Zinc Deficiency is a common ailment amongst sled dogs today, generally more so amongst those fed on complete food than on a raw diet. It is not actually a lack of zinc in the diet itself, but an inability to process zinc in its regular from that leads to a deficiency in the dog's system. It is believed to commonly affect huskies and northern breeds of dog because they evolved to survive on diets containing lots of fish and sea-creatures. The flesh of these animals would have been particularly high in naturally digestible forms of zinc (and also vitamin A which is important for zinc absorption)). Often the diets we feed or huskies and sled dogs do not provide enough zinc, or provide it in forms that are difficult to digest.
Sled Dogs are most likely to be affected by zinc deficiencies during times of stress, hormonal changes such as puberty, or for females, seasons or pregnancy.
Zinc deficiency manifests as 'zinc responsive dermatosis' (ZRD) in many dogs. This is a skin condition that primarily affects areas of the face and head, particularly the muzzle, ears and around the eyes. Hair-loss occurs and red, scaly patches of skin develop.
ZRD can usually be cured very quickly and easily by including a zinc supplement in the dog's diet. Many owners in the UK use a veterinary medicine called ZICADERM. Others simply purchase zinc supplements intended for human consumption. Chelated zinc tablets are widely available from health food suppliers, usually in 15mg tablets, of which owners would generally give an adult dog one per day while symptoms persist. Zinc sulphate is also known to be effective, and would be given at 10mg per 1kg of dog (ie if the dog weighs 20kg, you would give it 200mg per day). As always, do check with your vet before giving your pet any medication.
In the long term, a great way to improve your dogs zinc levels is to regularly provide fresh fish or fish oil supplements as part of their diet. Another alternative is to include kelp in your dog's diet. This is a very effective way to provide additional zinc, as well as a host of other beneficial nutrients. Half to one teaspoon a couple of times a week should be enough for most adult Siberians, and is an effective preventative measure in most cases, acting to 'top-up' zinc levels in the dog's diet before problems occur, or to prevent relapse.