Akita diabetes and other hormone issues

"If you are the owner of an Akita Inu, it is important to be aware of Akita diabetes and other hormone issues that can affect this breed. Akitas are a particularly susceptible to developing diabetes, and owners need to be vigilant about watching their dog's diet and exercise routine in order to keep them healthy.."

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Akita diabetes and other hormone issues

If an Akita is acting out, the most likely cause is hormone issues. In one study that examined 33 Akitas who acted out, 24 had thyroid gland issues. Owners tend to accept Akita’s quirks without even realizing they’re a sign of health problems to come.

Thyroid and adrenal glands are the two most common sources of Akita hormone issues. Their dysfunction leads to all sorts of problems with mood, appearance, and energy levels, but the shared symptom is obesity.

Prevention is the most effective remedy for obesity and an entire range of health issues that stem from it. The sooner obesity is addressed, the higher the chance of recovery and a healthy life.

What are hormones?

The word hormone comes from Greek for “stir up, set in motion”. Hippocrates was the first to use the word to describe a vital principle that moves the body. The modern meaning was created in 1905 by English professor Ernest Starling.

Hormones are substances that control the growth and function of tissues and organs but also behavior and mood. They are produced by endocrine glands, which release hormones directly into the bloodstream to trigger a specific reaction. The body uses cholesterol and proteins to create hormones.  Only single-cell organisms don’t produce hormones.

Tissues and organs have special receptors for hormones to guarantee the effect with the smallest amount of hormones produced. The dysfunction of glands and receptors causes hormone issues, such as bad temper, abnormal growth, and metabolism dysfunction.

Organs and hormones

New hormones are discovered on a regular basis, revealing previously unknown functions of organs and glands. Some organs involved in the production of hormones are:

  • Pancreas
  • Ovaries/testicles
  • Kidneys
  • Intestines

They are instructed to produce hormones by the three master glands situated in the brain:

  • Hypothalamus
  • Pituitary gland
  • Pineal gland

Thyroid gland is another important component of the endocrine system that controls the autonomic nervous system.


Hypothalamus is an important regulator of internal functions by linking the brain with the endocrine system to control basic survival instincts, such as thirst and hunger. It triggers the pituitary gland to release its hormones as needed to maintain homeostasis, the state of balance of bodily functions.

Hypothalamus controls thermoregulation, such as by triggering shivering when the body temperature drops. Conversely, when the body is overheated, the hypothalamus induces thirst to increase the water intake and help with cooling. Blood pressure is another important function of the hypothalamus, as are sleep and circadian cycles that control sleepiness.

Blood glucose levels are controlled by the hypothalamus. The early onset of diabetes in Akitas is linked to hypothalamus dysfunction that causes a mismatch in insulin and blood glucose levels. The Akita’s appetite gets out of control since the cells are constantly signaling to the hypothalamus that they need more glucose.

Pituitary gland

Pituitary gland is a close neighbor of hypothalamus, being separated with a slim stalk of nerve tissue in the brain. It receives signals from the hypothalamus to regulate:

  • Body growth
  • Blood circulation and blood pressure
  • Metabolism of carbs
  • Labor
  • Kidney function

Somatotropin is the growth hormone produced by the pituitary gland, the lack of which causes dwarfism. Other noteworthy hormones produced by the pituitary gland are:

  • Thyrotropic hormone to control the function of the thyroid gland
  • Melanocyte-stimulating hormone to control skin pigment
  • Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) to control adrenal glands
  • Sex hormones responsible for maturity and fertility
  • Prolactin, the hormone that stimulates milk productions in females
  • Oxytocin to facilitate contractions during birth and induce breast milk release
  • Vasopressin to control water balance through kidneys
  • Pitressin to control blood circulation

Cortisol, the stress hormone released by adrenal glands, is an important inhibitor of the pituitary gland. If adrenal glands are affected by tumors, they can wreak havoc on the pituitary gland, leading to numerous health and behavior problems.

Adrenal glands

Adrenal glands are a pair of glands on top of kidneys, with the left typically being the larger one. They respond to stressful situations by producing several hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, that regulate the blood pressure and heart function. They also produce steroids that finely tune the mineral balance and carbohydrate metabolism.

Schmidt’s syndrome and Addison disease

Schmidt’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease affecting an Akita’s thyroid and adrenal glands. It starts out as Addison’s disease aka. adrenal insufficiency resulting from the destruction of the outer layer of one or both adrenal glands. The result is that adrenal glands cannot produce enough cortisol, which controls macronutrient usage and minimizes inflammation, and aldosterone, which controls potassium and sodium levels in the blood.


The vet will check the Akita’s health history and perform urine analysis alongside bloodwork. Increased potassium level in the blood and excess sodium in urine will indicate Addison’s disease, which can be immediately remedied with an injection of ACTH to stimulate cortisol production.

The treatment focuses on pills or injections to alleviate the shock that comes from the lack of cortisol and alleviate its absence. With close daily attention and proper management, the disease is barely noticeable.


In roughly 33% of cases, the cause of Addison’s disease is an infection of adrenal glands that leads to tissue destruction. It most often occurs in female Akitas at the peak of fertility. The symptoms are:

  • Lethargy
  • Gastrointestinal discomfort
  • Fainting and weight loss
  • Excessive thirst and urination

Symptoms eventually worsen, leading to Addisonian crises that include muscle weakness, low blood pressure, and coma. Those crises are a direct consequence of sodium loss through urine. If not addressed immediately, an Addisonian crisis is fatal.

Another possible cause is overuse of corticosteroid drugs when treating some other disease. This can lead to the pituitary gland not producing enough ACTH, resulting in adrenal glands not producing enough hormones.

Cushing’s syndrome

When adrenal glands produce too much cortisol, the resulting disease is called Cushing’s syndrome. The pituitary gland is also implicated in this disorder, as it is often the main cause of too much ACTH, possibly as a result of a tumor. Overuse of glucocorticoid medication is another possible cause, as is accumulation of toxic chemicals in the body.

Symptoms are:

  • Panting
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Increased thirst and/or appetite
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Muscle weakness and atrophy

Diagnosing Cushing’s syndrome is not easy and may require an ACTH stimulation test. In 80% of cases, the pituitary gland is the one overproducing ACTH. The other 20% of the time, there is an excess of ACTH produced by some other organ due to changes, such as a tumor on the adrenal glands.

Extra vitamins B and C to bowel tolerance support the normal function of adrenal glands.

Pineal gland

Pineal gland is largely a mystery due to the lack of sensitive tests that would discover everything it produces. One known hormone produced by the pineal gland is melatonin, which regulates immune response and wakefulness.

Rodents that had their pineal gland removed experience changes in brain waves during sleep. They may start convulsing after the procedure and there is indication the removal of the pineal gland leads to rapid spread of cancer cells.

Thyroid gland

Thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland in the lower neck area. It is made up of tiny cells interspersed with larger cells. The tiny cells take up iodine from diet and create a protein called thyroglobulin. The body turns it into two hormones, T3 and T4, which influence the metabolism of every cell in the body. Most importantly, they influence the cells to produce more proteins and spend more oxygen.

They can’t exist in blood for long – their half-life is 6 to 16 hours. T3 and T4 bind to protein in the blood, at which point they are delivered to the target area, mainly muscles, liver, and kidneys. They are detached from the protein and enter the cell. After use, some of the iodine is returned to the thyroid gland for further use.

The larger cells are called “C cells”. They produce a hormone called calcitonin, which lowers blood levels of calcium. It is released after feeding to prevent abnormal calcium levels in the blood.

Iodine is one of critical nutrients that protects the thyroid gland from dysfunction. This is especially true when the Akita has been exposed to radiation or radioactive elements.

Thyroid gland dysfunction

T4 and T3 need to be constantly supplied to the entire body for it to grow and behave properly. If they’re not, it’s likely that the thyroid gland isn’t producing enough hormones. This is called hypothyroid disease and is common in Akita.

In some cases, that happens because the thyroid gland is destroyed by the immune system, in particular white blood cells (macrophages and lymphocytes). The disease is heritable but the risk factors and triggers for it are poorly understood. At other times, the thyroid gland starts shutting down, most likely as the end result of thyroiditis, inflammation of the thyroid gland.

95% or more of problems related to the thyroid gland are due to the destruction of its tissue. This is known as “primary hypothyroidism”.

Clinical symptoms

There is an entire array of symptoms resulting from thyroid gland dysfunction. Some of them are:

  • Thinning coat
  • Hair loss in certain spots
  • Brittle, dry coat
  • Profuse shedding with no regrowth
  • Greasy coat with or without a musky odor
  • Skin infections and lesions
  • Darkening of the skin
  • Weight gain

Obesity is the first indication of hypothyroid disease, resulting in 20 or more extra kilograms on the Akita. The treatment is daily hormonal supplements until normal metabolism is restored. Weakness in the muscles, lethargy, fatigue, droopiness in posture, and a contorted facial expression are also indications of thyroid gland dysfunction.

The Akita typically starts having digestive problems as well, such as constipation, vomiting, or diarrhea, but also heart problems, seizures, and even anemia. In terms of libido and fertility, the Akita with hypothyroid disease might inexplicably fail in both.

Mood swings

Mood swings and behavior changes are common as well. Hypothyroid disease causes cortisol buildup in the body, which induces constant stress and further reduces the circulating levels of T4 and T3 in the blood. Mental stress is apparent as well, including reduced capability to deal with new situations.

A study of 634 Akitas with aggression, 62% had thyroid dysfunction, as measured by the total thyroid panel test. Akitas with fearfulness, seizures, and hyperactivity also had varying degrees of thyroid dysfunction. There was an obvious link of dog-to-human aggression with thyroid disease. Therefore, the recommendation based on that study is an annual checkup of the thyroid gland and in case of behavioral problems.


Exposure to chemicals, especially dog food additives used to increase shelf life and palatability, seems to be a major contributing factor to thyroid gland dysfunction. Some chemicals, such as dioxins and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), share a structure with thyroid hormones. They interfere with thyroid hormone receptors and the protein responsible for transferring them around the body, transthyretin.

These toxic chemicals hijack the receptors and the protein in a dose-dependent manner. If that happens in utero or during the early stages of brain development, the results can be irreversible behavior and mood changes. Even those doses that are not toxic to adult Akitas can have a lifelong impact on the fetus, especially if there’s a predisposition to a thyroid gland problem in either.

Triggers for the autoimmune destruction of the thyroid gland can be polyvalent vaccines, related viral exposure, and environmental toxins. PCBs in particular can affect the entire endocrine system in the body, including the sex hormones (androgen and estrogen).


They are yellow or black oils and waxy solids used in pigments, dyes, and industrial equipment of all kinds, such as the black plastic used for cable insulation. They were banned in the late 70s in the US but the legislation couldn’t completely eliminate them from being produced as a byproduct of some other process.

The main way Akitas get in touch with PCBs is by spending time on sites with high PCB presence, such as on landfills containing leaky transformers. Since PCBs do not degrade on their own, they can remain in the soil for a long time, leach in the water, and possibly get carried long distances.

PCBs tend to accumulate in organic debris, such as the leaf cover and plant detritus. Small aquatic organisms can also accumulate PCBs and transfer them to the Akita that eats them.

There are 209 individual PCBs, called “congeners”, with limited toxicity data on specific ones. Toxicity tests most often check commercially available mixtures of congeners; wildlife can accumulate PCBs in novel ways that produce unknown harm in the Akita ingesting them.

Indoor air tests also showed PCB concentrations higher than that of the outdoor air. This indicates that some fixtures, presumably light, may also emit PCBs long after manufacture. Waste incineration is another way PCBs enter the atmosphere, but Akitas can also get poisoned by spending time on a lawn treated with certain chemicals.

Testing for hypothyroid disease

Thyroid hormones fluctuate in the blood during the day and across seasons depending on bodily changes, such as estrus. Laboratories that perform thyroid tests in dogs may use different baselines to establish normal ranges for thyroid hormones. In addition, diseases such as infections can also contribute to thyroid hormone fluctuations.

Use of some drugs and vaccines further muddies the waters and prevents a straightforward diagnosis. Corticosteroids and anticonvulsants can also distort thyroid hormone levels without causing damage to the thyroid gland. Therefore, the ideal moment for a thyroid test is when the Akita:

  • Is not in heat
  • Has not recently received any drugs or vaccines
  • Has no apparent signs of a disease

The complete thyroid test should show:

  • Total T4
  • Total T3
  • Free T4
  • Free T3
  • Canine TSH
  • T4 and T3 autoantibodies
  • Thyroglobulin autoantibodies

This will show whether the thyroid gland is functioning properly and whether the immune system is attacking it. The numbers need to be interpreted carefully because these indicators have a complex relationship.

Interpreting the test results

Equilibrium dialysis (ED) is the golden standard of understanding thyroid hormones, being the most expensive but also the most accurate way of testing hormone presence and participation in blood. In short, ED works by filtering the blood sample through a membrane that retains protein-bound hormones while letting through the unbound ones.

Free T4 is normally a tiny fraction of unbound protein in the blood, somewhere around 0.1%. When measured accurately, free T4 is the most significant indicator of thyroid disease in Akitas.

Nutrition for a healthy thyroid

The amino acid tyrosine appears to be the essential building block of a healthy thyroid gland. To convert T4 to T3, the body will also need:

  • Zinc
  • Manganese
  • Copper
  • Iodine
  • Selenium
  • Iron
  • Magnesium

Ideally, these trace minerals would be supplied together since they synergize and work off of one another.

Dwarfism (chondrodysplasia)

Dwarfism is stunted growth and deformity of bones and the body. Both parents must carry the recessive dwarfism gene. It becomes apparent in early life, in particular in the forelimbs’ pasterns, which show bowing.

Dwarfism is diagnosed at 5–12 weeks of age using an X-ray, which also rules out rickets (vitamin D deficiency). There is no treatment. The expected lifespan of a dwarf Akita is 6–7 years. Its siblings carry the dwarfism gene as well and should not breed.


The word “diabetes” refers to excessive urination, which is the body attempting to get rid of excess blood glucose. Indeed, the urine in diabetic Akitas is saturated with glucose and other sugars.

Glucose is a potent fuel for bodily tissues and organs, since it can be easily converted into energy. The brain in particular relishes glucose and has evolved a number of mechanisms to keep the body supplied with glucose, one of which is hunger.

Akita’s body can tolerate extremely high blood glucose levels for a long time, but they ultimately cause a cascading failure in endocrine mechanisms that control blood glucose. At that point, the dog will start showing noticeable signs of diabetes.

Being a complex and advanced malfunction of the blood glucose metabolism, diabetes is incurable but it is treatable and manageable. The primary control vector is through a key hormone, insulin, which is released by the pancreas to control the uptake of glucose by the cells.

Insulin role in diabetes

There are two types of diabetes in Akitas:

  • Insulin deficiency, by far the most common type
  • Insulin resistance, which occurs in older, obese dogs

Insulin deficiency means there isn’t enough insulin being produced in the body due to damage to the pancreas. This damage can be caused by a virus or a physical injury. The treatment is daily shots of insulin.

Insulin resistance means there is enough insulin in the blood but the body isn’t using it properly. The cells aren’t behaving as they should when there’s insulin around and aren’t receiving enough energy. The treatment is using medication and lifestyle changes to remedy the problem and control blood glucose levels.

In either type of diabetes, the high blood glucose levels will become toxic for these organs:

  • Eyes
  • Kidneys
  • Blood vessels
  • Nerves
  • Heart


The most dangerous consequence of diabetes is ketoacidosis, a potentially fatal buildup of ketones in the body. When the cells are starved, the body can use fats to create an alternative source of energy, ketones. They are useful in a pinch but the body is not meant to solely rely on them. If it does, the body’s pH value shifts to acidic, resulting in a problem with electrolyte balance.

The outward symptoms of ketoacidosis are lethargy, dehydration, rapid breathing, and a sweet breath. There are ketone testing sticks that can confirm the overwhelming presence of ketones in the Akita’s urine, at which point the only recourse is an immediate visit to the vet. Otherwise, the dog’s life may be in danger.

Risk factors

Obesity is the most significant risk factor for diabetes. Overfeeding is a dangerous habit, as it normalizes obesity and gradually increases the blood glucose levels to abnormally high values. Outward symptoms of obesity become normal when they shouldn’t be and mask the symptoms of diabetes as it emerges.

Diet for diabetes

It’s possible for a diabetic Akita to live a normal life, provided there is constant monitoring of blood glucose levels. Proper diet makes blood glucose levels much more predictable, especially if it includes:

  • Steady doses of vitamin C (up to 1,000mg a day)
  • Cooked or grated raw vegetables
  • High protein of raw meat
  • Spirulina
  • Egg yolks
  • Kelp
  • Fish
  • Garlic
  • Mushrooms
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese

For emergencies and especially during exercises, carry a sweet treat in case the blood glucose levels plummet. One common cause of diabetes is damage to the pancreas. Sudden pains in the abdominal region may indicate the Akita is having issues with the pancreas, which will reflect as diabetes later on.

Whichever drugs are used to treat diabetes, they will have adverse effects on the Akita. The effects may manifest as behavior and body changes that require a trained professional to handle.


At the end of the day, it is important to be aware of Akita diabetes and other hormone issues that could affect this breed. By monitoring your dog’s diet, exercise routine, and overall health, you can help keep them safe and healthy. If you have any questions or concerns, be sure to talk to your vet as soon as possible. With the right care and management, your Akita can live a long, happy life.

Further Reading

The Akita Inu — Breed Characteristics

The iconic Akita dog is first recognized by its curled-up tail, pointed ears and fluffy fur. It has an imposing size but also a noble, calm demeanor that can still quickly turn sour if it’s agitated. It’s one of the most impressive dog breeds, carrying in itself the spirit of ancient Japan.

Read More »

Akita health

Akita Joints And Spine Problems

A limping Akita is a sad sight to behold. It seems to need help but suddenly the limp disappears and the Akita acts fine. This is a warning sign that trouble is afoot and the Akita is about to develop an issue with its joints, spine or both. Here is an overview of joint and spine problems in Akita, with probable causes and suggested remedies.

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Communicable Diseases In Akita

Akitas might not like to mingle but they can still catch communicable diseases just like any dog breed that does. These diseases quickly spread through a litter, especially an unvaccinated one, even without physical contact; all it takes is an infected bowl, toy, or blanket to spread the disease.

Read More »

Eye Health Of The Akita Inu

Akita eye problems always happen because of a nutritional deficiency and a congenital defect. Diet fortified with nutrients and early eye exams are the simplest way to detect and manage eye problems in Akita

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