There is only one completed health survey of dog breeds, including the Basenji, that was conducted by the UK Kennel Club in 2004. The survey indicated the prevalence of diseases in Basenjis with dermatitis (9% of responses), incontinence and bladder infection (5%), hypothyroidism (4%), Pyometra and infertility (4%).
Basenjis in the 2004 UK Kennel Club survey had a median lifespan of 13.6 years (sample size of 46 deceased dogs), which is 1–2 years longer than the median lifespan of other breeds of similar size. The oldest dog in the survey was 17.5 years. Most common causes of death were old age (30%), urologic (incontinence, Fanconi syndrome, chronic kidney failure 13%), behavior ("unspecified" and aggression 9%), and cancer (9%).
Fanconi syndrome, an inheritable disorder in which the renal (kidney) tubes fail to reabsorb electrolytes and nutrients, is unusually common in Basenjis. Symptoms include excessive drinking, excessive urination, and glucose in the urine, which may lead to a misdiagnosis of diabetes. Fanconi syndrome usually presents between 4 and 8 years of age, but sometimes as early as 3 years or as late as 10 years. Fanconi syndrome is treatable and organ damage is reduced if treatment begins early. Basenji owners are advised to test their dog's urine for glucose once a month beginning at the age of 3 years. Glucose testing strips designed for human diabetics are inexpensive and available at most pharmacies. A Fanconi disease management protocol has been developed that can be used by veterinarians to treat Fanconi-afflicted dogs.
Fanconi DNA linkage test
In 2007, the first linked marker DNA test was released for predicting Fanconi syndrome in Basenjis. With this test, it is possible to more accurately determine the probability of a dog's carrying the gene for Fanconi syndrome. Dogs tested using this "linkage test" return one of the following statuses:
- Probably clear/normal. Indicates the individual has most likely inherited normal DNA from both parents. It is unlikely that Basenjis that test this way will produce affected puppies, no matter which dog they breed with.
- Probably carrier. Indicates the individual has most likely inherited normal DNA from one parent and DNA with the Fanconi syndrome mutation from the other parent.This basenji is unlikely to develop Fanconi syndrome, but could produce puppies that do. To minimize the chances of this happening, it is recommended carriers be bred only to those that test as Probably clear/Normal for Fanconi syndrome.
- Probably equivocal/indeterminate. Indicates the individual's DNA contained features found in both "normal" and "carrier" Basenjis. At present it cannot be predicted whether these Basenjis are carriers or normal; however, it is unlikely that they will develop Fanconi syndrome. The safest strategy would be to treat them as “carriers” and bred to only those Basenjis that test as Probably Clear/Normal for Fanconi syndrome.
- Probably affected. Indicates the individual is likely to develop clinical Fanconi syndrome and is likely to produce puppies with Fanconi syndrome if bred to Basenjis other than those that test as Probably Clear/Normal for Fanconi syndrome.
This linkage test is being provided as a tool to assist breeders whilst research continues towards the development of the direct Fanconi test.
Other Basenji health issues
Basenjis sometimes carry a simple recessive gene that, when homozygous for the defect, causes genetic hemolytic anemia. Most 21st-century Basenjis are descended from ancestors that have tested clean. When lineage from a fully tested line (set of ancestors) cannot be completely verified, the dog should be tested before breeding. As this is a non-invasive DNA test, a Basenji can be tested for HA at any time. Basenjis sometimes suffer from hip dysplasia, resulting in loss of mobility and arthritis-like symptoms. All dogs should be tested by either OFA or PennHIP prior to breeding. Malabsorption, or immunoproliferative enteropathy, is an autoimmune intestinal disease that leads to anorexia, chronic diarrhea, and even death. A special diet can improve the quality of life for afflicted dogs. The breed can also fall victim to progressive retinal atrophy (a degeneration of the retina causing blindness) and several less serious hereditary eye problems such as coloboma (a hole in the eye structure), and persistent pupillary membrane (tiny threads across the pupil).