For Alaskan Malamute specific health issues, please see
Malamute Health website.
This article was written by M. Serage of
Texas Alaskan Malamute Rescue and used with their permission, the links
have been added by AMRONE.
There are several medical issues that may be found in the Alaskan Malamute. These
can be serious problems that every malamute owner and prospective buyer should be
aware of. The medical conditions listed in this overview can vary greatly in severity
or may not affect your dog at all. This is not a complete listing... only the more
common or most serious ailments.
A more detailed explanation of these problems, general canine health, and disease
information may be found in most veterinary or canine medical reference guides or
from your local veterinarian. If you suspect that any of these ailments or other
health problems affect your dog, please consult your veterinarian.
The medical conditions and disorders discussed in this overview are:
- Coat Funk (Coat Patterning/Loss)
- Coat Funk (Coat Odor)
- Day Blindness
- Elbow Dysplasia
- Hip Dysplasia
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy
- Wobbler's Syndrome
- Zinc Responsive Dermatitis
Bloat (Gastric Dilation and Gastric Torsion)
A condition where there is a build up of air or stomach contents that cannot be
passed through the intestines or expelled by "burping"/ vomiting. Acute dilation is
LIFE THREATENING, requiring immediate medical attention and may lead to torsion
(twisting) of the stomach. Gastric torsion may cause a painful death in a matter of
minutes! Rapid diagnosis and treatment by a veterinarian is essential to save the
life of your dog. Dogs that have "bloated" and survived are at high risk for a
recurrence of this condition.
The exact cause of bloat is not known. It does seem to occur mostly within a few
hours of eating or drinking, especially if the dog has been exercised shortly after
the meal or is a rapid "gulping" eater. Other causes of bloat are (but not limited to)
overeating, intestinal blockage by foreign materials, traumatic injury, or physical
stress (whelping, vomiting, etc). Bloat is not genetic. However, a tendency toward
the condition may be inheritable, as well as specific intestinal defects.
Main indications of bloat include abdominal distention (tight/"bloated" stomach),
restlessness, excessive salivation (drooling) or panting, constipation (full blockage),
diarrhea (partial blockage), and/or retching without actually vomiting. Any combination
of symptoms may be evident.
Bloat in review
Bloat and the Alaskan malamute
Condition where the lens of the eye becomes clouded or opaque, impairing the vision.
The degree of vision loss depends upon the size and location of the cataract within
the eye. Cataracts may also cause a lens protein to leak into the eye, resulting in
an immune reaction and inflammation of the eye. Surgical replacement of the affected
lens is the only method to restore vision.
Cataracts can be a result of normal aging, disease, or trauma to the eye. They
can also be congenital (before birth) in origin and are suspected to be hereditary.
Congenital cataracts usually do not lead to total blindness, as they do not change
greatly in size as the eye grows. They do, however, present a great handicap to a
growing pup and may worsen in severity within the following generations.
Coat Funk (Coat Patterning/Loss)
Coat disorder characterized by the breaking and eventual loss of the guard coat.
The guard hair does not grow back and will eventually give the affected dog's body
a "woolly lamb" appearance. Males are usually affected, but cases of affected females
or the loss of only undercoat have been reported. It is suspected (but not yet proven)
to be passed by genetics, caused by a thyroid or sexual hormone imbalance, or some
Coat funk appears to be a problem with the hair follicle cycle where the normal
cycle of shedding & re-growth halts. The remaining hair becomes brittle with age,
the coat hair breaks off and the lost or damaged hair is not replaced. Lab tests such
as thyroid level and skin scrapings will appear normal.
Symptoms of coat funk first appear around 2-3 years of age, but may not attract
much concern by owners until the severity increases. Initial signs of the disorder
are coat "wear" or breakage around the collar, tail, and hair stress points such as
the haunches and buttocks. Eventually this pattern of broken coat will spread to the
rest of the body.
Neutering/spaying the affected dog may cause the hair follicles to act normally
for 1-2 cycles before halting again. In very mild cases, it is possible that the
affected dog may not show renewed signs of coat funk until middle or late age. Hormone
therapy or dietary change may help control the symptoms, but is not usually considered
Affected dogs appear normal in all other respects, and can lead full and happy
lives. However, care must be given to protect them from the elements... cold or wet
weather, excessive exposure to sun or wind, etc.
The Alaskan Malamute and the "Coat Funk"
Pictorial case history
Canine Alopecia ("Coat Funk" or CF)
Coat Funk (Coat Odor)
Common or slang name for a coat that has a strong chronic odor. Characterized by
a "sour" smell which returns within a few days of bathing. Little is known about
the cause of this condition, but it may be linked in some instances to a borderline
thyroid problem. Other causes may be allergies or immune deficiencies involving the
skin. Dietary change, vitamin therapy, or medications may help.
Occasional (non-chronic) strong coat odor or "funk" can be caused by a fungal or
bacterial growth in the undercoat. In most instances, the undercoat became wet from
bathing, swimming, etc and was either improperly or incompletely dried. Rebathing
and complete drying usually fixes the problem, but medications or special shampoos
may be needed if the skin has become affected.
Day Blindness (Hemeralopia)
A retinal disorder causing an inability to see objects or determine distances
during exposure to daylight. An affected dog may have partial or normal vision
under low light conditions such as night/evening, dusk/dawn, when indoors, or
during overcast days. The severity of the disorder varies in each dog affected.
Day blindness is genetically inherited through a recessive trait. It does
not worsen over time and may be detected in puppies less than two months old.
There is no known effective treatment at this time. Affected dogs should be monitored
and their activities restricted during daylight hours.
Text from a Brochure on Day Blindness
Day Blindness in Alaskan Malamutes
A recessive genetic condition involving the development of the growth plates in
the legs, resulting in stunted or deformed growth. It is most noticeable in the
forelegs that can become short, squat, and bow inward under the body. An effected
dwarf may be barely able to walk or seem almost normal, depending on the severity
of the condition.
The Alaskan Malamute Club of America has undertaken a study and a test-breeding
program to eliminate dwarfism. Percentile ratings were given to dogs on the basis
of their genetic background. Ratings lower than 6.25% were considered safe to breed,
while a higher percentage rate required the dog be test-bred to be proven clear of
the condition. The percentile ratings are no longer given and a dog is now considered
"clear" or not clear of the condition. Dwarfism is now rarely seen outside the test
Chondrodysplasia: A Closer Look
Malamute Chondrodysplasia (MC)
Molecular Genetics of Alaskan Malamute Chondrodysplasia
Elbow Dysplasia (Anconeal Dysplasia)
This condition involves the improper development of the small bones in the elbow,
which do not grow together, as they should. This results in lameness, poor extension
of the elbow, pain and swelling. The cause of this abnormality is not known. Surgery
may alleviate the condition as long as arthritis has not developed in the elbow.
A disorder of the brain caused by abnormal electrical bursts and characterized
by seizures. Common symptoms may include muscle trembling or rigidity, disorientation,
vocal outbursts, anxiety/hysteria, excessive salivation/drooling, involuntary loss
of bladder/bowel control, or unconsciousness.
The cause may be hereditary, trauma to the head or nervous system, or chemical
imbalance. Seizures may occur only once or twice, or there may be several attacks
at varying intervals anywhere from several minutes to many months. Recurrent attacks
at decreasing time intervals may also be of increased seizure duration or severity.
A hereditary disease resulting in the improper development of the hip joint.
The socket of the joint will be deformed or too shallow, allowing the rounded end
of the thighbone to separate from the socket. In most cases the rounded end or
"ball" of the thighbone will be abnormally flattened and the "neck" of the bone may
show signs of thickening. This condition can also be caused by improper hip ligaments
or muscle control. Weak control during movement allows the joint to separate, while
excessive control may pull the "ball" out of the hip socket.
Most breeds are at risk and especially the larger dogs. This is probably due to
the greater weight of the body and the associated greater stress to the joints.
Most dogs with hip dysplasia are born with normal appearing hips, but the condition
will usually manifest itself within the first two years. The more severe the hip
joint abnormality... generally the sooner it will become apparent.
Hip dysplasia may vary from mildly abnormal development to complete hip dislocation.
The severity of the condition may also be influenced by too rapid growth, overfeeding
(over nutrition), or excessive exercise. It is usually painful and interferes with proper
movement and activity levels, also depending upon the severity.
Diagnosis is made by X-raying the hip joint. After two years of age, pure breed dogs
can obtain a hip certification through the OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals)
www.prodogs.com/chn/ofa/indes.html, which rates hip joints from "severely dysplastic"
to "excellent". Penn hip www.vet.upenn.edu/pennhip1 is another organization that
rates hips. Click here to read
frequently asked questions about Penn Hip. It is highly recommended that puppy buyers
do NOT buy from litters where both parent dogs are not certified to be clear of hip
dysplasia, or from breeders who will not furnish a copy of the certification upon request.
Treatment depends upon the severity of hip deformity. Mild cases may require the dog
to be on a life-long prescription of pain medication. Recontructive surgery of the muscle
or ligaments may help some dogs. Surgery to reconstruct or replace the hip joint may be
required in more severe cases or as the hip joint wears with age. In severely dysplastic
cases the dog may require euthanasia.
Canine Hip Dysplasia
Disorder caused by the deficiency of a thyroid hormone that is marked by a low
metabolic rate. It is the most common hormone disorders in all dogs and Malamutes
are one of the breeds that appear to be at increased risk. Usually caused by the
destruction of the thyroid gland from an immune process, atrophy or cancer. Although
it is not known to be inherited, the general genetic makeup of the dog or breed may
be partially responsible for the development of an inflammation of the thyroid gland,
which is an immune mediated condition.
Some signs of hypothyroidism include mental dullness, avoidance/intolerance to
exercise, general lethargy, weight gain without increased food intake, slow or poor
coordination, or seizures. Other symptoms include reproductive, coat (dry, dull,
loss, slow re-growth) and skin problems (dry/scaly).
Symptoms may be gradual and subtle, and usually appear between two and six years
of age. Treatment consists of hormone replacement therapy, which must continue
throughout the dog's life, and recovery to a normal lifestyle is excellent.
Hypothyroidism has been linked to some cases of polyneuropathic
conditions. Hypothyroidism associated with polyneuropathies can be difficult to
detect due to the lack of normal outward symptoms. Thyroid levels in a simple T4
blood screen may appear relatively normal to borderline and testing T4 levels after
use of a thyroid stimulant may be needed for proper diagnosis.
Severe hypothyroidism in very young dogs can result in "cretinism".
Cretinism is characterized by dull-wittedness, lethargy, short thick bodies with
large heads, enlarged thyroid gland, and slow physical development.
Inflammation of sensory and motor nerve fibers resulting in nerve degeneration
(damage) and progressive muscle weakness. Characterized by gradual onset and slow
progression of symptoms. The earliest indications may be a change in voice,
difficulty in swallowing, or regurgitation of food. Further signs are uncoordinated
movement, palsy (trembling muscles), loss of balance and eventual paralysis of the legs.
It is suspected, but not known, to be hereditary in Malamutes. In these cases
only males are affected and the dog's maternal grand sire (father of the dog's mother)
may also have been affected. Hypothyroidism, another suspected hereditary condition in
Malamutes, may be an underlying culprit in some cases (see HT note 1).
Other known or suspected causes include physical trauma, dysfunctional immune system,
drug or chemical toxicity/poisoning (organophosphates, trichlorethylene, etc), heavy
metal toxicity (lead, copper, zinc, etc), metabolic diseases (hypothyroidism, diabetes, etc),
Treatment is dependent upon the underlying cause of the condition. Recovery will
depend upon the degree of nerve damage involved. The specific cause in many dogs may not
be identifiable and no effective therapy is available. In cases suspected to be hereditary,
most dogs will eventually recover on their own. However, these dogs will not fully recover
to their pre-polyneuropathic condition and will require some form of invalid care in the
Polyneuropathy in the Malamute
Progressive Retinal Atrophy: General (PRA) & Central (CPRA)
A hereditary degeneration of the retina that causes impaired vision and slow/incomplete
light reaction by the pupil. (Note: The retina is the deepest of the three main layers
that are the inner "wall" at the back of the eye.) Normally the condition appears
between the ages of four and eight years old.
PRA is the more common type of retinal atrophy and affects the photoreceptor area
of the retina. CPRA is similar to PRA, but affects the retinal layer beneath the
photoreceptive area. Symptoms may be subtle at first, including a reluctance to go
outside at night, staying near lighted areas or the dog's owner, difficulty in tracking
a moving object, reluctance to climb stairs, or misjudging indoor jumps.
Initial onset is characterized by night blindness (poor vision in dim lighting) and
normal vision in the daylight. Progression of the disorder eventually leads to loss of
day vision and later total blindness. In the final stages the pupil does not react to
strong light and is widely dilated. Cataracts are not uncommon. There is no known
Wobbler's Syndrome (Cervical Spondylopathy)
A hereditary condition that is a failure of proper support to the vertebrae area and
affects the spinal cord in the hip area. Found mostly in large breeds or sometimes in
long-backed breeds. This is a fatal condition that usually progresses slowly, but in
some cases can cripple an affected dog in less than a day. Onset of the condition is
normally between three and twelve months of age. The exact cause is not known, but
displacement (shifting or dislocation) of vertebrae due to a long neck, overfeeding or
excessive nutrition, and too rapid growth is suspected in influencing the condition.
Characterized by a progressive lack of coordination in the hindquarters from very
weak and unsupportive leg muscles, as well as a palsy-like shaking of the head. As the
condition continues, the front quarters become affected and the rear will eventually
become completely unsupportive (quadroplegic). The condition is frequently extremely painful.
Diagnosis is by X-ray. Treatment consists of surgery to alleviate displacement/deformity
of the vertebrae. Acute cases respond best to surgery, slowly progressive cases respond
Zinc Responsive Dermatitis
A scaling skin disease caused by the inability to absorb sufficient zinc amounts from
the intestine. This is due either to a genetic defect (sled dog breeds in particular)
or to a nutritional imbalance. Some dog food ingredients and food supplements are known
to decrease zinc absorption. Among these are calcium, iron, tin, copper and phytates
(plant sugar). Calcium is the most commonly used supplement and should not be given to
growing puppies for this reason.
Indications of this condition include scaly/crusty skin, itchiness, dull or brittle
coat, or hair loss. This may be most noticeable on the face, hocks and elbows. Over
supplementing growing puppies or young dogs (especially with calcium) may cause poor
appetite, stunted growth, or deformed bones.
Diagnosis is by skin biopsy of the affected area. Treatment is by the use of zinc
supplements, either until the condition is alleviated (nutritionally caused) or for the
life of the dog (genetic). Zinc supplements are not recommended for dogs not affected
by this condition.
Copyright©© 1998 M.Serage of Texas Alaskan
Malamute Rescue. Permission expressly granted for reproduction and non-profit distribution.
Other Health Sites:
canine inherided disorders
The Alaskan Malamute Research Foundation