Siberian Huskies: What a Unique Breed!
Your dog is special! She’s your best friend, companion, and a source of unconditional love. Chances are that you chose her because you like Huskies and you expected her to have certain traits that would fit your lifestyle:
- Outgoing, playful personality
- Sweet, gentle, and sensitive
- Always on the go, with a keen eye for adventure
- Good with children
- Friendly and eager to please
- Even-tempered, affectionate, and happy-go-lucky
However, no dog is perfect! You may have also noticed these characteristics:
- Has a tendency to escape, wander, and roam
- Is a bit “mouthy”—likes to carry and chew things
- Likes to dig
- Likely to attack other small animals, including cats
- Prone to boredom and separation anxiety when left alone and will find trouble
- Can be difficult to housetrain
Is it all worth it? Of course! She’s full of personality, and you love her for it! She is a loving and docile companion, but she can be independent and willful. With early socialization and consistent leadership, she is a joyful and faithful addition to any family.
The Siberian Husky originated in Siberia and was first imported to Alaska in 1909 for use as a sled dog. Original breeding of Huskies by the Chukchi people of northeast Asia focused primarily on dogs with great endurance and tolerance of harsh climates. The Husky is fastidiously clean and has minimal doggie odor. They are a social breed that craves close human contact and due to their social nature they do not make good watchdogs. Siberian Huskies are intelligent and have a innate desire to work; they are highly active and require vigorous exercise and space to run. Huskies make excellent jogging partners in cool weather! She is not much of a barker, but she is a communal howler especially when bored or under-exercised. The Siberian Husky is a generally healthy breed with an average lifespan of 11-14 years.
Your Siberian Husky’s Health
We know that because you care so much about your dog, you want to take good care of her. That is why we have summarized the health concerns we will be discussing with you over the life of your Husky. By knowing about health concerns specific to Siberian Huskies, we can tailor a preventive health plan to watch for and hopefully prevent some predictable risks.
Many diseases and health conditions are genetic, meaning they are related to your pet’s breed. There is a general consensus among canine genetic researchers and veterinary practitioners that the conditions we’ve described herein have a significant rate of incidence and/or impact in this breed.That does not mean your dog will have these problems; it just means that she is more at risk than other dogs. We will describe the most common issues seen inSiberian Huskiesto give you an idea of what may come up in her future. Of course, we can’t cover every possibility here, so always check with us if you notice any unusual signs or symptoms.
This guide contains general health information important to all canines as well as the most important genetic predispositions for Siberian Huskies. This information helps you and us together plan for your pet’s unique medical needs. At the end of the booklet, we have also included a description of what you can do at home to keep your Husky looking and feeling her best. You will know what to watch for, and we will all feel better knowing that we’re taking the best possible care of your pal.
General Health Information for your Siberian Husky
Dental disease is the most common chronic problem in pets, affecting 80% of all dogs by age two. And unfortunately, your Siberian Husky is more likely than other dogs to have problems with her teeth. It starts with tartar build-up on the teeth and progresses to infection of the gums and roots of the teeth. If we don’t prevent or treat dental disease, your buddy will lose her teeth and be in danger of damaging her kidneys, liver, heart, and joints. In fact, your Husky’s life span may be cut short by one to three years! We’ll clean your dog’s teeth regularly and let you know what you can do at home to keep those pearly whites clean.
Siberian Huskies are susceptible to bacterial and viral infections—the same ones that all dogs can get—such as parvo, rabies, and distemper. Many of these infections are preventable through vaccination, which we will recommend based on the diseases we see in our area, herage, and other factors.
Obesity can be a significant health problem in Siberian Huskies. It is a serious disease that may causeor worsen joint problems, metabolic and digestive disorders, back pain and heart disease. Though it’s tempting to give your pal food when she looks at you with those soulful eyes, you can “love her to death” with leftover people food and doggie treats. Instead, give her a hug, brush her fur or teeth, play a game with her, or perhaps take her for a walk. She’ll feel better, and so will you!
All kinds of worms and bugs can invade your Husky’s body, inside and out. Everything from fleas and ticks to ear mites can infest herskin and ears. Hookworms, roundworms, heartworms, and whipworms can get into hersystem in a number of ways: drinking unclean water, walking on contaminated soil, or being bitten by an infected mosquito. Some of these parasites can be transmitted to you or a family member and are a serious concern for everyone. For your canine friend, these parasites can cause pain, discomfort, and even death, so it’s important that we test for them on a regular basis. We’ll also recommend preventive medication as necessary to keep her healthy.
Spay or Neuter
One of the best things you can do for your Husky is to have her spayed (neutered for males). In females, this means we surgically remove the ovaries and usually the uterus, and in males, it means we surgically remove the testicles. Spaying or neutering decreases the likelihood of certain types of cancers and eliminates the possibility of your pet becoming pregnant or fathering unwanted puppies. Performing this surgery also gives us a chance, while your pet is under anesthesia, to identify and address some of the diseases your dog is likely to develop. For example, if your pet needs hip X-rays or a puppy tooth extracted, this would be a good time. This is convenient for you and easy for your friend. Routine blood testing prior to surgery also helps us to identify and take precautions for common problems that increase anesthetic or surgical risk. Don’t worry; we’ll discuss the specific problems we will be looking for when the time arrives.
Genetic Predispositions for Siberian Huskies
Not many things have as dramatic an impact on your dog’s quality of life as the proper functioning of his eyes. Unfortunately, Siberian Huskies can inherit or develop a number of different eye conditions, some of which may cause blindness if not treated right away, and most of which can be extremely painful! We will evaluate his eyes at every examination to look for any signs of concern.
Cataracts are a common cause of blindness in older Huskies. We’ll watch for the lenses of his eyes to become more opaque—meaning they look cloudy instead of clear—when we examine him. Many dogs adjust well to losing their vision and get along just fine. Surgery to remove cataracts and restore sight may also be an option.
Glaucoma, an eye condition that affects Siberian Huskies and people too, is an extremely painful disease that rapidly leads to blindness if left untreated. Symptoms include squinting, watery eyes, bluing of the cornea (the clear front part of the eye), and redness in the whites of the eyes. Pain is rarely noticed by pet owners though it is frequently there and can be severe. People who have certain types of glaucoma often report it feels like being stabbed in the eye with an ice pick! Yikes! In advanced cases, the eye may look enlarged or swollen like it’s bulging. We’ll perform his annual glaucoma screening to diagnose and start treatment as early as possible. Glaucoma is a medical emergency. If you see symptoms, don’t wait to call us, go to an emergency clinic!
The cornea is the clear outer layer at the front of the eye. Corneal dystrophy is an inherited condition in Siberian Huskies that causes small white crystal deposits to form in one of the layers of the cornea. There is no known effective medical treatment to remove the deposits. Usually the disease progresses slowly, doesn’t hurt, and causes only minor vision obstruction, but partial or complete blindness is possible. In severe cases surgery may be considered, but unfortunately, the crystals may return.
There are several types of inherited bleeding disorders which occur in dogs. They range in severity from very mild to very severe. Many times a pet seems normal until a serious injury occurs or surgery is performed, and then severe bleeding can result. Von Willebrand’s disease is a blood clotting disorder frequently found in Siberian Huskies. We’ll conduct diagnostic testing for blood clotting time or a specific DNA blood test for Von Willebrand’s disease or other similar disorders to check for this problem before we perform surgery.
There are three types of seizures in dogs: reactive, secondary, and primary. Reactive seizures are caused by the brain’s reaction to a metabolic problem like low blood sugar, organ failure, or a toxin. Secondary seizures are the result of a brain tumor, stroke, or trauma. If no other cause can be found, the disease is called primary, or idiopathic epilepsy. This problem is often an inherited condition, with Siberian Huskies commonly afflicted. If your friend is prone to seizures, they will usually begin between six months and three years of age. An initial diagnostic workup may help find the cause. Lifelong medication is usually necessary to help keep seizures under control, with periodic blood testing required to monitor side effects and effectiveness. If your dog has a seizure: Carefully prevent him from injuring himself, but don’t try to control his mouth or tongue. It won’t help him, and he may bite you accidentally! Note the length of the seizure, and call us or an emergency hospital.
Older Huskies may develop this disease, in which the vocal cords become paralyzed and hang down into the airway. Watch for noisy breathing, especially when exercising or in hot, humid weather. In severe cases a pet can collapse and have difficulty breathing. Mild cases can be managed with changes at home and possibly medication. Bring him in right away if you notice signs because you don’t want this problem to become a surgical emergency!
High Blood Pressure
Huskies are more likely than other breeds to have high blood pressure (also called hypertension), which may occur by itself or be caused by another disease. High blood pressure can cause blindness and strokes in dogs, just as it can in people. We’ll test his blood pressure on a regular basis and prescribe blood pressure medication if needed.
Some breeds like your Husky can be born with a variety of heart defects. Most of these affect the structure of the heart’s dividing wall or the vessels. They can also cause problems with the electrical signals that control the heartbeat or with heart valve function. Because of the significant risk of heart disease, we’ll pay special attention to his heart during each examination. Special testing will be recommended if we hear a heart murmur or you notice any unusual symptoms such as tiring easily, coughing, a swollen belly, or fainting.
Cancer is a leading cause of death in older dogs. Your Husky will likely live longer than many other breeds and therefore is more prone to get cancer in his golden years. Many cancers are cured by surgically removing them, and some types are treatable with chemotherapy. Early detection is critical! We’ll perform periodic diagnostic tests and look for lumps and bumps when we examine your pet.
You’ve probably heard of hip dysplasia, an inherited disease that causes the hip joints to form improperly and leads to arthritis: it is common in Siberian Huskies. You may notice that he has lameness in his hind legs or has difficulty getting up from lying down. We can treat the arthritis — the sooner the better — to avoid discomfort and pain. We’ll take X-rays of your dog’s joints to identify the disease as early as possible. Surgery is sometimes considered in severe and life-limiting cases of hip dysplasia. Keep in mind that overweight dogs may develop arthritis years earlier than those of normal weight, causing undue pain and suffering.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Inflammatory Bowel Disease or IBD is an immune system disorder common in Huskies in which the intestinal lining becomes overrun with immune system cells called lymphocytes and plasmacytes. The stomach and/or intestinal lining becomes thickened affecting his ability to absorb nutrients properly. Chronic vomiting or diarrhea is common or it may flare up suddenly and then improve again for a time. Stress, diet change, or intestinal parasites may make it worse. If your friend has diarrhea or digestive upsets that are not explained by the more common reasons, diagnostic tests, which may include intestinal biopsy, will be needed. Lifetime medications and special diets are usually required to keep this bellyache under control.
Degenerative Myelopathy is a neurologic condition, similar to ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease in people, that causes weakness and poor nerve function in the hind legs. It affects Huskies more frequently than other breeds. If your dog has this disease, he will become increasingly weak and disabled in the hind legs and will eventually suffer from paralysis in his hindquarters, along with incontinence. Rehabilitation, exercise, acupuncture, and dietary supplements can be helpful, but there is no cure. A genetic test is available to determine whether your dog is at risk for this heritable disease.
Autoimmune Skin Disease
Pemphigus foliaceus is a superficial skin disease that is more common in Siberian Huskies. It often starts at around four years of age and causes crusts and hair loss, usually on top of his nose and inside the ear flap. Some dogs can get it on their footpads and toenails. Bacteria usually invade the damaged area, so secondary skin infections are common. Skin crusts typically wax and wane; there is no cure, but there are a variety of effective treatments. Sunlight makes it worse, so apply zinc-free sunscreen to sensitive parts before heading outdoors.
This complex disease, found at higher incidence in Siberian Huskies , is also known as uveodermatologic syndrome: “uveo” referring to the inside of the eye and “derm” referring to the skin. This is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the cells that make pigment in the skin and inside the eyes. It can cause pain or blindness inside the eye and the pigmented areas of his nose, lips, and skin to change from dark to light. Sunlight makes the condition worse.
Your Husky is prone to a form of skin infection called zinc-responsive dermatosis, in which he either isn’t getting enough zinc in his diet or doesn’t absorb it properly. Signs include red, hairless, crusting, scaling, or oozing skin around the mouth, chin, eyes, and ears or lesions on the foot pads and nose. If your dog develops this disease, we’ll prescribe a carefully regulated amount of zinc in his diet.
Huskies are prone to a common condition called hypothyroidism in which the body doesn’t make enough thyroid hormone. Signs can include dry skin and coat, hair loss, susceptibility to other skin diseases, weight gain, fearfulness, aggression, or other behavioral changes. We’ll conduct a blood screening test annually to screen for the disease. Treatment is usually simple: replacement hormones given in the form of a pill.
The ureters are small tubes that allow urine created in each kidney to flow into the bladder. Occasionally in Siberian Huskies, one of these tubes hooks up in the wrong place, taking urine past the bladder, instead of into the bladder itself. The bladder normally stores urine and empties on command but urine that doesn’t spill into the bladder will just drip out on its own. This is called Ectopic Ureter and it causes urine leaking. Once the problem is diagnosed, with x-rays or an ultrasound of the bladder, the ureter can be surgically reattached where it belongs.
Hyperphosphatemia describes an elevated level of an enzyme called alkaline phosphatase, or ALP, in the bloodstream. Affected Siberian Huskies usually have no signs of illness, although microscopic examination of their livers can reveal abnormalities within the liver cells. There are other diseases that are more serious and can cause this enzyme to be elevated. As long as those other problems are investigated and ruled out no treatment is necessary.
Much of what you can do to keep your dog happy and healthy is common sense, just like it is for people. Watch her diet, make sure she gets plenty of exercise, regularly brush her teeth and coat, and call us or a pet emergency hospital when something seems unusual (see “What to Watch For” below). Be sure to adhere to the schedule of examinations and vaccinations that we recommend for her. This is when we’ll give her the necessary “check-ups” and test for diseases and conditions that are common in Huskies. Another very important step in caring for your pet is signing up for pet health insurance. There will certainly be medical tests and procedures she will need throughout her life and pet health insurance will help you cover those costs.
Routine Care, Diet, and Exercise
Build her routine care into your schedule to help your Husky live longer, stay healthier, and be happier during her lifetime. We cannot overemphasize the importance of a proper diet and exercise routine.
- Supervise your pet as you would a toddler. Keep doors closed, pick up after yourself, and block off rooms as necessary. This will keep her out of trouble and away from objects she shouldn’t put in her mouth.
- She needs a thorough brushing at least weekly most of the year. Twice a year she blows her coat and loses crazy amounts of hair; daily brushing is recommended during this time.
- Siberian Huskies generally have good teeth, and you can keep them perfect by brushing them at least twice a week!
- Clean her ears weekly, even as a puppy. Don’t worry—we’ll show you how!
- She’s a smart dog with lots of energy, so keep her mind and body active, or she’ll get bored. That’s when the naughty stuff starts.
- She has a high prey drive, so she needs to be leash walked and a sturdy fence is a must.
- Can be affected by snow nose, which is a loss of pigment from the nose, making her prone to sunburn. She will need dog-safe (zinc-free) sunscreen.
- Keep your dog’s diet consistent and don’t give her people food.
- Feed a high-quality diet appropriate for her age.
- Exercise your dog regularly, but don’t overdo it at first.
What to Watch For
Any abnormal symptom could be a sign of serious disease, or it could just be a minor or temporary problem. The important thing is to be able to tell when to seek veterinary help, and how urgently. Many diseases cause dogs to have a characteristic combination of symptoms, which together can be a clear signal that your Siberian Husky needs help.
Give us a call for an appointment if you notice any of these types of signs:
- Change in appetite or water consumption
- Tartar build-up, bad breath, red gums, or broken teeth
- Itchy skin (scratching, chewing, or licking), hair loss
- Lethargy, mental dullness, or excessive sleeping
- Fearfulness, aggression, or other behavioral changes
- Dull coat, hair loss, sluggish, weight gain
- Lumps or bumps – regardless of size
Seek medical care immediately if you notice any of these types of signs:
- Scratching or shaking the head, tender ears, or ear discharge
- Inability or straining to urinate; discolored urine
- Cloudiness, redness, itching, or any other abnormality involving the eyes
- Any abnormal shaking, trembling, or excessive involuntary tremors
- Louder than normal panting, especially when hot or after exercise
- Tiring easily, coughing, a swollen belly or fainting/collapse
- Leg stiffness, reluctance to rise, sit, use stairs, run, jump, or “bunny hopping”
- Dragging the hind toes and hind limb weakness
Partners in Health Care
DNA testing is a rapidly advancing field with new tests constantly emerging to help in the diagnosis of inherited diseases before they can become a problem for your friend. For the most up-to-date information on DNA and other screening tests available for your pal, visit www.Genesis4Pets.com.
Your Husky counts on you to take good care of her, and we look forward to working with you to ensure that she lives a long and healthy life. Our goal is to provide the best health care possible: health care that’s based on her breed, lifestyle, and age. Please contact us when you have questions or concerns.
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- Gough A, Thomas A. Breed Predispositions to Disease in Dogs and Cats. 2nd Edition. Wiley-Blackwell; 2010.
- Crook A, Dawson S, Cote E, MacDonald S, Berry J. Canine Inherited Disorders Database [Internet]. University of Prince Edward Island. 2011. [cited 2013 May 8]. Available from: http://ic.upei.ca/cidd/breed/siberian-husky
- Breed Specific Health Concerns [Internet]. American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, Inc. [cited 2013 May 8]. Available from: http://www.akcchf.org/canine-health/breed-specific-concerns/?breed=siberian-husky