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Gait stops gallops

Owner: Eamonn Tilley from Bray, Co Wicklow

Animals: Smokey, a 16-month-old female Alaskan Malamute

Background: Smokey was bought as a running-mate for an athlete

Eamonn is a keen athlete. In the past, he has represented his country in both triathlons and hill running. He now devotes himself to young athletes, as the head coach for the Junior Triathlon Academy of Ireland. He's passionate about sport, and about running in particular.

Eamonn used to have a Samoyed dog, and when his children, Daniel and Adam, reached the age when he felt it was time for a family pet, he wanted a bigger, more lively version of the same type of breed; a dog that he could take running, so strength and speed were important factors. He looked for a Siberian husky, bred for work and sled-pulling, but, unable to find one, he settled on an Alaskan Malamute, which looks similar.


Eamonn searched on the internet for a puppy and he found a litter for sale not far from Dublin. He met both parents of the pups and they seemed like big, strong good-natured animals. He bought Smokey when she was just eight weeks old.

Eamonn knew that it was important not to over-exercise large dogs until they're fully mature, but it has been difficult as Smokey is full of enthusiasm. Smokey's unusual love for trampolining is a good example of her energetic nature. To begin with she bounced with the boys, but she now gets onto the trampoline herself, takes a ball, throws it in the air, and then enjoys bouncing around chasing it.

Eamonn started to take her for short runs, just 15 or 20 minutes but he noticed that she stopped half way. At first he put it down to lack of fitness. Then he noticed that after a short run, she would walk oddly, with her back legs wide apart, as if they were slipping away from her.

Eamonn is used to assessing human runners' gaits and he reckoned Smokey's problem needed to be investigated further. When he brought her in to be spayed last week, we X-rayed her hips while she was anaesthetised.

The X-rays showed that Smokey is suffering from hip dysplasia. This is an inherited problem: her hip joints are too shallow, and the top part of her thigh bone doesn't slot deeply into the pelvis in the normal way. The condition makes her hips prone to weakness and discomfort if she takes heavy exercise. As she grows older, she's likely to develop arthritis.

Hip dysplasia is rare in Siberian huskies, but it's a recognised problem in the Alaskan Malamute breed. To minimise the risk, it's best to breed only from adult dogs that have been X-rayed. If people only bred from dogs that had good quality hips, the problem in the Alaskan Malamute breed would soon be solved.

Smokey's still going to be a good family pet but, sadly, she won't be the long-distance running partner that Eamonn had hoped for.