By Kathleen Stryeski DVM

Zinc deficiency in the arctic breeds of dogs is a skin condition requiring diagnostic testing for
an accurate diagnosis and long term supplementation with zinc methionine and possibly
additional enzymes.  This skin condition cannot be diagnosed by a lay person or breeder,
and must be diagnosed via a skin punch biopsy by a veterinarian.

There are multiple skin diseases which mimic zinc deficiency, and adding zinc to the diet of a
dog that does not have the disease can cause zinc toxicity.  The genetic transmission of the
disease is unknown, but it is thought to be genetically linked since zinc deficiency is present
in related dogs.

Zinc is considered a micromineral and has many functions in canine metabolism.  Some of
these functions include protein synthesis, skin and wound healing, and cellular growth and
reproduction.  Zinc also is important to the immune system and interacts with multiple
hormones including testosterone and insulin.  The absorption of zinc mainly occurs in the
small intestine with small amounts absorbed in the stomach.  It is thought that the Siberian
Husky with zinc deficiency may lack enzymes used to absorb the zinc properly.  It is also
known that phytic acid or phytates found in grains cause a decrease in zinc absorption in
humans.  Phytic acid is the primary storage form of phosphorous in plant food.  High phytic
foods include soy, oats, corn, wheat, rice, and barley.  The phtyic acid binds to minerals
(such as zinc, calcium, and iron) in the digestive tract and they are then excreted
unabsorbed in the bowels.  In people, it is thought that the lack of the enzyme phytase,
which breaks down the phytic acid, is to blame.  Whether this holds true in the dog remains
to be seen, but the topic is one that needs to be further researched.

The typical Siberian that presents with zinc deficiency will be itchy and have hair loss and
scabbing around the eyes, muzzle, ears, and lips. The hair loss may also be on the legs,
elbows, vulva, scrotum, and footpads.  These lesions respond minimally to treatments with
antibiotics, steroids, antihistamines, and ointments.  The average age of onset can be from
2 to 8 years, but it has been reported in Siberians under 6 months of age and in the older
dog as well.  It is well documented that this disease can first manifest itself during a stressful
event such as estrus, pregnancy, lactation, or change of environment.

A variety of skin conditions look exactly alike zinc deficiency including demodectic mange,
sarcoptic mange, ringworm, and bacterial skin infections.  Veterinarians will usually do
preliminary skin tests including skin scrapings and fungal cultures before
suggesting a skin biopsy.  However, a skin biopsy must be done to diagnose this condition.  
Usually these skin biopsies can be done under a local anesthetic unless the biopsy needs to
be taken near the eye.  In that case, a sedative will need to be administered for the safety of
the pet.  The classic biopsy result for zinc deficiency will read as “diffuse, marked epidermal
and follicular parakeratosis and superficial perivascular dermatitis with secondary infection”.

Treatment for this disorder is life long.  The zinc given is zinc methionine, not elemental
zinc.  This zinc is made in a veterinary formulation and is called Zinpro.  It can be found at
the website Lincolnbiotech.com. It comes in chewable wafers and granules and is the gold
standard for zinc supplementation in the dog.  It is also recommended that an enzyme
supplement, ProZyme, be added to the food long term help the zinc absorption.

Their website is Prozyme.com.  Antibiotics may be needed to control the infection while
treatment is started and during relapses. Some dogs require steroid relief as well.

It may take several months to see improvement in the skin.  If you take the dog of the
supplementation the condition will probably relapse.  If this happens, it will take weeks to
months to correct the deficiency.  Pregnancy, estrus, and stressful episodes can also cause
a relapse and also cause the disease in an otherwise normal animal.

Over supplementing with zinc can include depression, vomiting, lack of appetite, diarrhea,
and weight loss.
Siberian Husky
Health Foundation
P.O. Box 282
Neffs, PA 18065-0282
"Breaking trail for a healthy future for all Siberian Huskies"
The same dog after zinc
supplementation and
antibiotic treatment