The Breed History
First written records date to the 17th century, where in the Akita Prefecture of Honshu in Northern Japan (Dewa), breeding programs were instituted to produce a sensible hunting dog. At this time, ownership of Akita dogs was restricted to the aristocracy. Their esteem was held so high that in some places they were assigned individually hired caregivers who provided special care. This ancient Japanese dog breed is also cemented in certain spiritual traditions wherein the dog represents good health, and a statue gift of the dog for a new addition to a family represents wishes for health, happiness and a long life for the child. This statue gift is also sent as a get-well message for those ailing. They are of Spitz type, and the ancient progenitor genes came into Japan with migrating Siberian nomads a very long time ago.
Akitas may also include in their heritage crosses of Chow-Chows with Tosa (Shikoku) and Kari dogs. In spite of the special status of this breed, at times, the popularity fell off to the point of near extinction. In 1931, Japan named the breed a national monument. Helen Keller was credited with importing the first specimens of the breed to America. The AKC first registered Akitas in 1972.
Breeding for Function
Their original use was for hunting in rugged territory. Boar and deer were typical game. Alert and possessing good stamina, these dogs were valued hunting companions. They were also reported to have been soft mouthed enough for waterfowl retrieval. Others report their use as pit fighting dogs. They were adapted to a harsh wintry environment, and were renowned for their sturdy, agile, silent work.
Height at Withers: female 24-26" (61-71 cm), male 26-28" (66-71 cm). Weight: females 75-85lb (34-38.5 kg), males 85-110 lb (38.5-50 kg). Coat: They have a thick double coat with medium length outer coat hair, and are accepted in many colors including brindle, pinto, or white. The undercoat may be a different color. The outer coat stands up and is harsh and straight while the undercoat is soft, dense and short. Some lines have longer hair than the average, though this variation is not considered correct for show.
Longevity: 11-12 years
Points of Conformation: The full tail held over the back and the alert, pricked ears and bear-like facial expression on the large head characterize this stocky dog. The skull is broad, with broad muzzle and small dark brown eyes, deep set and a triangular shape. A shallow furrow runs in a line up the head extending onto the forehead. Triangular ears are small. Set wide, they are strongly leathered to keep them firmly up. The nose is large and black pigmentation is preferred. The stop is well defined, and both lip and palpebral margins are black. The crested neck is short. The thorax is wide and deep, and ribs are well sprung. The topline is level and the abdomen moderately tucked up. The high set tail is carried over the back curled, and reaches the tarsus. They possess heavily boned and muscled straight limbs, and dewclaws are not generally removed from the forelimbs but from the hind limbs they are. Feet are small, compact and have well knuckled up toes. They move with a moderate stride.
Recognized Behavior Issues and Traits
Traits ascribed to this breed include: Adaptability and intelligence, requires close human companionship, friendly, loyal and docile. They are also described as intelligent, possessing high perseverance; an alert and a faithful companion. Will tend to show aggression towards other dogs so they are best kept solo unless socialized from puppyhood, and even then they may still assert themselves. Needs an experienced owner to perform successful obedience training due to their strong personalities. Dignified carriage, active, independent, aloof with strangers but tend to bark only when a threat is real. Akitas have a strong guarding instinct, and will capably defend home and family. Need plenty of mental stimulation to prevent boredom vices. They have a high shedding tendency. Should be supervised with children and pets, as they can attack members of their own family.
Normal Physiologic Variations
Akitas have a benign autosomal recessive inherited condition of high red blood cell potassium. A survey in Japan showed one-quarter to one-third of Akitas affected.
Hip Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing degenerative joint disease and hip arthritis. OFA reports 13.0% affected.
Patella Luxation: Polygenically inherited laxity of patellar ligaments, causing luxation, lameness, and later degenerative joint disease. Treat surgically if causing clinical signs. OFA reports 1.5% affected. Dorn reports a 2.38x odds ratio for developing patella luxation versus other breeds. Another study reports a 6.7x odds ratio versus other breeds.
Elbow Dysplasia: Polygenically inherited trait causing elbow arthritis. OFA reports 1.3% affected.
Hypothyroidism: Inherited autoimmune thyroiditis. 8.6% positive for thyroid auto-antibodies based on testing at Michigan State University. (Ave. for all breeds is 7.5%). Reported at a frequency of 18.6% in the 2001 ACA Health Survey.
Gastric Dilation/Volvulus (GDV, Bloat): Life-threatening twisting of the stomach within the abdomen. Requires immediate veterinary attention. Glickman found a 1 in 5 lifetime risk of developing GDV in Akitas. Reported at a frequency of 12.2% in the 2001 ACA Health Survey.
Allergic Dermatitis: Inhalant or food allergy. Presents with pruritis and pyotraumatic dermatitis (hot spots). Reported at a frequency of 10.1% in the 2001 ACA Health Survey.
Cranial Cruciate Ligament Rupture (ACL): Traumatic tearing of the anterior cruciate ligament. The breed is found to be one with an increased incidence. Reported at a frequency of 6.6% in the 2001 ACA Health Survey. Treatment is surgery.
Sebaceous Adenitis: Disorder of immune mediated sebaceous gland destruction, presenting with hair loss, hyperkeratosis and seborrhoea, usually beginning with the dorsal midline and ears. Diagnosis by skin biopsy. Treat with isotretinoin. An autosomal recessive mode of inheritance is suspected. Reported at a frequency of 3.4% in Sweden.
Persistent Pupillary Membranes: Strands of fetal remnant connecting; iris to iris, cornea, lens, or involving sheets of tissue. The later three forms can impair vision, and dogs affected with these forms should not be bred. Identified in 2.91% of Akitas CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Retinal Dysplasia: Retinal folds, geographic, and generalized retinal dysplasia with detachment are recognized in the breed. Reported in 1.95% of Akitas CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Uveodermatologic (VKH-like) Syndrome: An autoimmune disease manifested by progressive uveitis and depigmenting dermatitis that closely resembles the human Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada syndrome. Onset 1-1/2 to 4 years of age. Treat with immunosuppressive drugs. One study showed that Akitas with the histocompatability DLA gene DQA1*00201 had a 15.99x odds ratio for developing the syndrome. CERF does not recommend breeding any affected dogs.
Pemphigus Foliaceus: An increased risk of developing immune mediated pemphigus foliaceus was noted in the Akita (Odds ratio = 37.8x). Typical lesions include dorsal muzzle and head symmetric scaling, crusting, and alopecia with peripheral collarettes, characteristic footpad lesions, with erythematous swelling at the pad margins, cracking, and villous hypertrophy. Average age of onset is 4.2 years. Treatment with corticosteroid and cytotoxic medications. One-year survival rate of 53%. Unknown mode of inheritance.
Acquired Myasthenia Gravis: Akitas are a breed at increased risk of developing generalized or focal acquired myasthenia gravis. The most common presenting signs were generalized weakness, with or without megaesophagus. Diagnosis is by identifying acetylcholine receptor antibodies.
Juvenile-onset Polyarthritis: Inherited syndrome of cyclic febrile illness and signs of profound joint-related pain. Can also cause concurrent aseptic meningitis. Treatment with immunosuppressive drugs. Unknown mode of inheritance.
Primary (Narrow Angle) Glaucoma: Ocular condition causing increased pressure within the eyeball, and secondary blindness due to damage to the retina. Diagnose with tonometry and gonioscopy. Diagnosed in 1.39% of Akitas presented to veterinary teaching hospitals.
Entropion: Rolling in of eyelids, often causing corneal irritation or ulceration. Entropion is reported in 0.99% of Akitas CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005.
Cataracts: Anterior and posterior cortex punctate cataracts predominate, though posterior nuclear and capsular cataracts also occur in the breed. Identified in 0.85% of Akitas CERF examined by veterinary ophthalmologists between 2000-2005. CERF does not recommend breeding any Akitas with a cataract.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): Inherited degeneration of the retina. Onset 1.5 to 3 years of age, initially with night blindness that progresses to day blindness. Form of PRA, and mode of inheritance is not determined in this breed. Reported at a frequency of 0.5% in the 2001 ACA Health Survey. CERF does not recommend breeding any affected Akitas.
Brachygnathism, Central PRA, Deafness, Epilepsy, Glycogen Storage Disease III, IgA deficiency, Osteochondritis Dissicans (shoulder and stifle), Osteochondrodyplasia, Peripheral Vestibular Disease, Portosystemic Shunt, Prognathism, Renal Dysplasia, and von Willebrand's Disease are reported.
Isolated Case Studies
Epidermolysis Bullosa: A 4-year-old female Akita had a 3-year-history of ulcers and scars over the pressure areas on the limbs, and dystrophic nails. The immune mediated disease epidermolysis bullosa was diagnosed based on biopsy, electron microscopy, and special staining.
Multiple Congenital Ocular Defects: Microphthalmia, congenital cataracts, posterior lenticonus, and retinal dysplasia were observed in 6 puppies from 3 litters of Akitas thought to be related to a common male ancestor.
Tracheobronchial Amyloidosis: An 11 year old intact male Akita dog with a chronic non-productive cough was diagnosed with primary diffuse tracheobronchial amyloidosis at necropsy.
Cervical Spinal Arachnoid Cyst: An 18-month-old, intact male Akita presented with a 12-month history of progressive ataxia, hypermetria, and loss of conscious proprioception of all 4 limbs was diagnosed by myelography with an arachnoid cyst between the first two cervical vertebra. Surgery was curative.
Tests of Genotype: Direct tests for color and mask alleles are available from VetGen.
Tests of Phenotype: CHIC Certification: Required testing includes hip radiographs, CERF eye examination (annually until year 6, then every other year), and thyroid profile including autoantibodies. Recommended tests include elbow radiographs, and patella evaluation. (See CHIC website; caninehealthinfo.org).
Recommend cardiac evaluation.
- Breed name synonyms: Akita Inu, Shishi Inu, Japanese Akita, Matagiinu (historical name for the breed in Japanese meaning esteemed dog hunter).
- Registries: AKC, UKC, CKC, KCGB (Kennel Club of Great Britain), ANKC (Australian National Kennel Club), NKC (National Kennel Club).
- AKC rank (year 2008): 52 (3,157 dogs registered)
- Internet resources: Akita Club of America: akitaclub.org
Japanese Akita Club of America: the-jaca.org
Akita Club of Canada: akitaclub.ca
Japanese Akita-Inu Club (UK): japaneseakita-inu.co.uk
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