Malamutes and Huskies are two very hardy breeds of dogs that have been developed to withstand horrifically cold temperatures and work in the most inhospitable climates and conditions. These wonderful dogs, though healthy and hardy, can have one major health problem and that is an inability to absorb and use the zinc in their diets. Some of the giant breeds such as the Great Dane may also have inherited problems in absorbing zinc, leading to long term zinc deficiencies that do not respond to typical feeding routines.
Zinc deficiency can also occur in dogs that are not fed enough meat in their diet or are fed a mostly vegetarian diet. In some cheap types of foods the zinc may be bound in unusable forms to the dog and therefore is just the same as not having it in the diet at all. Any dog fed a diet low in meats or consisting of poor quality foods can develop a zinc deficiency, however these problems can be corrected by adjusting the diet and providing supplements for a short time.
Zinc is a naturally occurring mineral that the body needs to function. In good quality commercial dog foods zinc is provided based on the recommended dosage by the Association of Feed Control Officials and is calculated by the nutritional requirements for the average dog. Some breeds have greater problems in absorbing zinc from the diet, even if it occurs in the correct amount and form. These breeds will need additional zinc supplementation throughout their life to avoid developing the signs of zinc deficiency.
Zinc deficiency is noted by a number of different physical symptoms. When the zinc deficiency is pronounced there may be open sores and lesions around the mouth and eyes that have a crusty appearance and painful sores between the pads of the feet. In addition the bottoms of the feet will crack and bleed, something that is extremely dangerous especially to working northern breeds. The skin will become thickened and very scaly looking and the dog will soon lose some if not all of his or her hair. With increased hair loss the chance of skin bacterial infections becomes more likely, leading to further complications. Wounds will not heal and the dog will lose weight and become listless and lethargic. Males will lose their desire to breed and females will not come into heat. If the condition is present when the female is pregnant puppies will often be born with severe mental and physical abnormalities and may be stillborn.
Switching foods to a more meat based diet and adding zinc oxide or zinc sulphate supplements at the rate of 10 mg per 25 kg of body weight is often prescribed by vets. In some dogs the treatment may only be required until the diet is altered but in dogs with zinc absorption problems the supplementation will be required through the dog's life. The results of adding the supplement or changing the diet are most rapidly noticed when the condition is treated early, but almost all the signs of the deficiency with the exception of scarring can be reversed with supplementation.