The Peruvian Inca Orchid, or “PIO,” is an ancient breed that dates back at least to the time of the Incan civilization, and probably earlier. There are several conflicting theories about the breed’s exact origin. Some people believe that it came to Peru with Chinese immigrants shortly after Peru’s then-president, Don Ramon Castilla, abolished slavery. Others think that these dogs were brought to South America with nomads from Africa. Still another theory is that PIOs reached the Americas by accompanying Asian travelers over the Bering Strait. The most likely explanation is that this unique breed actually originated in South America, sometime between the years 300 BC and 700 AD. Pottery and paintings from pre-Incan and Incan Vicus, Mochica, Chancay and Chimu cultures depict hairless dogs that bear a striking resemblance to today’s Peruvian Inca Orchids.
The Peruvians revered their sleek, streamlined little dogs. PIOs were thought to have mystical qualities and were dressed in ceremonial clothing on spiritual occasions. They were kept as companions and bed-warmers. When Spanish conquistadors arrived in South America in the 16th century, PIOs almost became extinct. Some reports suggest that the Spaniards used them as a food source. Fortunately, a number of PIO owners worked hard to ensure that their beloved breed survived, especially those living in rural areas. After the Spanish occupation, Peruvian hairless dogs slowly found their way into warm European countries, and also into the United States. PIOs in the United States reportedly descend from only 12 imported dogs. As a result, there is very little genetic diversity in the American PIO population, and less variation is seen in the breed here than elsewhere. The Peruvian Inca Orchid remains popular in Peru, where it is called the “Calato,” which means “naked.”
The Peruvian Inca Orchid received international recognition when it was accepted as a distinct breed by the Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI) in 1955. It was recognized by the United Kennel Club (UKC) in 1996, as a member of its Sighthound and Pariah Group. In the spring of 1996, the breed was added to the American Kennel Club’s Foundation Stock Service, with Hound Group status, thanks to the hard work of members of its AKC parent club, the Peruvian Inca Orchid Dog Club of America. That group is actively seeking full AKC recognition for the breed. The Peruvian Inca Orchid moved into the AKC’s Miscellaneous Class in 2011, with a Sighthound designation. PIOs have been eligible to compete in the American Sighthound Field Association (ASFA) Miscellaneous Stakes since January of 2000. Today, PIOs are shown at shows sponsored by the American Rare Breed Association (ARBA) and at AKC matches and conformation events. They compete in lure coursing and other sighthound events and, above all, are beloved household companions.
The average life expectancy of the Peruvian Inca Orchid is between 11 and 13 years. While the breed is generally regarded as being healthy, its limited genetic diversity and hairlessness contribute to several health concerns. The genes responsible for hairlessness also affect dentition. Hairless PIOs usually are missing some of their teeth and are prone to other dental problems. Most of them are born without premolars, and some without molars, which can make it difficult for them to chew hard food. Some also are missing one or both of their canine teeth. The coated variety should have full dentition. Other breed health concerns include inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), dry skin, strokes and seizures. PIOs are especially sensitive to cold and to sunlight. The hairless variety is particularly predisposed to acne and sunburn and suffers disproportionately from physical contact with pesticides or other harmful toxins that are easily absorbed through bare skin.