The Inuit Dog


There are no known genetic defects in the Inuit dog. Osteoarthritis, which may affect dogs that are worked hard, must not be confused with hip dysplasia common in other breeds.

The degenerative changes in osteoarthritis are sufficiently dissimilar to hip dysplasia to say that Inuit dogs are not affected by this condition.

Osteoarthritis has been extensively studied among the dogs formerly in Antarctica. It is mostly due to trauma to the joints. The joints become inflamed due to cartilage breakdown. It appears at around five or six years of age, the dog’s middle age, a time when normal aging begins a process of deterioration. The trauma can be from an accident from which the young dog recovers, or small but repetitive actions. One cause is often an ill-fitting harness. A dog who, although worked hard, never had an accident or any kind of trauma can sail through old age without a limp.

Gradual and careful training of pups goes a long way to prevent osteoarthritis.

threepups copy

Photos Allen Gordon
Photos Allen Gordon

When a growing dog is pulling something too heavy for his size and age, or running too far for his development, or running too fast (racing dogs), the cartilage suffers minor tears. Unlike other tissues cartilage does not re-grow. When it is damaged it remains so and creates microscopic abrasive particles in the joints. Later, as the bones and cartilage hardens, the particles keep rubbing the joints and the joints become inflamed. The problem usually hits the working dog in middle age, when age begins a slow and inevitable process of deterioration. The signs are lameness, stiffness and slowness.

Though calcium deficiency is not common, it can happen, particularly to dogs fed an unbalanced homemade diet. Bones become softer, and the cartilage abrades quicker.

In Antarctica, where many dogs suffered from osteoarthritis, it was thought that the posture of the pulling dog caused damage to the joints. The curled position of the dog in snow and ice could be an aggravating factor but not the cause. Starting work too early in life is a major contributor to osteoarthritis. Sled dogs like pulling and do not complain, even though they are suffering. In these cases, the osteoarthritis is not discovered until much later.

The dogs’ diet in Antarctica, like in the Arctic, was mostly seal meat. Meat alone contains no calcium. Bones the dogs chew on do provide some of this essential mineral, but very little. In order for the bone calcium to be absorbed by the body, it has to be ground to a fine powder, and for the body to absorb calcium, it needs vitamin D. It is interesting to note that when calcium was added to their diet, it did not appear to make any difference to the incidence of osteoarthritis. Gradual training on the other hand seemed to reduce the problem.


Two dogs and two men hauling sledge
in Antarctica. Photo Pawson