Diseases of The Japanese Akita-Inu



The Japanese Akita Club of Great Britain (proposed) make no representation, express or implied with regard to the accuracy of the information contained in this section and cannot accept any legal responsibility for any errors or omissions that may take place.


The information provided within this section is purely for the listing of known diseases of The Japanese Akita-Inu and NOT FOR A MEANS OF DIAGNOSIS AND/OR TREATMENT OF ANY ANIMAL.



Autoimmune Disease. 1

Pemphighus. 1

Uveitis. 2

Anterior Uveitis. 2

Intermediate Uveitis. 2

Posterior Uveitis. 2

Lupus Erythematosus. 2

Leukoderma. 3

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) 3

Thrombocytopenia. 3

Hypothyroidism.. 4

Hemolytic Anemia (AIHA) 4

Von Willebrands. 4

Sebaceous Adenitis. 5

Cutaneous Asthenia. 5

Hip Dysplasia. 5


Autoimmune Disease


This is due to a defect or failure of the bodily defence mechanisms in which antibodies become active against some of the host’s own cells.  An example is spontaneous auto-immune thyroiditis which occurs in dogs.


Auto-antibodies can be produced at any time by any individual, but in most they are eliminated by suppressor cells.  However, auto-anti-bodies may persist if there is abnormal B-Cell activation, or T-cell dysfunction.


Immune-mediated diseases are of two kinds: Primary, an auto-immune reaction only against self; and secondary, a similar reaction occurring when viruses, tumours, parasites or drugs are involved.


Primary diseases are either organ-specific e,g Auto-immune haemolytic anaemia, or systemic e.g. Lupus Erythematosus, also Thrombocytopenia, polyarthritis , pemphigus.




Pemphigus covers a group of uncommon disorders that occur in dogs. With these conditions, there is an abnormal immune response to normal components of the skin, resulting in separation of cells. This leads to blisters, pustules, and crusting erosions in the skin. There are some similarities to pemphigus in humans, but many significant differences as well.

Breed predispositions are recognized for 2 forms - pemphigus foliaceus and the milder pemphigus erythematosus.


It is advisable not to use affected dogs in breeding programmes, even though inheritance for these conditions has not been worked out.


It may be related to Autoimmune Disease (with or without involvement of other parts of the body). This, essentially, is when our immune system recognises a part of our own body as foreign (albeit a small part, like one type of protein).

Trauma to the eye, or even the other eye in the past, can lead to Uveitis. In many cases the cause is said to be unknown. This may well mean that the Uveitis is of the autoimmune type. The word “idiopathic” may often be used to describe this group.

Another important way of classifying the different types of Uveitis is by describing the part of the eye that is affected. Very simply, there may be:

Anterior Uveitis

This affects the front of the eye, normally the iris (iritis) or the ciliary body (iridocyclitis). Iritis, strictly speaking is an older term for Anterior Uveitis but is still used frequently. Iritis is by far the most common type of Uveitis and also the most readily treated. Having said that, iritis is something that needs quite close monitoring because complications such as raised eye pressure and cataracts can occur.

Intermediate Uveitis

This affects the area just behind the ciliary body (pars plana) and also the most forward edge of the retina (see the diagram above). This is the next most common type of uveitis.

Posterior Uveitis

This is when the inflammation affects the part of the uvea at the back of the eye, the choroid. Often the retina is affected much more in this group. The choroid is basically a layer rich in small blood vessels which supplies the retina.

Dogs that have experienced lens luxation should not be used for breeding. However this condition often does not occur before 4 to 7 years of age, making it difficult to identify affected dogs before they are used for breeding.


Animals of predisposed breeds should be screened for glaucoma before being used for breeding. Affected dogs and their close relatives should not be bred. Unfortunately, glaucoma does not generally become apparent until after breeding age has been reached, usually 3 years of age or greater.


Lupus Erythematosus

There are several forms of lupus erythematosus that are recognized in people, two of which have been identified in dogs. Lupus is an autoimmune disorder, meaning that the body mounts an inappropriate immune response to some part of itself.

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an uncommon but severe disorder in which the inappropriate immune response is widespread in the body, and can cause arthritis, kidney disease, anemia, and skin disease. Cutaneous lupus erythematosus (CLE) is thought to be a milder variant of SLE, and the problems are confined to the skin. CLE is also called discoid lupus erythematosus.

Although the mode of inheritance is not known for either cutaneous or systemic lupus erythematosus, these conditions run in families. Affected animals should not be bred and it is prudent to avoid breeding their close relatives as well.


With this condition there is patchy loss of pigment in the skin (leukoderma), particularly in the facial area. There may be whitening (leukotrichia) or graying (poliosis) of the hair. It may be that the immune system targets the melanocytes - the cells that produce pigment.


Various forms of the above diseases are all manifestations of what is known in Japan as Hokuto-Koyanagi-Harada syndrome and in the USA and Great Britian as Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada syndrome VKH.  The manifestation of these autoimmune diseases depends largely on the hereditary preposition of the dogs as well as some inciting cause that results in stress to the system.  Some may be mildly affected while others are quite severe.  Aggressive treatment is always necessary.


Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)

Also known as ‘Night Blindness’ this is a hereditary condition, where the blood vessels of the retina undergo progressive atrophy and the dog suffers from impaired vision in consequence.  To endeavour to correct this the pupil dilates widely, even in daylight, and the dog’s expression become staring.  At night or at dusk, the dog is unable to avoid objects and blunders into them, but during full daylight it appears to see quite well.


No treatment can arrest the progressive degeneration and the dog gradually becomes blind.  In severe cases puppies may show first symptoms soon after weaning.


Neither dogs nor bitches which show the condition should be used for breeding.


There is a joint scheme in the UK operated by the British Veterinary Association and The Kennel Club to reduce the incidence of this disease in any breed of dog: and certificates are issued to dog-owners.



Thrombocytopenia means a reduction in platelets (thrombocytes). Platelets (one of the cell types in the blood) play an important role in the clotting process; thus the main result of a decrease in platelets is increased bleeding - for example, nosebleeds.

In immune-mediated thrombocytopenia (IMT), the reduction happens because there is increased destruction of platelets by the body's own immune system, at a rate faster than they are produced in the bone marrow. IMT may be secondary to some other process (such as an infection, tumour, or drug reaction) or it may be primary, meaning that no other causative factor can be found. It is more common in certain breeds, suggesting there is an inherited component. IMT may occur by itself or with other conditions like systemic lupus erythematosus and autoimmune hemolytic anemia.


Dogs that have had an episode of primary immune-mediated thrombocytopenia should not be used for breeding.



The clinical signs of hypothyroidism are caused by a decrease in normal thyroid hormone activity. The disorder may be acquired (a progressive deficiency of thyroid hormone) or congenital (meaning the animal is born with the disorder). The acquired form is the most common disorder of the endocrine system in dogs. It occurs as a result of gradual atrophy of the thyroid gland or of gradual infiltration and replacement of the thyroid gland with lymphocytes due to an autoimmune process (lymphocytic thyroiditis).

Acquired hypothyroidism is generally seen in middle-aged (4 to 10 years) mid - to large breed dogs. Congenital hypothyroidism  is very rare.



Hemolytic Anemia (AIHA)

Normally red blood cells live about 4 months in dogs. As the cells age, they are removed and destroyed by other cells that are part of the immune system. New red blood cells are produced in the bone marrow at a rate that matches the destruction of older cells. In autoimmune hemolytic anemia, the immune system destroys red blood cells prematurely, faster than the rate at which new ones can be produced. The name says it all - anemia (reduced red blood cells) caused by hemolysis (destruction) by the body's own immune system (autoimmune).

Dogs who have been diagnosed with AIHA should not be used for breeding, and it is preferable to avoid breeding their close relatives as well.


Von Willebrands

Von Willebrand's disease (vWD) is a common, usually mild, inherited bleeding disorder in people and in dogs. It is caused by a lack of von Willebrand factor (vWF), which plays an essential role in the blood clotting process.

Normally the body responds to an injury causing bleeding through a complex defence system. This consists of local changes in the damaged blood vessels, activation of blood cells called platelets, and the coagulation process. A reduction in von Willebrand factor leads to abnormal platelet function and prolonged bleeding times. Affected dogs are prone to bleeding episodes such as nose bleeds, and generally experience increased bleeding with trauma or a surgical procedure.

Three forms of the disease are distinguished based on vWF concentration and function. Dogs with Type I vWD (by far the most common) have mild to moderate bleeding abnormalities, depending on the level of vWF. The much rarer types II and III vWD cause severe bleeding disorders.

Sebaceous Adenitis (SA)

This is a perplexing condition in which the sebaceous glands in the skin become inflamed for unknown reasons, and are eventually destroyed. These glands normally produce sebum, a fatty secretion that helps prevent drying of the skin.


Although the genetics have not been determined, the condition does appear to be inherited in those breeds studied. It is thus preferable to avoid breeding affected dogs of any breed, their siblings, and their parents.




Cutaneous Asthenia


Cutaneous asthenia is a group of conditions where there are various underlying defects in the structure of collagen, the fibrous connective tissue of the body. Dogs with cutaneous asthenia have abnormally stretchy and fragile skin which tears easily, resulting in large wounds. Some dogs also have looseness in the joints and abnormalities of the eye (lens luxation, cataracts).


With dominant forms of this disorder, affected dogs and the affected parent should not be bred. If the inheritance appears to be recessive (ie. an affected dog is born of apparently normal parents), then the parents (carriers of the trait) and siblings (potential carriers) of the affected dog should not be bred.


Hip Dysplasia


This term covers a number of abnormal conditions of the acetabulum and head of the femur.


Some of these conditions are hereditary.  They include:


Subluxation, in which the head of the femur is no longer firmly seated within the acetabulum.  Deformity of the head of the femur gradually develops.  The symptoms include a reluctance to rise from the sitting position, and a swinging gait, observed when the puppy is 4 to 5 months old.


Slipped epiphysis  This also causes pain and lameness at 4 to 6 months, but is difficult to distinguish from Subluxation.


Congenital dislocation, in which the acetabula are too shallow to retain the heads of the femurs in position.


The BVA and The Kennel Club jointly run a scheme whereby X-rays of a dog’s hip joint are examined by a panel of experts and given a score according to the condition of the joint.  The intention is that dogs showing a tendency to dysplasia will not be used for breeding.


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