What to Know About Alaskan Malamutes

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on April 23, 2022
7 min read

The Alaskan malamute is an affectionate, loyal, playful, and confident dog. They are easily recognizable by their well-furred bodies and the cap over their heads. Alaskan malamutes were originally bred as arctic sled dogs. They come from Siberia and were brought to the United States through the Bering Strait. 

Their size is complemented by formidable bones that make the malamute a strong dog. They were first used to hunt seals, scare polar bears, and pull heavy loads. Alaskan malamutes are widely loved and adopted by many people as family pets. 

Malamutes are often confused with Siberian huskies. Although they look alike, these two breeds have different origins, physical traits, and temperaments. 

If you’re looking for a big, loyal, and playful dog, the malamute might just be the pet of your dreams

The Alaskan malamute looks similar to other arctic dogs like the samoyed, Siberian husky, and eskimo dogs. However, a malamute is a mostly light gray dog with a solid white part on the underbody as well as on the legs/feet and some of the face. In place of the gray, some can come in shadings of sable to red and gray, with black shadings.

Malamutes are identifiable by a cap over their heads, even though their face can either be all white or marked with a bar and a mask. They have broad heads, brown eyes, and erect triangular ears. Alaskan malamutes are large dogs that stand 23 to 25 inches at the shoulder. They weigh anywhere between 75 and 85 pounds. Their heavy bones, deep chest, and powerful shoulders make them incredibly powerful.

These dogs also have a characteristic curved fluffy tail. During cold weather, malamutes are known to curl their tails over their faces when they lay down. This helps them warm the air around their noses. The thick guard coats helped malamutes thrive in extreme cold. They have wooly and oily undercoats, a feature that makes them require some dedicated grooming time.

This dog breed’s lifespan is 10–12 years, so they’ll keep you company for a long time.

It is not complicated to care for malamutes. Since they are not as playful as other breeds, they won’t put you through messy cleaning times. The following tips will help to keep your dog in their best condition.


Since malamutes have thick coats and undercoats, they require plenty of grooming. This is especially true during their shedding season, which comes twice a year. You don’t have to worry about trimming them. Regular brushing will work well to remove dead hair. Don’t forget to brush their teeth at least two or three times a week. Their nails should be trimmed as necessary, which could be anywhere from one to two times every month. Check the ears weekly to ensure there’s no dirt and to be aware of possible infections early enough.


Malamutes have a history of hard work and amazing endurance. As such, they remain highly active even in other climates and require lots of activity. Take your malamute for regular walks and allow them to play and run freely outside. If you’re into hiking, skiing, skateboarding, or biking, malamutes may be the ideal pet for you.

This amazing dog whose history goes back thousands of years leads a healthy life but can be affected by some common canine diseases. Some of the health conditions to watch out for in malamutes include:

Day blindness 

As the name suggests, this condition causes dogs to not see in bright light. Also called cone degeneration, this inherited problem is quite common in malamutes. It is thought that for every affected malamute in a litter, there may be two others who carry the genes of the condition. As such, these carrier dogs shouldn’t be bred.

Perhaps that’s the reason why people say that malamutes can be clumsy. Check to see if your dog seems to be normal at night but clumsy during the day. For instance, at night, your malamute may be able to:

  • Chase a ball into a dark area and retrieve it with ease
  • Confidently negotiate steps in and out of the house
  • Not miss gutters 
  • Not slam into the pavement

However, during the day your dog or puppy may:

  • Bump into things or easily stumbles over plants, toys, furniture, and other household objects 
  • Trip over rises in pathways
  • Refuse to move forward
  • Be unable to correctly negotiate steps into the house
  • Be unable to find a ball easily and may have to sniff it out
  • Not want to leave the shade into the sunlight at any cost

You may see all these signs of clumsiness disappear at night. 

Cone degeneration can be detected by a veterinary ophthalmologist. If you have a dog with this condition, the best thing to do would be to return them.

Dental issues

Alaskan malamutes are prone to develop problems with their teeth. Once tartar builds up on the teeth, it can infect the gums and roots of their teeth. The resulting damage can cause your dog to lose her teeth. It can also extend to the kidneys, liver, and heart. 

Other health complications that can affect Alaskan malamutes include:

  • Hip dysplasia. A condition that is common in other dogs. It causes a malformation of the hip joint. 
  • Elbow dysplasia.
  • Thrombopathia. Blood clotting disorder. 
  • Chondrodysplasia, also called dwarfism.
  • Hypothyroidism. A condition where the thyroid doesn't create enough thyroid hormones, causing your dog’s metabolism to slow down.  
  • Inherited polyneuropathy. A condition that causes malfunction of nerves. 
  • Von Willebrand's disease. A hereditary blood clotting condition. 

Other special considerations

Since they are arctic dogs, malamutes are sensitive to heat. Ensure there’s plenty of shade available for your dog to rest in or air conditioning, especially during summer. Also, provide fresh water.

Consider the following Alaskan malamute facts:

This breed of dog has quite an impressive backstory. They may actually be one of the most ancient breeds. Alaskan malamutes were first bred by the Mahlemute, a nomadic Inuit tribe that lives along the shores of Kotzebue Sound in northwestern Alaska. 

Traditionally, malamutes were used to pull heavy sleds and as pack dogs for supplies. They were also resourceful in hunting Arctic mammals like seals and in protecting people from polar bears. As a result of living and working in harsh and freezing conditions, the Alaskan malamute became a powerful breed. They are revered for their immense strength and endurance. 

During Alaska’s gold rush of 1896, there was an increase in the demand for working dogs. This resulted in people breeding native dogs with other breeds to such an extent that malamutes almost disappeared. A remote tribe of Mahlemut still had a significant number of pure breeds which were then used to revive Alaskan malamutes.

These dogs would later be used in the first and second world wars. In 1935, the AKC fully recognized the Alaskan malamute.  


Although malamutes were traditionally used to guard Inuit residences, they are not hostile to strangers. They can even follow a stranger, and so do not make good guard dogs. They are playful and enjoy the attention of owners. Combined with the fact that they are confident and independent, malamutes are great to have if you have ample outdoor space. They may not get along well with dogs of the same sex, but early socialization can help them tolerate other pets. Some malamutes may require gentle handling as they may be sensitive to confrontation. 

Are Alaskan Malamutes Good Family Dogs?

This breed of dogs makes good family pets and are comfortable with children. However, due to their big size, they can easily overwhelm small children.

As pets, they are popular among people who enjoy sledding, weight pulling, skijoring, and other winter activities. 


Malamutes don’t have a tendency of barking. However, they are vocal and may howl sometimes. They have been developed to thrive in packs, so they do well in the company of family. Leaving malamutes alone can make them lonely and that’s when they’ll howl. If you’re planning to adopt a malamute, you should know that they require companionship, so your constant attention is needed. 

If you have a backyard, you should train your malamute puppies not to dig. They are outdoor enthusiasts and may not thrive in apartments or confined spaces. Although malamutes are intelligent dogs, they can sometimes get stubborn. As such, they may not be ideal for first-timers. 

Malamutes also have a high prey drive, so they tend to chase down and catch small animals. If you have other pets like cats, birds, squirrels, and smaller dogs, you should socialize your malamute as early enough to facilitate smooth coexistence.


Malamutes that are not properly trained can bite or display aggressive behavior. They are also known to have a tough mentality. Due to this feature, Alaskan malamutes are able to thrive in extremely cold weather. 

The Alaskan malamute is an affectionate and loyal dog who looks serious but is in fact playful. They are good family pets for people who love huge and powerful breeds. They are different from huskies but can coexist with them. If you are an outdoor person who also loves winter sports, an Alaskan malamute will make a perfect companion. They are friendly and extremely devoted.