Akita Health Issues
Akitas, as with other breeds, are susceptible to some health problems, some of a genetic nature, others viral. The following is a listing of some of the more common health issues that may be seen in the Akita breed:
- Acquired Myathenia Gravis
- Eye Problems
- Hip Dysplasia
- Unique Juvenile-Onset Polyarthritis Syndrome of Akita Dogs
- Uveo-Dermatological Syndrome (VKH)
- von Willebrand’s Disease (vWD)
Acquired Myathenia Gravis
Note: Akita Dog at Highest Relative Risk
Acquired MG is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys special proteins (acetylcholine receptors) located on the muscle surface where the nerve attaches to the muscle.
Muscle weakness is the distinctive feature of MG. The muscles affected are voluntary or striated muscles and different muscle groups can affect different dogs, making clinical signs different as well and diagnosis of MG can be difficult. Common signs of MG include regurgitation; excessive salivation; as well as multiple attempts at swallowing food. A high-pitch bark or no bark may also be another sign as well as the dog appearing to sleep with his eyes open as the eyelid muscles may be too weak to keep closed.
A very severe form of MG has also been described in which there is a rapid onset of muscle weakness involving esophagus and respiratory muscles. Treatment requires intensive care including ventilatory support.
Bloat or Gastric Torsion (Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (GDV))
This condition is caused by a twisting of the stomach and thus trapping the stomach contents and gases resulting in a rapid swelling of the abdomen accompanied by pain and eventual death if untreated. It is a true emergency, requiring immediate veterinary attention. This condition is most often found in large, deep chested breeds. Anyone owning a deep chested breed, susceptible to Bloat should be prepared to handle the emergency procedures necessary, including having readily available the name and phone number of emergency clinics and/or who to call after hours.
Symptoms can be subtle but include the following which should be recognized as the possibility of Bloat:
- Continuous pacing and/or lying down in odd places
- Salivating, panting, whining
- Unable to get comfortable
- Acting agitated
- Unproductive vomiting or retching (may produce frothy foamy vomit in small quantities)
- Excessive drooling, usually accompanied by retching noises
- Swelling in abdominal area (may or may not be noticeable)
If ANY combination of these symptoms are noticed, CALL YOUR VET and get the dog there as fast as possible. Bloat is LIFE-THREATENING.
- Cataracts — Like humans, dogs can get cataracts. If the dog is in good health, cataracts can be surgically removed usually with good results.
- Entropion — Conformational defect where eyelid margin inverts, or rolls inward, toward the eye causing eyelashes and hair to rub against the cornea resulting in ocular irritation.
- Glaucoma — Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness in dogs and is the result of increased fluid pressure within the eye. If the pressure can not be reduced, there will be permanent damage to the retina and optic nerve resulting in visual impairment. Complete blindness can occur within 24 hours or can occur slowly over weeks or months and is usually very painful.
- Glaucoma is an emergency. Treatment must be started as soon as possible if your dog’s sight is to be saved. Irreversible damage to the retina and optic nerve occur within a few hours of significant elevation of the intraocular pressure.
- Microphthalmia — Affected dogs have prominent third eyelids and small eyes which appear recessed in the eye socket. This is often associated with other eye abnormalities, including defects of the cornea, anterior chamber, lens and/or retina. Microphthalmia is also seen with coloboma – a cleft in a portion of the eye, particularly the iris. Microphthalmia with cataracts is seen in the Akita breed.Puppies with microphthalmia with cataracts usually have some visual impairment. The cataracts are unpredictable and may be progressive resulting in a worsening of vision, or they may mature and be reabsorbed, resulting in improved vision.
The condition is apparent in puppies once they open their eyes. The affected eyes will appear smaller than normal and recessed, the third eyelid will be more prominent as well.
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) — PRA is a family of diseases involving the gradual deterioration of the retina. In the early stages of the disease, an affected dog becomes nightblind and cannot see well in dim lighting. As the disease progresses, daytime vision also fails. Provided that the affected dog’s environment remains constant, an affected dog can adapt quite well to this handicap. As the affected dog’s vision fails, the pupils become increasingly dilated, causing a “shine” to his eyes. The lens of the eyes may also become cloudy, or opaque, resulting in a cataract. It should be noted that while some breeds are affected early in life, others can develop PRA much later.
- Retinal Dysplasia — This is an abnormality in the development of the retina. There may be no visual defect in affected dogs, therefore, will only be found when the eye is examined. It is a condition that is thought to be inherited in a number of breeds. The condition may also be acquired as an injury or due to viral infections, toxins and nutritional disorders.
All breeding dogs should be examined annually by a certified veterinary ophthalmologist. Most responsible breeders will register with the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) and receive a CERF number for their dog. If you are adopting a puppy, ensure that the breeder provides you with copies of certifications for both the sire and dam. In addition, you should ask to see a copy of the paperwork that was forwarded to CERF because the form may report on other issues that may not deny the dog a CERF number but could be of interest to you.
For additional information on eye problems and diseases, see Eye Problems in the Health & Nutrition section of the Canada’s Guide to Dogs website.
Canine Hip Dysplasia afflicts millions of dogs each year and can result in debilitating orthopaedic disease of the hip. It is caused when the femoral head does not fit properly in the hip socket, causing instability of the joint. Over time, this malformation can cause degenerative joint disease which causes increased pain and immobility.
Through selective breeding strategies, veterinarians and breeders are attempting to eliminate Canine Hip Dysplasia. All breeding dogs should be x-rayed and certified clear by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and/or by the University of Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program (PennHIP).
For more information, see Canine Hip Dysplasia in the Health & Nutrition section of the Canada’s Guide to Dogs website.
Unique Juvenile-Onset Polyarthritis Syndrome of Akita Dogs
This disease affects young Akitas with reported cases occuring in dogs less than eight months of age, and some as young as two months. Clinical signs include cyclic episodes of pain along with varying degrees of reluctance to stand or walk. Sometimes one joint is affected more severely than others, but typically multiple joints are affected simultaneously — polyarthritis meaning arthritis of many joints. During episodes of joint pain, the dogs have a fever and decreased appetite. Because these episodes are cyclic, the pain and fever returns despite antibiotics or other standard treatments. In addition, affected dogs may sometimes show evidence of Meningitis, causing excruciating neck and back pain, as well as Liver and Lung diseases.
The cause of Juvenile Onset Polyarthritis of Akitas is unknown. It is believed to be a heritable disease but the mode of inheritance is unknown. There has also been speculation that development of clinical signs is related to vaccinations; however, no proof of this is available.
Uveo-Dermatological Syndrome (VKH)
VKH is an autoimmune related disease with heritable implications. The onset of VKH can be slow or sudden, dramatic or barely noticeable. Three phases of signs exist: Meningoencephalitic Phase, Dermatological Phase, and Opthalmic Phase. All appear to differ from dog to dog.
In the Meningoencephalitic phase, the stage in humans is characterized by fever, malaise, headache, nausea and vomiting, it is not clear whether this phase actually exists in dogs.
The Dermatological phase can include blisters on the affected dogs nose. The sores may also be seen in other areas such as the eyelids, pads of the feet, scrotum and anus. After some time, the affected area may begin to depigment and there is often hair loss of loss of colour in the hair. Some Akitas have also been known to have their toenails fall off, but this is not common.
During the Ophthalmic phase, the dog may become blind as the pressure in the eyes build up and causes the retina to detach.
von Willebrand’s Disease (vWD)
vWD is a blood disorder, a deficiency in clotting factor VIII antigen. This substance is called “Von Willebrand’s factor.” Dogs affected by the disease do not effectively utilize their platelets for blood clotting and therefore are more likely to have excessive bleeding episodes upon injury. This is similar to hemophilia in humans.
vWD is a common inherited disorder. Certain breeds, have a higher than normal incidence of this disorder.
The main symptom of vWd is excessive bleeding, generally occuring after an injury or surgery. Dog’s with Von Willebrand’s disease may also develop nosebleeds or bleeding from the gums; bleeding in the stomach or intestine may also occur; and some dogs may have blood in their urine. Symptoms similar to those of arthritis may also occur if bleeding is into the joints.
- For more information, see von Willebrand’s Disease (vWD) in the Health & Nutrition section of the Canada’s Guide to Dogs website.
This section is intended as a source of information only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional care. Always consult with your Veterinarian about health related matters. The information provided here is a brief outline of some of the health issues which may be of concern for the Akita breed and should in no way to be considered as a complete listing.
For more details and links to some of the more indepth web sites, please see the Health & Nutrition Section of the Canada’s Guide to Dogs website.