Cold Facts: Common Health Concerns Among Siberian Huskies

Siberian Huskie

It is no wonder why the popularity of Siberian Huskies has grown exponentially over recent years; they are just so hard to resist. There aren’t many other breeds that are quite as strikingly gorgeous as the Siberian husky, what with those piercing blue eyes, that thick coat of fur and those disarming wolf-like looks. But it isn’t just their appearance that makes them such amazing pets. It is their joyful demeanour, their buoyant energy, their loyalty and friendliness. But the fact they make the best furry friends imaginable is also what makes it so hard to cope with when they get sick. There is an emotional bond that can crush your soul like nothing else.

Yes, Siberian Huskies tend to be incredibly healthy compared to a lot of other breeds, but that doesn’t mean they are free of all health concerns. Quite the contrary, in fact. Of course, the best medicine in your arsenal is knowledge and prevention, which is why we are going to highlight the main health problems of this very special breed:

Huskie in the snow

Corneal Dystrophy
Unfortunately, Siberian Huskies are known for suffering autoimmune disorders that affect the eyes and one, in particular, is to do with the cornea. Unfortunately, this tends to be a hereditary disease and one that your local veterinarian will probably tell you has no known cure, whether medicinal or therapeutic. What it looks like is tiny white spots in the cornea, with the condition affecting your pups vision. It’s not nice, but the good news is it isn’t painful.

Zinc Deficiency
Another autoimmune disorder your husky is susceptible to is a low level of zinc in their body, which tends to cause hair loss. The most common areas of hair loss are on the face – lips, chin and eyelids – but it can also occur at their elbows, hocks and feet. The obvious thing to do is add a zinc supplement to their diet. However, before you do this we would strongly recommend you speak to your vet first.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy
Yeah, Huskies tend to get it pretty rough with their eyes, and this is another hereditary example of this. This is a condition whereby your dog’s retina slowly disintegrates over time. The best way to ensure that this condition doesn’t affect your puppy is to have your Husky screened at an early age and let it undergo the necessary examination. While this won’t cure them, it will allow you to make lifestyle adjustments to ensure any progression is put off for as long as possible.

Hip Dysplasia
Ask any vet and they will tell you that a lot of big dogs are prone to hip dysplasia and Siberian Huskies fall into the category. To give you a little more information on it, hip dysplasia is where the joint doesn’t quite fit together properly, making later life a lot harder for them. There are certain things you can do to help your dog if they suffer from this. However, we would also recommend you ask the breeder whether the pups parents have been screened for hip dysplasia. It is hereditary, so those parents who were fine on this front tend to produce a litter that is unaffected too.

Why do I need to cut? (Day –281)

Vet Student Operating

I enjoy surgery so much that it is almost a love, I find it so rewarding to be able to anesthetise an animal, and whilst it is sleeping fix it or stop the pain. For me it has been obvious for a while that my path will follow that of surgery, I’ve seen as much practice as I could with a focus on surgery. And I have spent every spare hour I have within the surgery department here.

Surgery is a massive thrill, the adrenaline rush of scrubbing in and picking up a scalpel is something that I am told will never vanish. And I love this. It makes me happy doing surgery, and it makes me feel fulfilled when the dog or cat or rabbit wakes up after surgery fixed. Well sometimes it is not so simple and there is a period of rehabilitation however every single day from the surgery the poor animal is getting better.

As I get better at surgery, my understanding and experience is deepening. Where before I looked for every opportunity to cut as a chance to do what I love and take the animal to surgery I am now not so fast to want this.

I was speaking about this with one of doctors the other day who told me that many years ago he was told that the art of surgery was not doing surgery, but knowing when to do surgery.

Something that has always bothered me is that sometimes surgery is simply to fix problems caused by humans. This came to a head for me on the Ophthalmology conference weekend when Professor Ron Ofri spoke about a surgeon walking out of surgery holding up a piece of skin he removed from a dogs forehead that stretched to the floor.

I asked the question – should we as vets be performing such surgery without requiring the castration or spaying of the animal at the same time? When a breeder has a litter of puppies that all require a visit to the ophthalmologist and surgery before they are a month old? Is this ok?

It’s not just the eyes though, another common surgery is for BOAS – Brachycephalic Obstructed Airway Syndrome – where part of the soft palate is cut away because it is too long and is stopping the dog from breathing properly. Often this is combined with plastic surgery to widen the nostrils which are too narrow.

Then there are dogs that have been bred so badly that they cannot give birth naturally. They can only be born by caesarean section.

Many years ago I read a book by a surgeon from America asked to present at a UK conference on castration implants in dogs – the press thought it was about plastic surgery and filled the entire room. And the surgeon lectured about the use of “implants” to replace the testicles removed during castration – he passed around some samples and one of the attendees mentioned how lifelike they felt to be told that the ones they had were the human version…

The outcry was because vets are not allowed to carry out cosmetic procedures on animals – this is why tail docking, ear clipping etc are all outlawed as cruel because they are cosmetic. Yet now the two cases above that I mentioned are commonly happening the press is silent.

Emma Milne recently did an amazing job of raising the issue of brachycephalic dogs such as pugs that cannot breathe properly as a welfare concern which got some media attention. Pedigree dogs exposed covered some of the crazy welfare issues. And yet at crufts a unhealthy German Shepherd was allowed to win.

I can cut, however the question will be whether ethically and morally I should cut. I believe if the deformity is so great as to require surgery than that animal should not be bred from. If by surgery I can relieve pain or suffering from the animal then it may be justified – however I believe that in this case the animal should be castrated or spayed before or at the same time.

Inside the eye (Day -285)

Vets and Eyes

Today I have been helping out on an Ophthalmology conference with an international expert on animal eyes, Professor Ron Ofri. Eye problems are something seen daily – yet can be extremely serious so I believe learning as much as I can about them is a good idea.

It was arranged to be accessible with stuff that can be taken into practice straight away, and through the day there was a focus on what as vets we can do. Some of it is simple such as testing if a cat is blind by following laser light (though have to be careful it is not a cat with a god complex!). There was only one surgery lecture and it was good revision – something they do teach really well at this university is surgery of the eye and eyelid!

One of the more interesting lectures for me was that of whether animals can see in color. It is a rather interesting question actually as a lot of people assume that animals can see, yet never question just how well they can see.

The question put forward was which of these have the best and worst sight: dog, horse or cat?

Surprisingly the answer was that the horse has the best sight, with the dog in the middle and then the cat with the worst sight.

Also interesting here is when you consider the field of vision. Imagine if you stand next to a horses head looking forward – you can see what is in front of you… yet the horse can see this, see you, and see what is behind you!

I completed my ophthalmology modules within uni last year– however one thing missed from this was instruction on how to use an ophthalmoscope. This was something that an exhibitor at the conference corrected with their explanations and demonstrations of several different types of ophthalmoscopes. This was made very interesting as he had in the past persuaded a person that modelled human eyes for ophthalmologists to practice on to make him some animal eyes with different pupil dilations.