Common health problems with Akitas

June 21, 2024 - 4 min read
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s care, treatment, or medical conditions.
A closeup photo of a brown and white Akita dog on a beige background

Coming from Japan, Akitas are proud, loyal dogs that fit in well with experienced owners. Their big frames hide an even bigger heart, and they thrive in active households.

But like any pedigree, they're prone to certain health conditions. Below, we discuss the most common health conditions in Akitas, how vets diagnose them, and how to care for them.

Most common Akita health conditions

Side profile of a brown-and-black Akita


Hypothyroidism is a condition Akitas commonly suffer from.

It refers to an issue with the thyroid gland where it doesn't produce enough thyroid hormone. There are a few reasons this can happen, but usually it's due to the immune system attacking and damaging the gland.

It causes the thyroid gland to not work properly. The normal function of the thyroid gland is to control all the normal functions of the body, like:

  • Heart rate

  • Metabolism

  • Coat and skin quality

  • The immune system

The condition is thought to be inherited and has a genetic component.

Symptoms include:

  • Dry skin and coat

  • Hair loss

  • Susceptibility to other skin diseases

  • Weight gain

  • Behavioral changes (fearfulness and aggression)

Vets diagnose it via a blood test and treatment involves replacement hormone medication.

Lymphoma and osteosarcomas

Lymphoma and osteosarcomas are types of cancer that afflict Akitas more than other breeds.

Osteosarcoma is a bone tumour. The legs are typically affected, leading to swelling and pain. X-rays are used to diagnose the condition, which is unfortunately aggressive and can spread to other areas of the body like the liver and lungs. Your vet will discuss treatment options if your dog suffers from this diagnosis.

The prognosis is often poor even with medical management and surgical intervention, but treatment aims at maintaining the quality of life while extending it.

Lymphoma involves the body making abnormal lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell making up the immune system).

Owners may notice swollen lymph nodes, weight loss, frequent infections, or labored breathing. Vets diagnose it via blood tests, and treatment often involves chemotherapy, which aims at extending the quality and quantity of life.

Orthopaedic problems

Genetically inherited conditions like elbow and hip dysplasia are seen commonly in this breed due to their short stature and stress on their limbs.

Hip dysplasia is where your dog’s hip joint doesn't fit together properly, so bones rub on each other, leading to inflammation (swelling), pain and arthritis. Some dogs are minimally affected with mild discomfort and some experience severe disability and discomfort.

Elbow dysplasia is the most common cause of forelimb lameness in dogs. It refers to several abnormalities that can occur during the development of the elbow joint.

If either of these conditions is diagnosed, your veterinary surgeon will be able to identify an appropriate treatment plan involving:

Skin disorders

Skin disorders like sebaceous adenitis, atopy, uveodermatologic syndrome, and pemphigus foliaceous are common. They lead to poor coat quality, sore skin or complete hair loss.  

Sebaceous adenitis describes a condition where the glands in the skin are inflamed, leading to dry, scaly skin with patches of hair loss. It commonly happens along the top of the head, back of the neck, and the back. Treatment is generally long-term, focused on improving skin quality and keeping the coat as healthy as possible with medicated shampoos.

Atopic dermatitis is an allergic skin condition usually involving the feet, belly, skin folds, and ears. Those affected are usually uncomfortable with itchy, red, inflamed, and sore skin.

Uveodermatologic syndrome affects both the eyes and the skin. It's an autoimmune disorder where the immune system attacks the cells that make pigment in the skin and eyes. It can cause pain or blindness inside the eye and change the pigmented areas of the nose, lips, and skin from dark to light. Sunlight can also worsen the condition.

Pemphigus foliaceus is a superficial skin disease causing crusts and hair loss, usually on top of the nose and inside the ear flaps. Some dogs get it on their footpads and toenails as well. Bacteria easily invade the damaged areas, so secondary skin infections are common.

Your vet will discuss treatment options for these conditions, which may involve supplements, medication, shampoo, prescription diets and barrier creams.

Acquired myasthenia

Acquired myasthenia gravis is a condition that affects Akitas, involving a malfunction in the signals between the nerves and muscles. Those affected have extreme muscle weakness and fatigue.

In Akitas, the disease is considered immune-mediated, meaning it’s caused by the immune system attacking the body. Vets diagnose the condition via a blood test. Treatment usually relies on medication to restore the function of the nerves and is usually lifelong.

How to care for an Akita

A brown and white Akita dog laying down on a beige background

Genetic testing and careful breeding

Genetic testing is available for several Akita conditions, and those affected shouldn't be used for breeding.

For example, as hypothyroidism is thought of as genetic and hereditary, care should be taken when considering breeding dogs that have the condition, as it is likely that their offspring will develop it.

Picking a responsible breeder

The breed's long-term health is maintained by picking a responsible breeder. These make sure the right health checks are complete and minimise the risk of health conditions getting passed on.

Carefully monitor your dog

Carefully monitoring your Akita's health with regular checks for new lumps and bumps will help you alert your vet to potential cancer early.

Being aware of the risks of developing these conditions can mean earlier treatment and better outcomes.

Skin diseases and disorders have a better outcome when diagnosed early. Though they require a life-long commitment to manage, they have a good prognosis if you work together on a treatment plan with your veterinarian.

Vets diagnose conditions with:

  • Skin examinations

  • Biopsies

  • Scrapes

  • Blood sampling

Treatments may include supplements, medication, shampoos, and possibly prescription diets.

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