Day Blindness (formerly known as hemeralopia)

Several cases of Hemeralopia - Dayblindness (now named Cone Degeneration) have been confirmed in several Australian States.

Day blindness is, as its name implies, a condition which causes dogs (in this case the Alaskan Malamute) to be "blind" in bright light. Dayblindness is an inherited problem. Progeny inherit this condition from the genes received from their parents. The genetic defect is recognised by geneticists as an "autosomal recessive" (i.e. not sex-linked). Statistically speaking, for every "affected" Malamute in a litter, there are at least two carriers. "Affected" Malamutes should never be bred from. But it is the carriers of this condition that are the real risk to the breed.


Affected Malamutes are quite easily recognised by diligent owners. The condition frequently begins to manifest itself when a puppy is about 8 weeks old. The observant owner may suspect the condition, and the following symptoms can be looked for in a puppy:

  • bumping into or stumbling over things, e.g. doorways, children’s toys in the yard or hallway, the coiled hose, pot plants.
  • stumbling up gutters, bumping into bushes, tripping over rises in pathways.
  • refusing to, or having trouble negotiating steps into the house (e.g. appearing to bump his/her nose on the first couple of steps;
  • going out of your home, does it seem like the Mal is "feeling" where the next step is?
  • does it try to chase the ball but overshoots where it landed, and only finds it by continuing to sniff the area?
  • does it growl when strangers approach suddenly without audible sound?
  • is it constantly seeking the shaded areas of the yard and is it hard to coax it into sunlight?
  • does it seem totally disorientated when facing the sun and you call it?
  • does making a loud noise (e.g. clapping your hands) help attract its attention and helps you in recalling your Mal?
  • Do all these clumsy symptoms vanish at night?

Remember in the case of puppies, all young puppies are clumsy - but there is a difference between normal clumsiness, and not seeing properly.

At night, can your Malamute do all these things correctly:

  • chase the ball into dark areas of the yard and retrieve it every time
  • negotiate steps into the house and out again with confidence
  • not miss gutters and not slam into the pavement (as it does in the day light)

Your Malamute could possibly be affected with Dayblindness.


The condition of Dayblindness (Cone degeneration) sometimes can be detected by a veterinary surgeon, and always by a veterinary ophthalmologist. It there is any doubt, an Electroretinograph (ERG) can be undertaken by a veterinary ophthalmologist. There are several Ophthalmology/Veterinary Clinics around Australia which have the equipment to perform ERGs. Addresses can be obtained by phoning the Australian Veterinary Association in any State.
There is currently no DNA test to identify carriers all though work is currently being undertaken in the United States. Carriers are generally detected when they are bred together and produce an affected puppy. It is these carriers that Breeders need to be alerted to. If carriers are bred from it means more carriers are produced. To produce an affected Malamute, geneticists recognise that both sire and dam are at least carriers, or worse, at least one is affected.


Before action can be taken, information about the extent of the problem is needed. If owners and breeders talk together openly and exchange information about this, or any other problem occurring in the bred, then we are in a position to help the dogs.
If people won’t work together, then the Alaskan Malamute as we know it, may be doomed to ill-health in a very short time. It appears from the number of Malamutes already diagnosed with Dayblindness in Australia that the health of the Alaskan Malamute population in this country may be in serious trouble. Dayblindness may become a major genetic problem here if action is not taken to stop the defect in its tracks.
In America in the late 50s and 60s this problem appeared (and in the mid-60s in England). It was through the diligent efforts of a few dedicated breeders like Dr Ken and Mrs Bourns (in Canada) - who willingly testbred their kennel stock of Malamutes - that Dayblindness was shown conclusively to be inherited as an autosomal recessive defect.
Australian stock originated from the USA and if many cases of Dayblindness have appeared now in Australia since the early 90s, in all probability it will appear elsewhere soon!


Talk to owners and breeders about this condition: educate Malamute fanciers who don’t know the condition is here, and encourage the testing of any suspect Malamutes. We may be able to control this affliction from spreading if we act now, and act quickly.
For the afflicted Alaskan Malamute, the condition is not life-threatening provided it is kept in a safe, escape-proof yard, and is only ever exercised ON LEAD!
The Malamute’s life is threatened though if the dog is allowed to roam, especially if it becomes aggressive with members of the public (or family) because of its disability with vision.


Some owners may decide to return the puppy to the Breeder, perhaps because they feel they cannot cope with their pet’s disability. The possibility exists that the next puppy if taken from the same litter as a replacement may also have the condition or be a carrier for the condition. Certification can be provided by a Veterinary Ophthalmologist to clear the dog of being affected by the condition. It cannot clear dogs of being carriers of the condition.
Some owners may believe they can cope with caring for a disabled Malamute and with help and guidance from caring breeders and family and friends, it’s possible for an affected pet to lead an acceptable quality of life - providing the owner has full understanding of the implications of the problem, and is conversant with training and disciplinary techniques for the Malamute in general.


They should check and certify all their breeding stock to ensure none is affected; and check all puppies before sale (including checking those already sold) to ensure they did not breed an affected Malamute.
Where a known affected dog appears close-up in a pedigree, testbreeding of dogs at risk can be done in an attempt to clear a dog of being a carrier of the condition. Breeders producing an affected animal should notify owners with related stock.
Owners of known affected animals and related animals can provide a blood or hair sample to the study in the United States. Pedigrees for analysis should also be forwarded to:
Dr R Beilharz, Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, The University of Melbourne, Parkville Victoria.
If you are not sure of the condition of any Malamute’s eyes, please visit your Veterinary Surgeon urgently, and you will be referred to a Veterinary Ophthalmologist closest to you.This is a very serious condition and if people won’t work together to help the dogs then the Alaskan Malamute as we know it will cease to exist. The dogs cannot help themselves.

For further information on Day blindness or any other hereditary disease, please contact the AMCV Hereditary Diseases Officer. Owners of Malamutes that are suffering from any hereditary problem are urged to notify the AMCV Hereditary Diseases Officer in writing.