While it's easy to confuse the Alaskan malamute and the Siberian husky, differences between these arctic sled dogs start with size and history. The malamute was named for an Inupiat group indigenous to northwest Alaska that developed the breed thousands of years ago. Also an ancient breed, the husky originated in Siberia among the Chukchi tribe. Huskies arrived in Alaska by 1908, if not earlier. As arctic breeds, both do better in cooler climates. Think twice about sharing your life with either of them if you live in a hot region.
The big-boned Alaskan malamute is considerably larger than the Siberian husky. At maturity, the breed standard's "desirable" size for a male malamute is 25 inches tall at the shoulder, weighing about 85 pounds. For a female, it's 23 inches tall and 75 pounds. Because this is a working breed, proportion, strength and movement outweigh strict size considerations.
The Siberian husky breed standard calls for males to stand between 21 to 23.5 inches tall, weighing between 45 to 60 pounds. Females stand between 20 to 22 inches, weighing between 35 to 50 pounds. The malamute is deemed a large breed by the American Kennel Club, while it considers the Siberian husky medium-sized.
Coat and Colors
The malamute's coat is coarser than that of the husky, and the undercoat is oily. The husky's outer coat isn't harsh, and he sports a soft, dense undercoat.
The husky breed standard allows any color, while the malamute standard permits light gray with shadings of black and sable. A sable may have shadings to red. With the exception of white, solid-colored malamutes are not allowed. All malamutes have predominantly white abdomens, lower legs and feet and facial markings. While the husky may have blue or brown eyes -- or one of each -- the malamute's eyes are always brown.
The American Kennel Club describes the malamute as "affectionate, loyal and playful," and the Siberian husky as "mischievous, outgoing -- and loyal." While either breed may be lethal where cats are concerned, the Siberian husky gets along well with other canines. The Alaskan malamute -- not so much. The malamute is a much better watchdog than the husky, who isn't much of a watchdog at all. Both breeds need secure fencing and may roam for miles if loose.
Huskies are prone to several eye disorders, including cataracts, corneal dystrophy -- which is sometimes cosmetic in nature but can cause vision loss -- and progressive retinal atrophy, which eventually leads to blindness. Hip dysplasia, a congenital deformity of the hip joint, also affects the breed and may require surgical correction.
Malamutes may also suffer from cataracts and hip dysplasia. While night blindness occurs in many breeds, malamutes are sometimes affected by day blindness, with vision improving as the sun goes down and they aren't in direct light. Dwarfism occurs in the breed, as does inherited polyneuropathy. The latter condition results in coordination issues.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.