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Canine Alopecia ("Coat Funk" or CF)

Late-onset Canine Alopecia, or "Coat Funk", is a skin condition that effects males of double coated breeds, including the Alaskan Malamute. Symptoms generally do not appear until late maturity (5-7 years old), and include coat loss, bleaching of the guard coat, and severe dry skin. The condition can easily spread throughout the breeding population because females are asymptomatic carriers, and even affected males generally do not exhibit symptoms until well after reaching breeding age.

In 1997, a partnership of AMRF, the AKC Canine Health Foundation, and the Keeshond Club made a major grant to Dr. Gary Johnson at University of Missouri for a 3-year investigation of the genetic causes of diseases in other species (including humans) that are similar to "Coat Funk". The goal was to identify the gene responsible for the condition, and develop a screening test for that gene.

In 1999, AMRF and Dr. Paul Bloom (Michigan State University) began an investigation into the precise symptoms that lead to a diagnosis of "coat funk". This effort to narrow the use of that term is an attempt to better define the condition and to discover the physical and cellular characteristics that might suggest effective treatments.


If you think you have a "coat funk dog":

First of all, anyone who contacts me about dogs with coat funk, I need to have before and after photos of the dogs (before as in when they had a normal coat, and then a recent photo with the condition at its peak). I also need a 5 generation pedigree. Be aware, these photos and pedigrees are put immediately into a file I have on your particular dog - everything is kept confidential, and it is just to prove for future research that the dog did appear to have the condition, since there is no quick and easy blood test to confirm it. The pedigrees will be used later for evaluation of common relatives, etc. Coat funk is in just about every pedigree, so don't think only certain pedigrees have this condition.

Secondly, I need copies of any blood work done on the dog. I am hoping in the blood work there are (minimally) thyroid panels (done at MSU), a low dose Cushing's panel, growth hormone levels (again from MSU's lab - all labs are run slightly different, so if all the tests are done at 1 lab, it makes them more comparable) and potentially biopsy results from skin biopsies. I also would like 5 DNA swabs on every dog - anyone can contact me and I will send you some. In the real world, I would love DNA swabs on both the dog's parents (mom and dad), but most parents are dead before they show bad signs of the disease OR the parents live far away or can't have DNA swabs taken. Again, all that goes into his particular file.

Once they pass away, if you can arrange it for the pituitary gland and adrenal gland to be removed, that is ideal. Again, this is not something your average vet can do because of the difficulty getting the pituitary gland from the skull. I would recommend (ideally) this be worked out with a veterinary necropsy lab before they pass away, take them to the university, have them put down there, and then immediately have the samples removed. You will need to pay for this yourself at this point in time - however, sometimes universities will give people a break on costs if they know it is for DNA or genetic or health research. If anyone needs me to call a university or person for them to politely ask if they can somehow help us/ you out, I am willing to make the call if you give me a phone number and person to talk to.

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The organs then need to be put in formalin for preservation. The university that sent me the 1 dog I have did an incredible job - they were sealed in this nice formalin packet that I have never seen before, but it is perfect. If the dog is intact, consider having a cross section of the testicles preserved as well, however, I don't think they will be as helpful because most of these dogs live to be a ripe old age, and the testicles get a little mushy and abnormal in old dogs normally. You can have the university send the samples directly to me at my house where I store them in my concrete walled basement's back storage room. Then after I get a certain number of samples (5 or more), I am going to have a histopathologist evaluate them for commonalties.

If the dog is still intact and alive, I am looking for 5 more dogs to be part of the continuation of the coat funk study with Dr. Bloom on function testing. Again, I need all the above information "before" they can be in the test. If your dog (as in anyone reading this) was already in the study with Dr. Bloom a couple years ago, then they already have been done, and I need 5 new dogs. These 5 new dogs probably will not need to drive to MSU for the tests we have in mind like the first 5 dogs did.

I will be honest. Most people who contact me never send me anything - no photos, no pedigrees, no lab results. Even if they do the tests I recommend, they don't send me copies nor photos and pedigrees which are critical to completing your dog's file. I get lots of calls each year about this condition, but there really aren't as many dogs in my files as I get calls. So, if you have called me in the past, please consider getting everything I need to complete your dog's file in to me. I don't sit and look at pedigrees or anything - I literally take the information, check off a list the things you send, and put it immediately in a file. You won't be hurting anyone's feelings (i.e. your breeders) by sending me what I ask - you only will hurt the future dogs' chances of figuring this condition out, and it will be a waste of your dog's life - he might end up being the big key to figuring out the condition.

I recognize it can be very discouraging when a dog comes up with the condition, so try to look at it as positive opportunity. It's one more dog to try to help us figure this condition out. We can't do breedings that will produce coat funk dogs as accurately as ChD so when we get a dog with it, it can be looked at as a positive (a simple recessive where we can breed a dwarf to a carrier and produce dwarfs - this condition isn't like that - you can produce 10 male pups out of a certain male and female and maybe get only 1 with coat funk, and never get another male again with it).

If anyone has any other questions, don't hesitate to email me directly.


Coat Funk: Comparison of routine chemistry profiles, urinalysis, thyroid, adrenal sex hormone assays, and skin and coat evaluations.

A study in conjunction with Dr. Paul Bloom, Michigan State University.

The Study:
In the year 2000, a study was conducted to compare 5 clinically normal intact, male Alaskan Malamutes to 5 clinically abnormal intact, male Alaskan Malamutes with the type of follicular dysplasia more commonly referred to in this breed as "coat funk."

The Goal:
The goal of this project was to see if the dogs affected with coat funk had any laboratory data in common compared to normal malamutes that would either aid in the diagnosis or potential treatment of this condition.

The Results:
Based on blood work and urine results, there was no consistency in the data to demonstrate that chemistry profiles, urinalysis, and thyroid results were different for normal dogs compared to the coat funk dogs.  Thus, it appears that, at least based on this study, none of these particular tests will help to in the diagnosis of this condition.

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The adrenal sex hormone assays, on the other hand, demonstrated a few consistencies. (These were blood samples taken before and after an injection of azium was administered to see how the adrenal glands of the normal and affect dogs reacted). The levels tests in the 10 dogs were the following: progesterone, 17-OH-progesterone, DHEAS, androstenedione, testosterone, cortisol and estradiol. Of these 7 hormones tested, 4 resulted in some consistency in the group of coat funk dogs. Progesterone, 17-OH-progesterone, androstenedione, and cortisol all resulted in statistical P values that demonstrated there may be some similarities of these dogs.

Hormone P Value

Progesterone** 0.0001**

17-OH-progesterone** 0.0027**

DHEAS 0.251

Androstenedione** 0.032**

Testosterone 0.72

Cortisol** 0.00001**
Estradiol 0.976

Although it appears there may be some consistency for these dogs of these 4 hormones, the sample size of only 5 coat funk dogs is too small to guarantee a statistical significance, and thus this research could not be considered conclusive.

The Next Step:
Because of the potential for these 4 blood levels to be significantly different in coat funk dogs, additional research needs to be done to have a minimum of 5 more dogs with coat funk having adrenal sex hormone assays completed. However, these tests need to be done in a research/university setting where all other variables are eliminated. Additional research money of approximately $3,000 may be enough to cover doing an additional 5 coat dogs, to determine if this research is truly statistically significant.

The Future:
What would happen if we found that these values all share something in common with coat funk malamutes? Then it would appear we would have a means to potentially identify these dogs with an exact testing means (i.e. diagnosis them easier) and potentially identify them at a younger age. This also would lead us to the conclusion there is something abnormal with the adrenal gland or pituitary gland of these dogs causing the problem to arise, and thus future research could determine exactly what the cause of the abnormality is. Eventually, that may lead to a potential cure if the condition was determined to be reversible.

(As an aside: Dr. Dunstan has not completed the skin biopsy evaluations or hair coat evaluations as of October 2001. We are unsure when he will have these results for us. This part of the test was donated by him at no cost to AMRF, thus we are waiting for his time to evaluate the samples.)

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This project was to help find additional markers on the X-chromosome. Dr. Johnson also had less than 12 DNA samples from various coat funk dogs to see if they had a gene in common that corresponded on the X-chromosome. Because of the few samples gathered and the limited number of markers there are (the X-chromosome is very large), only a limited amount of information could be gathered in terms of a possible gene (if any) that coat funk dogs have in common. What is known is that, if there is a common gene, it does not exist on either end of the two branches of the X chromosome. It is somewhere in the middle.

This study's funding has run out in the last year. After attending the AKC Health and Genetics Meeting in October 99, my suggestion is to wait until other X markers are found and identified before attempting this type of research once again.

The difficulty with the coat funk condition is that no "test" families can be produced. Because it appears to be such a random condition (even though there are a few families with close relatives being affected), it is not as easy to investigate as simple recessive diseases (like Chondrodysplasia). With ChD, we can produce an entire family of dwarfs or carriers - we have some control in the production of affected dogs. With coat funk, it is difficult to predict when the condition will surface, and in fact it sometimes takes years to identify affected dogs. My suggestion would be to continue to gather affected dogs' blood/swab samples, and once additional markers are available on the X-chromosome, compare those samples to each other to see if there is a common gene present. At the rate the US and European researchers are finding additional markers and eventually entire chromosomes, I wouldn't be surprised if we were able to attempt another project like this past one with better results in the next 10 years.

All 10 dogs have been tested at this point, 8 at MSU and 2 in Texas. We are still waiting for Dr. Dunstan to do the biopsy parts. However, the blood tests and urine tests have been taken. Dr. Bloom is continuing to work with Dr. Dunstan for the results. No evaluation can take place until all the results are in. Once that occurs, the data will be taken to a statistician at MSU for evaluation. I hope to have some type of definitive report by the national in November 2000.

So far, the preliminary results are not as promising as I had hoped. This was an important study, however, since no one had ever attempted anything like this before. We may or may not find a test or two that may be beneficial in the diagnosis of this condition. Once the data is evaluated, we will have more information to pass on.

The "Pomeranian protocol" seems to be working on the majority of dogs checked, though the drugs do have some side-effects. We are weighing the cost vs. benefit of advocating this therapy, especially without knowing for certain which dogs actually have CF and which have some other serious but unrelated skin condition.

Just a brief update on how the MSU coat funk study is going. All 5 coat funk dogs and all 5 normal dogs have been tested now at the various locations across the US. Dr. Bloom is waiting for Dr. Dunstan to forward the results on 2 other dogs so he can begin the blood work part of the study. Then we have to wait until Dr. Dunstan has time to do his skin and coat analysis. We probably won't publish officially any of the results or findings until all the blood work is completed. The skin/coat analysis may not be done until winter 1999/2000 because (from what I understand) the Iams Company paid for the machine that Dr. Dunstan uses and they want him to finish his research with them first before doing anyone else's (I guess that is OK since the machine costs over a half million dollars....). So, we might not get that part of the study completed until winter. However, once Dr. Bloom and I feel comfortable about the blood work analysis, we might put something together that briefly outlines what we found.

"I came across a veterinary research paper that was done in the late 80's that intrigued me - it was about poms and a coat problem that almost sounded like coat funk, but with slight differences. I have 3 coat funk (malamute) owners trying the "pom" treatment to see if it works. It is not a true cure, but it would hopefully allow the dogs to have a more normal coat again so they can function. I am not sure if long term studies were done after that paper, so I don't know if this is a temporary treatment or not. We will have to see. It may not work, but it is a glimmer of hope for these dogs and owners."

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