sitting at the feet of their masters, looking just as they do today, with pricked ears and tightly curled tail. Later, the Basenji was prized by the African people for its intelligence, courage, speed, and silence (the Basenji has no true bark, due to an unusually shaped larynx). They were assistants to the hunt, chasing wild game into nets for their masters.

Establishment of the Basenji in the West was no simple task. Most of the early Basenji imports into England died of various diseases in the early 20th century, and it wasn’t until the early 1930’s that successful breeding stock were established there. Soon thereafter, the Basenji made it to the United States, with help from famed animal importer Henry Trefflich, and were accepted into the American Kennel Club in 1943. Although they were bred as hunting dogs, they are primarily companionship dogs in the United States. But on occasion Basenjis are used as scenthounds.

Body Structure and Composition

Basenjis are compact, elegant-looking, short-haired dogs with erect ears, a tightly curled tail, and a graceful neck. A Basenji’s forehead is wrinkled, especially when the animal is young; this sometimes gives the dog a quizzical expression. Basenji eyes are typically almond shaped, which makes the dog appear to be squinting seriously. They are typically a square breed, meaning that they are as long as they are tall. The Basenji is an athletic dog and is deceptively powerful for its size, but are prone to obesity if not given enough chance to exercise. They have a graceful, confident gait like a trotting horse.

Medical Information

Unfortunately, because there are few Basenjis available for breeding stock in the United States, this breed is plagued with a number of health problems, many of which are inherited. The most common of these reported by Basenji owners are dermatologic (including allergies) and urologic issues. Urologic issues in Basenjis can be signs of Falconi Syndrome, an inheritable disorder in which the kidneys fail to reabsorb electrolytes and nutrients, and which is unusually common in this breed. Symptoms include excessive drinking, excessive urination and glucose in the urine, but the disease is treatable and organ damage is reduced if treatment begins early.

Surprisingly, Basenjis often suffer from hip dysplasia – when the head of the thigh bone no longer fits firmly in the “cup” provided by the hip socket, resulting in loss of mobility and arthritis-like symptoms – which is mostly a large-breed disease. They can also experience malabsorption, or immunoproliferative enteropathy, an autoimmune intestinal disease that leads to anorexia, chronic diarrhea, and even death. Special diet can improve the quality of life for afflicted dogs. The breed can also fall victim to Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), a degeneration of the retina that can cause blindness, as well as several less serious hereditary eye problems such as coloboma (a hole in the eye structure), and persistent pupillary membrane (tiny threads across the pupil).

Another problem for Basenjis is Hypothyroidism, which causes underactivity of the thyroid gland. This gland has a number of functions, but is most well known for regulating your dog’s metabolic rate. This can cause lethargy, weight gain, skin infection and hair loss, cold intolerance, chronic ear infections or severe behavioral changes. Hypothyroid dogs who receive proper treatment, including a daily dose of synthetic thyroid hormone, can have a normal life span and are able to maintain good health well into their golden years.

Basenji puppies can suffer from hemolytic anemia, which cannot be cured and the affected pups die early. Umbilical hernia can also be a problem, but is easily fixed during spay/neutering.

This breed sheds lightly year-round, and although a Basenji will obsessively groom their own coat, an occasional brushing will go a long way towards cleanliness in the home.

Anecdotal Information

In addition to their preference of grooming themselves by licking their fur clean, the Basenji has something else in common with cats: it likes high perches where it can have a good vantage of its surroundings. But that doesn’t mean it prefers the company of cats; in fact, a Basenji is likely to see smaller mammals as prey. And although they were bred to “drive” prey to human hunters, as opposed to directly harming their prey, it’s best if other pets in the house are dogs.

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