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                           HEALTH ISSUES & TESTING      by Bonnie Schaeffel

There is no breed of dog that is totally free of health issues, but the Siberian Husky breed has been very fortunate in that they are generally healthy and have a good temperament. Throughout the years, there have not been a great many genetic issues.

One of the things that we test for, is hip dysplasia. To put it simply, this is where the ball of the hip bone does not fit into the socket in the correct way or part of the round ball of the bone may be flattened. Traditionally,this is thought to be an inheritable condition and when it is, it is passed on by a combination of genes. Therefore, it is possible for a dog who passes the OFA test to produce a dysplastic pup, but testing decreases the likelihood of this.

There is new evidence, however, that it is actually ligaments that are loose and this can be avoided through proper nutrition. Please read the page on hip dysplasia on this site.

We OFA test our dogs, which is the test for hip dysplasia. If one of our dogs would fail this test, it would not be used for breeding. The OFA test helps breeders weed out any dog whose hips do not pass. It is important to OFA test, so dogs that are shown to be dysplastic are not used in a breeding program, perpetuating this genetic defect.

While we test for hip dysplasia, fortunately, it is not a huge problem in Siberians. According to the Siberian Husky Club, out of 114 breeds of dogs which are at risk for hip dysplasia, the Siberian Husky is one of the breeds least affected, ranked at #111 out of a possible 114.

Hip dysplasia can also be brought on by poor nutrition, an injury, putting a Siberian in harness too young, an ill fitting harness, as well as a host of other things. Since you cannot usually tell if hip dysplasia is hereditary or brought on by something the new owner may have done, we cannot guarantee against this. We try to be responsible in testing any dogs used in our breeding program to help insure that your pup will not get hereditary hip dysplasia. So, in that way, we do our part.

Another possible health issue in the Siberian is inherited eye defects. There are many types of inherited eye defects, but only three are considered a concern in the Siberian Husky. These are hereditary cataracts, also known as juvenile cataracts, corneal dystrophy, and progressive retinal atrophy or PRA. Eye problems in the Siberian can be serious and should not be overlooked.

Of the three eye concerns, hereditary or juvenile cataracts are the most common. These may be able to be seen in a pup as young as 3 months of age. They usually will develop by 2 or 3 years old, if they are going to. They can be mild and cause diminished vision or they can be so severe that they cause blindness, but that is more rare.

Corneal dystrophy affects the cornea, which is the transparent portion of the eyeball. It results in a hazy opacity in the cornea.Vision is seldom affected and there is no effective treatment at this point.

PRA affects the retina of the dog.This is where the rods and cones of the eye are. Rods are necessary for sight in dim light or night light and the cones are necessary for vision in bright light. This condition will first cause a loss of night vision and then day vision, leading to eventual blindness.

We CERF screen our dogs. Any that have this screening and do not pass, are not used in a breeding program. However, it is possible for a dog to pass their CERF test and still be a carrier. They will display no cataracts or traits of these diseases. Their eyes will be and will test, "normal" or be found to be "clear" of cataracts. So CERF or SHOR tests will help you weed out dogs who have or are getting cataracts, but not dogs who are carriers. There are some estimates that state that likely 75% of all Siberians ARE carriers.  

CERF testing does not weed out dogs who are carriers of the recessive gene for any of these eye issues. If a carrier dog is bred with another dog who is a carrier, they may produce a certain number of pups who will get cataracts. There is no way to tell if your dog is a carrier. Besides being a carrier, the two dogs that are bred, would have to have the right combination of carrier genes for it to result in a pup who would get cataracts.

Scientists are working on developing genetic tests to determine which dogs are carriers. It has been difficult because it is a polygenic gene combination that results in the cataracts.Once a carrier test is accomplished, it may be possible to entirely wipe out these eye issues in this breed. As it is, with the available testing which allows us to weed out dogs with cataracts, the incidence of hereditary cataracts is thought to be at about 8% of all Siberians. About 3% get corneal dystrophy and less than 1% get PRA. So, our present testing is helping keep the incidence of these eye issues much lower than they would be with no tests. However, because people do not have to post failed tests, the incidences of these eye issues are felt to be much higher than these statistics reflect.

One final issue for this breed is an intestinal issue. This breed is more prone to irritable bowel syndrome and diarrhea than many breeds. Siberians are so clean about themselves, they groom themselves much like a cat. This is wonderful, except in doing so, they ingest a lot more bacteria than many breeds. This sits in their intestinal tract and if they have a strong immune system, it will keep it in check. The dog won't notice it and neither will you.

However, if they are stressed, it suppresses the immune system and they can get a flare of some intestinal issue like coccidia or giardia. Coccidia is a bacterial parasite and giardia is a protoza. I have read that as many as 70% of all Siberians carry one or both of these in their intestinal tract, most of the time. Their good bacteria and their immune system, keep it in check. If their immune system gets suppressed and they get a flare of one of these, it will bring on diarrhea. The puppy will play, eat, sleep and act normal in all ways except for having diarrhea. Your vet can put them on metronidazole for giardia or albon for coccidia and in about a week, it will usually clear up.

Changing foods too quickly can also bring on diarrhea. Even drinking city water as opposed to well water (if they have been used to well water) can upset a new puppy. It is important to make any changes gradually.

There are rare cases of chronic diarrhea which most often can be cured or at least improved by choosing a better dog food. It is also good to use a probiotic on the food, with this breed. Do not feed human food to a Siberian or you no doubt, will have "messes" to clean up.

All in all, this is a very healthy, hardy breed. They are energetic, non-aggressive, and have great temperaments! This breed is blessed to have a minimum of health issues. With good breeding practices, such as testing, Siberians will continue to do well and be a sound and healthy choice for a pet.

Please be sure to read the section entitled "vaccinosis". It is very important information for the health of your pet. Thank you!

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