About 5 years ago I started seeing the Alaskan Klee Kai in my veterinary practice and I marveled at how gorgeous these little dynamos were. While I mistakenly thought they were little Husky puppies at first, I was quickly educated by their owners as to their true heritage. Over the subsequent years I’ve learned a lot more about the Alaskan Klee Kai and want to share what I’ve learned about them.
How long do Alaskan Klee Kai live? 13-16 years based on information provided by the American Kennel Club. Life expectancy is affected by various issues such as body condition (are they chronically obese), genetics, and how well the pet owner takes care of their dog.
How To Pick The Healthiest Alaskan Klee Kai Puppy
Having a healthy Alaskan Klee Kai starts first and foremost with picking the right breeder. There are two ways you can go about finding a quality breeder:
- Use the AKC site to find one
- Go through the Alaskan Klee Kai Club of America to find a reputable breeder
- If you’re lucky enough to already know and love a Klee Kai, find out who the breeder of the litter was. That’s a great start.
If you’re getting a Klee Kai from a rescue organization, try to find out the medical history of the dog as completely as possible. Understand that, while problems can emerge at any time, chronic health conditions that have been dealt with (successfully or unsuccessfully) for years are going to be your responsibility going forward.
What Are The Most Common Diseases That Alaskan Klee Kai Can Suffer From?
Right now the breed is fairly healthy and that has a lot to do with its relatively few numbers as compared to many other breeds. As they are around longer and have more “backyard breeders” producing this dog, it will likely develop diseases that we don’t see in them now.
Based on my recent history with the breed and the advice of the National Club, the most common conditions that can be seen in this breed include:
- Luxating Patella
- Heart Murmurs
- Dental Disease
- Factor VII Deficiency
This is a condition in which the kneecap (it can be just one knee or both of them) doesn’t sit properly in the groove of the femur. Klee Kai are prone to this condition because their leg bones are a bit more curvy and the groove is frequently not deep enough to hold the kneecap in place.
That curve in the leg puts a lot of stress on the side of the knee and, over time, there’s pressure for that kneecap to move medially (towards the other leg). In some dogs the kneecap will freely move from a very young age (as early as 4-6 months) whereas in other dogs it comes on over time as they age.
The luxation can freely move in and out of position or it can move out (luxate) and then get stuck. The more problems this luxation causes, the more likely that only surgery will fix it.
Alaskan Klee Kai can have heart murmurs that begin to be audible at anywhere from 7-12 years of age. I often feel (no evidence, just my experience) that the younger a Klee Kai shows a heart murmur the more likely they’ll progress to congestive heart failure one day.
The murmurs result because of abnormal blood flow within the heart due to malfunctioning heart valves. The valves open and shut to help blood move from one compartment of the heart to the next. When a valve becomes too thickened and brittle, it can lose the flexibility that is needed to provide a solid closure to that chamber of the heart.
The resulting sound of the blood moving around the valve is what’s heard in the murmur. Because of this “backward” blood flow, pressure can build up in the heart and ultimately cause changes in the heart size and the buildup of fluid in the lungs (congestive heart failure) or in the abdomen (ascites).
Not every dog that develops a murmur will require attention. Xrays can help to identify if the heart is changing size or a cardiac ultrasound can be used to look even deeper into the heart to pinpoint changes in blood flow and pressures.
Dental disease is the most common problem I see in my Alaskan Klee Kai patients. Some of it isn’t their fault. It’s a small mouth area and there’s a lot of teeth that have to fit in there. Do you own a Klee Kai? Look in their mouth right now and see the pre-molars that are actually situated almost perpendicular to the rest of the teeth.
Alaskan Klee Kai have a hard time chewing due to the small size of their mouth so it’s hard for them to keep the plaque and tartar off manually. They also seem to be more genetically predisposed to acquiring more plaque and tartar than many other dogs.
Over time the tartar will work its way up the root of the tooth, pushing the gum away and causing the tooth to begin to loosen in the mouth. The best way to prevent tartar in your Klee Kai will be to “brush” their teeth daily. By brushing, all I mean is to put a bit of dog-specific toothpaste on your finger and then rub that toothpaste along the outside part of your dog’s teeth. You don’t need to force the mouth open. In fact, it’s easier and faster if they hold it closed.
You’ll likely need to start getting your little Klee Kai used to this as soon as you bring their home the first time as they are quite stubborn and will be difficult later in life to train for brushing. In any case, in a perfect world, do this daily and it’ll only take you about 15 seconds total. Get as close to perfect as you can.
Factor VII Deficiency
Factor VII (7) is a clotting factor important in normal blood clotting. Dogs with this deficiency will tend to bleed more and for a longer time than a “normal” dog when they are cut, etc. In severe cases, a dog with Factor VII deficiency can have a difficult time with surgery (such as a spay or a mass removal) if they are given additional blood products via an IV during that surgery.
Every reputable breeder should have this checked for in all of their breeding dogs as well as at least some of the puppies to ensure they are keeping this issue out of their lines. The genetic test for this disorder costs just $50 and has a quick turnaround time.
How Can I Get My Klee Kai To Live Longer and Healthier?
The smaller the Klee Kai, the longer they usually live. The smallest Klee Kai should live at least to
14-15 years of age and the larger ones should live almost as long. Keep them at a healthy weight and take care of their teeth and your biggest issues should be mitigated.
Exercise And Stimulation
A happy Klee Kai is an active and mentally stimulated one. These dogs will have far less anxiety and issues and this will naturally result in a healthier and longer life. This is a breed with a working dog origin and needs consistent work in order to be content.
Whether you take your dog to the dog park every day, train them to do lots of fun tricks, or enter them in advanced agility competition, giving your Klee Kai the active life they demand will reward you with many years of a fun and healthy life.
Preventative Medicine/Wellness Exams
I’m a veterinarian so of course I’m going to tell you that regular wellness exams at the vet is extremely important. A good vet can spot conditions sometimes earlier than even the most dedicated owner can.
When your Klee Kai reaches 5-6 years of age, there are two things that you should consider doing:
- If you haven’t already had it done, have the vet run some bloodwork to check out all the internal organs. Primarily we are screening for kidney and liver disease, but there are literally hundreds of disease conditions that can be picked up by basic lab tests. Start doing this every year to catch issues early.
- If there’s any level of dental disease and you haven’t already had a dental cleaning done, do one now. It will hopefully get ahead of more chronic issues down the road.