Coat Funk

The following article was researched and written by Pat Halpaus. Many thanks to Pat for her work in making this information available.

Coat funk. When I first heard this term, my initial impression was visions of coat decay with millions of little creepy crawlers setting up house and doing havoc to the gorgeous coats of my five Mals! When I looked at my Mals and saw they just didn't fit the description, I decided I didn't have the condition and gave no more thought to it. That was until the term kept coming up in Mal conversation circles with increasing frequency, and I started to take more notice of what was being said. Who am I to say that my dogs are not at risk for this. It was time I tuned in to what people were saying!

Just what is coat funk?
Where does it come from?
Is it curable?
Will my dogs get it and will they die from it?
What does it look like?

These and a dozen other questions surfaced with each conversation, but no one seemed to have any answers. The discussions of coat funk finally took on an urgency for me when I was recently reading some email on the Internet Malamute List. Coat Funk had become a "hot topic" on the List, with many varied and widely opinionated postings; people guessing at what the condition is. I didn't read a lot of good information on that Malamute List, and that disturbed me. I decided that before discussions got too far out of hand, I would try to gather current information on this condition and pass it along to other Malamute people. This article, then, is no more than just a reporting of the information I was able to gather. It is my hope that readers of this article will come away with a better understanding of the coat funk condition and, if possible, to lend their support and commitment to the continuing research being conducted at this time.

As I looked for information on coat funk, I was amazed at how little information is published. With the help of a long-time breeder and good friend, I was able to locate a couple of articles written by Dr. Jocelynn Jacobs-Knoll, DVM. Dr. Knoll has been instrumental in forging the way for research and DNA study on coat funk. Her article on coat funk has appeared in the Health Column of the AMCA Monthly Newsletter. During a recent phone conversation with Dr. Knoll, I received her permission to reproduce her original Coat Funk article. That article is reprinted below.

Tuuk before coat funk From the AMCA Newsletter, Volume 41, No 9. September 1993 — Health Column written by Jocelynn Jacobs-Knoll, DVM

I was sitting here thinking long and hard about what to call this article, and since most people refer to this condition as the "coat funk", I thought I would stick with the layman's terminology. Actually it is difficult to say if this abnormal coat condition that is surfacing in the malamute truly has a medical name at this point or if it has been definitely labeled as a certain disease process with an already existing name. Thus I will refer to it in this terminology until "we" (both veterinarians and malamute breeders/fanciers) know what the real name of the condition is.

So, what is the coat funk? What does it look like? When does it begin to appear? These are difficult questions to answer since we are not sure if this is a new disease condition or if it correlates with other disease processes. However, what I will refer to as the "coat funk" is the condition with the following signs and history:

  1. Signalment — The condition appears to occur in middle to older aged malamutes. Mostly males are affected (although I have been recently made aware that there may be at least one female malamute who may be added to the list of the affected).
  2. History & Signs — Usually the dogs have a beautiful, healthy coat at a young age, but as they get older, an abnormal coat condition begins to surface. First the guard hairs around the neck begin to break off as if a collar was causing the damage. Then eventually, the rest of the guard coat begins to break off or fall out, leaving behind only a "woolly" looking undercoat (these dogs actually look like woolly baby malamutes or like a sheep with a malamute head). This coat does not fall out, nor do they "blow coat like normal. Two areas may appear untouched by this condition — the head/face and along with the spine where there may be normal guard coat hairs but very sparsely spaced. The tail may become affected at any point — early or later depending on the dog. Because the coat does not "blow" normally, the dog may have a "reddish tinge" due to the dead hairs and possible sun damage of the abnormal old hairs. I have seen at least one dog that I would say had a "reddish tinge", so I cannot say that this is a requirement to the condition. Other unusual facts — 1) when the hair is shaved in an area, it may grow back very slowly or begin to look like it is coming in normally again (only to eventually return to the abnormal coat condition), and 2) if the dead hairs are pulled out, new hair may begin to come in normally, but with time, resumes its woolly look with the guard coat missing.

    One other interesting point that needs to be made is that sometimes when these dogs are castrated (or possibly spayed if this condition truly affects females), the "woolly" coat falls out after the surgery, and a new beautiful coat emerges. Unfortunately, however with time, this new coat’s guard hairs break off or fall out, and the dog returns to the same condition it was in prior to surgery (in most cases).

  3. Lab Work — This is the part that needs more research. Some dogs with this condition have surfaced with blood work reflecting a hypothyroid condition, but even on supplementation, the hair does not return to a normal cycle. Some dogs have perfectly normal thyroid results. Some have surfaced with abnormalities of other hormonal testing, while others have not. The breeders I have talked to within the last two years have told me about other blood tests that have been done, but there does not seem to be any consistencies between the cases at this point.

A similar condition exists in Siberian Huskies, and I have been made aware that there is a veterinarian in Western Canada that is working as a contact person for gathering information on huskies. What I would like to attempt is to be a contact person for this similar condition but for the Alaskan Malamute. I would like to obtain ANY information from AMCA members about dogs they may have owned or bred that appear to have similar signs as the ones stated above. All information will be kept confidential — i.e., names of dogs, breeders, etc. I have had a few breeders more than willing to have me write specific information about their dogs and release their dogs’ names, etc., but I would like to keep everyone’s information confidential equally. I am volunteering to be the contact person for this "coat funk" condition to gather data from breeders/AMCA members for the next two to three years. After this I would like to present the information to a dermatologist (or multiple specialists) to help "us" sift through the data to determine exactly what this condition may be or how it is obtained or controlled. If we do not pull together on this, it will be difficult to have specialists help us determine exactly what is happening and how we can rid our dogs of this condition. One reason I have always been impressed with AMCA is because of the excellent job that was done to rid our breed of chondrodysplasia — it may be time we pull together again to rid ourselves of another condition that equally can destroy the future of our precious breed.

What types of conditions may we be considering being the coat funk? Well, there are numerous possibilities, but what they are considering the husky’s condition to be is called "follicle dysplasia". There is only one good article out at this point (that I am aware of) on this condition. It was reported in the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association in the November/December 1988 issue. The article states that follicle dystrophy or dysplasia (meaning abnormal growth or cycle of the hair follicle) has not been reported in veterinary literature, but has been described in Siberian Husky breed literature with an unknown etiology. The big difference between the husky and malamute’s signs is that in Siberians, it occurs at a young age, while in malamutes it may be five or six years before the condition rears its ugly head. The article presents a case of a one year old, intact male Siberian with a history and signs similar to those I described above. All lab findings done on this animal were within normal limits. Skin biopsies were taken, but the dog was euthanized before they could be properly interpreted. It is an interesting article, but leaves the reader with many unanswered questions. This condition termed "follicle dysplasia" is what might be the true terminology for the malamute "coat funk". Researchers need more information though before we can determine if this is really what is going on.

Other possible conditions responsible for the signs seen may include growth hormone abnormalities, cushings disease, hypothyroidism, or sex hormone abnormalities (testosterone specifically).

If you have owned or bred a dog that has shown signs similar to the ones I listed for "coat funk", please consider being part of this information gathering. Below is a list of information I need from ALL dogs so that possible causes for this condition may be ruled out or in. Again, all information gathered will be kept confidential to be presented to specialists at a later date.

  • Names/Pedigrees
    • At least a 5 generation pedigree (but the more the better) for those dogs demonstrating signs
    • If a dog has the condition and produces offspring with the condition, I need to know how many offspring developed the condition with which stud/bitch, etc. and how many offspring did this dog produce overall.
  • Pictures
    • Pictures of before, during and after the development of the condition. If the dog was neutered and grew coat back, I need pictures of that also. Colored pictures only please — colored photocopies are fine as long as they reflect the condition of the coat accurately.
  • Past History/Nutrition
    • Every unusual thing about the dog from the day it was born until it dies (if applicable). Anything such as surgeries, diseases, or specific conditions are considered important information.
    • How did the coat progress — where it started, how it looked, etc.
    • What was the dog fed from the time of weaning until present. I know many people with this coat condition to have switched foods multiple times — I need to know from what to what and how it affected the coat (if at all).
    • Any medications or supplements the dog was on or has been on since birth. If the dog was on cortisone for 1 day, I need to know it and the dosage. If the dog was on supplements/vitamins, I need to know what types and the daily dosage.
  • Lab Work
    • Any lab work done on the dog. I would prefer copies of the original documents done anytime during the dog’s life. If your vet is reluctant, please have them call me and I will explain what I hope to accomplish. I need to know all lab tests — anything is relevant at this point.
  • Reproduction History
    • I need to know about the estrous cycles of the bitches or stud results of the males. If anyone had a dog with abnormal cycles or sperm, this may help determine if sex hormones are involved.
    • How many puppies were born from litters and if they were healthy at birth.
  • If any other information is needed, I will contact each of you for the further information.
Tuuk with coat funk

For those who have a dog with this coat problem and would like to partake in this study, I would suggest having the following tests done so they can be included in their file: 1) chemistry profile, 2) a thyroid test, and 3) at least two biopsies done of the skin and coat. I would have the biopsies sent to Michigan State University for Dr. Dunstan specifically to evaluate. He has national recognition as being an exceptional dermatopathologist. Optional tests would include a growth hormone assay and a blood testosterone assay. I need to have copies of all these results.

If anyone else has any input about this disease that they would like to share, I would encourage you to write to me (I am very difficult to get hold of by phone, and when I am home, I am usually out with the dogs.) If anyone has any other literature pertaining to anything similar to this coat funk topic, please send me a copy for my records (especially any of the Siberian breed literature).


Dr. Knoll is currently involved in two research project concerning coat funk. At the University of Michigan, Dr. Knoll is working with Dr. Robert Dunstan (a world renown dermatopathologist in veterinary medicine) to categorize and evaluate coat funk and to determine how to diagnose the condition. The research substantiates it is the breaking of the guard hairs that is occurring as coat funk. They do not, at this point, anticipate a good way to evaluate the condition because the tissue samples look normal. Information obtained in the study thus far indicate that hormone growth deficiencies, sex hormone deficiencies or castration responsive deficiencies are not applicable to this condition. Further scientific evaluation at the Univeristy is being conducted by Dr. Edmund Rosser, also a nationally known and respected dermatologist. Dr. Rosser will be gathering information and performing test evaluations. His results will be written in a veterinary paper so that others can properly diagnose this condition

A second project of the coat funk study is being worked on by Dr. Knoll with Dr. Gary Johnson at the University of Missouri. This study involves the genetic evaluation of sample cases. The study is currently indicating there may be no cure for the condition and they are considering possible genetic deviation away from a potential gene which may be causing the hairs not to cycle normally. A rally of Malamute owners and breeders who have dogs with this condition is desperately needed to help ward off the ravaging effects of the disorder on our beloved breed. If we can put the same amount of energy and commitment into this problem as those dedicated people did on hip dysplasia, future generations of Alaskan Malamutes can be guaranteed freedom from this devastating condition. I urge all of you who have dogs with this condition to contact Dr. Jacobs-Knoll and Dr. Dunstan at the University of Michigan. I know that should this condition ever raise its ugly head in our kennel, I will not hesitate to do all I can to further the studies.

Pictures of Chase (Ch. Black Ice's High Speed Chase) - before, transition into, and with fully developed coat funk. Click on the thumbnails to go to the larger images. Many thanks to Dave and Shilon Bedford for making these photos available to us.

Linda Dowdy
Bethel, Minnesota
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Copyright © 2006-2007 Linda Dowdy, last revision 061101