As with any purebred breed of dogs there are some genetic health problems associated with the Akita breed. They are not typically unhealthy dogs and virtually all of the health issues within the breed can be tested for prior to breeding, ensuring that reputable breeders are not producing genetically inferior litters. With this breeds surge in popularity in the early 1970s through the 1980 many puppy mills and backyard breeders produced genetically unhealthy dogs, leading to health issues with the breed. For this reason it is highly recommended to only purchase an Akita from a reputable breeder that completes all health and genetic checks prior to breeding programs.
Hip dysplasia is found in the Akita as with any other large breed of dog. The early infusion of German Shepherd blood into the early Akita type during World Wars l and ll may have increased the issue with hip dysplasia within the modern Akita. Testing and hip certification is essential for breeding lines and is important for owners to consider. Elbow dysplasia can occasionally occur within the breed and like hip dysplasia it can be tested for prior to breeding. Both hip and elbow dysplasia are not fatal or life threatening, but they will lead to stiffness, loss of motion in the limbs and pain. Arthritis typically will also develop in the affected joint leading to further complications with movement as the dog ages. New forms of medications including the use of corticosteroids and non-steroid types of arthritis medication combined with pain management, dietary supplements and hydrotherapy can be very helpful.
Akitas are also somewhat more likely than many other larger breeds to develop complications with the functioning of their thyroid. Both hypothyroidism as well as an autoimmune thyroiditis are found within the breed. Hypothyroidism is a decrease in the normal production of thyroid hormone that can result in poor metabolism including a failure to grow and put on weight or obesity, typically coupled with a very poor coat and skin condition. Hair loss may be easily detected in those dogs exhibiting chronic hypothyroidism. Treatment is simple and typically very effective and synthetic hormones are provided to balance the dog's system.
Autoimmune thyroiditis, also known as Hashimoto's disease, is an inherited condition where the dogs own body produces antibodies against the thyroid hormone. Typically with this condition, which starts when the Akita or other breed is about six months old or slightly older, has very few symptoms. Over time the auto-immune factor increases and more and more health related conditions begin to show, eventually leading to a diagnosis of autoimmune thyroiditis. Coat, skin and heart problems as well as some seizures may also be signs of the condition.
Within the Akita breed there are several growth conditions that may affect puppies and younger dogs but typically becomes most evident at about 8 months of age. Juvenile Onset Polyarthritis Syndrome causes pain and stiffness in joints that seems to cycle through the limbs of the body. During bouts with the condition the dogs will stop eating and will be in evident pain when attempting to move some or all of their legs. It is believed that this syndrome is again related to an autoimmune response since treatment with immune suppressant types of medications typically result in full remission of the condition.
Acquired Myathenia Gravis or MG is another inherited autoimmune condition where the body actually attacks the connections between the muscles and the nerves. Over time, sometimes relatively short periods or even months and years, the muscles weaken and fail to respond to the signals for movement. In extreme cases Akitas with acquired MG may not be able to walk or close their eyes, resulting in several eye related complications as well as paralysis. Often swelling of the throat results in the inability to swallow and the constant regurgitation of food. There are treatments available that will help manage the muscle weakness and prevent problems with breathing and swallowing.
Eye conditions in the Akita are not more problematic than in other breeds. The most common include entropion and cataracts. Both can be corrected with surgery but do need to be treated as early as possible. A less common condition is glaucoma, where pressure builds up behind the eye and results in pain and often very rapid and permanent vision loss. Treatment for glaucoma needs to start as early as possible in the best possible effort to retain the dog's sight. As with other breeds PRA or progressive retina atrophy can also occur in the Akita breed. This condition may develop moderately fast to very slow and starts with trouble seeing and night and ends in complete blindness. There is no treatment or cure for the condition and it typically affects mature, adult dogs.
Microphthalmia is a condition where the eyes are deformed from birth. Typically the eyes are very small and deep set with the third eyelid very prominent and thick. Cataracts are often seen in Akitas with microphthalmia and although there is no cure sometimes if the condition exists when the Akita first opens his or her eyes there is a chance that it will self correct. For dogs that don't self-correct the vision loss often progresses over time.
Some Akita lines are prone to a skin condition known as Pemphigus foliaceus. This is very serious, resulting in blisters and lesions in the skin. It is another form of an autoimmune disease where the body actually attacks the compound that holds skin cells together. Blisters will continue to form over the entire body, resulting in huge secondary infection problems and a dramatic decline in the dog's overall health. There are several options for treating this autoimmune disease including chemotherapy and drug therapies, however it is essential to control both the disease as well as the skin infections that will develop.
Bloat is also a concern with the Akita, but this is common in all large dogs with a deep chest. Careful monitoring of food consumption, avoiding exercise immediately after eating and providing smaller meals a day will help minimize the risk. As with any purebred dog, selecting an Akita from a reputable breeder is an important consideration. Ask about the different conditions, especially about the autoimmune disorders and avoid breeding lines that are prone to these types of conditions.