Description of breed ancestry and genetic health traits in arctic sled dog breeds

Canine Med Genet. 2021 Sep 20;8(1):8. doi: 10.1186/s40575-021-00108-z.


Background: This study describes the presence and frequency of health traits among three populations of dogs traditionally used for sledding and explores their ancestry and breed composition as provided by the commercially available Embark dog DNA test. The three populations include the purebred Siberian Husky and the admixed populations of Alaskan sled dogs and Polar Huskies. While the Siberian Husky represents a well-established breed with extensive historical and health data, the Alaskan sled dog is less studied but has been the subject of nutritional, physiological, and genetic studies related to ancestry and performance. In contrast, the Polar Husky is a relatively obscure and rare group of dogs used for arctic exploration with very little-known information. The three populations were compared using Embark results, providing new insight into the health traits circulating within the populations and the potential ancestral linkage of the health traits between the sledding populations. Embark results are based upon 228,588 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) spanning the canine genome, characterized using a custom-designed Illumina beadchip array.

Results: Specifically, breed composition was summarized for the two admixed populations with most of the dogs being predominantly categorized as Alaskan husky- type dog or "Supermutt". Mitochondrial and Y chromosome haplogroups and haplotypes were found with Alaskan sled dogs carrying most of the haplogroups and types found in Siberian and Polar Huskies. Genomic principal component analysis reflected population structure corresponding to breed and substructure within the Alaskan sled dogs related to sprint or distance competition. Genetic markers associated with Alanine Aminotransferase activity, Alaskan Husky Encephalopathy, dilated cardiomyopathy, Collie eye anomaly, degenerative myelopathy, ichthyosis, and factor VII deficiency were identified in the populations of sledding breeds.

Conclusion: These results provide a preliminary description of genetic characteristics found in sledding breeds, improving the understanding and care of working sled dogs.

Keywords: Alaskan Husky; Breed Ancestry; Dog Breeds; Genetic Health.