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.

Table of Contents

Joint structure

A joint is where an independently articulating limb connects to the body. Made out of bone and cartilage tightly interwoven with muscles, tendons and ligaments, joints provide a smooth range of movement and an effortless return to poise.

When a joint is healthy, it allows for a fine distribution of forces on the entire limb. When damaged, a joint causes discomfort and limits the Akita’s range of movement. The two main causes of damage are injury and repeated excessive strain.

Inside and around the joint, ligaments connect bones while tendons connect muscles with bones. Ligaments and tendons are made of tough, fibrous tissue that acts like a seat belt — it can slowly stretch but will stiffen when exposed to overwhelming forces. This means Akita’s exercise should always start with a warm-up, to increase circulation to the muscles and loosen up the ligaments and tendons before the real exercise.

Knee Problems

Each knee connects three bones:

  • Shin (tibia)
  • Kneecap (patella)
  • Thigh (femur)

and five ligaments that provide stability and limit the range of motion to keep the bones in place. Two knee ligaments are especially sensitive to pivoting and twisting movements of the shin and the thigh — anterior (front) and posterior (back) cruciate ligament. Their purpose is to keep the tibia firmly attached to the femur.

When one of them breaks, almost always the front, the knee becomes filled with fluid and unstable, resulting in a lame gait. This rarely happens at once but rather through many repeated small injuries that weaken the ligament until the decisive moment, when a strong jerk causes ligament breakage. These small injuries can be recognized the moment they happen because the Akita will momentarily limp and then return to normal.

Akitas younger than four years are the ones most prone to ligament breakage since they are too temperamental but older overweight and unfit Akitas are at risk too. A veterinarian will diagnose a ruptured ligament by touching the knee, doing an ultrasound or an X-ray.

The therapy involves surgery to repair the broken ligament and stabilize the knee using one of many methods, such as by screwing a special bone plate into the knee. The recovery is painful and, if it involves fentanyl patches, can be deadly if an Akita has an adverse reaction to the patch. Pain medication should be kept at a minimum, just enough to allow the Akita to function normally.

The surgery incision needs cleaning and checkups to spot signs of inflammation, such as redness and fluid discharge. This procedure has an 85% chance of full recovery, provided the Akita is kept under strict watch and not allowed to do the same activity that caused the ligament breakage. The Akita’s physical activity should be limited to a playpen for at least six weeks but there is still a 50% chance the other knee will experience a ligament breakage within a year unless the Akita gets a lifestyle revamp.

Knee ligament problems becoming widespread in Akitas prompted research into the actual cause. In Akitas with a knee ligament break, the joint lining was found to have all the hallmarks of heightened immune activity. One antibacterial drug used on livestock, nitrofurazone, can cause the weakening of Akita’s joints; traces of nitrofurazone were found in meat samples in the US.

The patella can also cause trouble if it slips, which is genetically predisposed. The result is an increasing lameness in the Akita and the only solution is surgery. Akitas with this health problem are not fit for breeding and are ineligible for shows. There is a certification for purebred Akitas that confirms the puppy’s parents are free from patella defects.

Spine problems

The spine comprises segments that behave like shock absorbers, providing the entire body with support and a range of movement. These segments are spongy and soft at birth and in adolescence, giving the young Akita a lot of flexibility without any risk of harm. However, the segments gradually lose their water content and stiffen as the Akita grows up.

This stiffening causes the segments to settle, which combined with obesity and incorrect exercise causes degenerative changes on the entire spine. Spine nerves caught near or between the segments can be compressed, pinched or damaged, causing pain and weakness. If the Akita has this spine issue, it will experience pain when attempting to jump straight up and will extend one leg when sitting down.

Inflammation of the spine or the surrounding tissue leads to the segments grinding against one another, which makes them not bear the weight of the body as efficiently as they should. Luckily, there is a treatment and it overlaps with joint arthritis prevention, boosting overall joint health.

Hip problems

Going up a flight of stairs is a great exercise for humans but can cause problems for an Akita due to the unnatural gait that shifts all the body weight to the hip. Strenuous exercise or jumping on hard surfaces can also damage the hip joints.

Hip dysplasia causes lameness and pain, showing up in Akitas as young as 20 weeks to herald serious hip issues in adulthood. In its simplest form, it means the hip joint has become loose, with the bone slipping out of the designated socket in the joint.

One theory states Akita puppies can be born with fine hips but experience abnormal bone growth that leads to hip dysplasia. When the bone starts slipping out of the joint, it grinds the surrounding bone tissue and again leads to arthritis and other degenerative changes on the hip. Ultimately, the hip becomes loose and does not hold the body weight as it is meant to.

Since the problem can appear in various forms, only an X-ray can reveal the extent of the problem and suggest a therapy; visually identifying hip dysplasia is not possible. Study of hip problems across dog breeds shows the dam is the main culprit in the puppy’s hip problems, though there is no surefire way to breed for strong hips.

Breeders can take measures to ensure their Akitas have healthy hips by requesting a hip screening procedure from a certified body. During the procedure, the Akita’s hips, and sometimes elbows, are scanned with an X-ray machine and the scans are evaluated for signs of hip and joint problems. In essence, the experts doing the evaluation look at how snugly the bone fits in the hip socket and whether there are other signs of a lax hip.

Any genetic predisposition to hip problems is exacerbated by Akita’s obesity and incorrect exercise. There is little that can be done to prevent hip damage using diet; calcium supplements can even worsen the problem. Surgery is the preferred treatment for hip dysplasia, with the only alternative being pain management, which is suitable for mild cases.

Depending on which factors aggravate hip dysplasia, the surgery can do the following:

  • remove a piece of the muscle the loosens the joint
  • create a new hip socket for the bone
  • completely replace the hip with a steel replica

In short, hip problems in Akitas are passed down from its parents and then manifested if the lifestyle favors them. Prestigious Akita breeders should make sure their dams and sires are checked for signs of hip problems before engaging them in breeding.


Arthritis is an umbrella term for the consequences of the mechanical degeneration of the joint or spine. If parts of the joint that are normally apart start to press and scrape against each other, they grind themselves to a nub, leading to arthritic symptoms, such as:

  • Sore, tender spots on the joint
  • Swelling, redness and inflammation of the joint
  • Reduction in the range of movement in that area
  • Stiffness that gets worse after an activity

Because joints distribute weight, one arthritic joint heralds arthritis in other nearby joints, which now have to handle increased pressure and strain, causing them to grind themselves to a nub as well. Akita health surveys list arthritis as the biggest health problem, followed by hip, knee and spine problems.

Any joint on the body can be affected by arthritis but it most often targets toes, shoulders, elbows and hips. Studies done on human arthritis patients show there is a 40% chance the inflammation spreads to the eyes, the skin and the heart, causing an auto-immune disease. There have been no such studies on arthritis in Akitas, but it is a good idea to check for arthritis as an underlying cause whenever the Akita has been diagnosed with an auto-immune disease.

The priority in curing arthritis is maintaining comfort while the underlying cause is being treated, most often using NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). They block pain and inflammation but do have side effects that should be discussed with the veterinarian.

Natural remedies

The simplest natural remedy to Akita joint and spine problems is a healthy diet that includes these supplements:

  • Zinc
  • Copper
  • Manganese
  • Vitamin C
  • Organically raised protein sources (minimizes ingestion of medicine used in livestock)
  • Antioxidants (prevents cell damage)
  • Chondroitin and glucosamine (amino sugars that stimulate cartilage repair)
  • L-carnitine (neuroprotective amino acid that also maintains muscle mass)
  • Yucca (soapy plant extract that helps detoxify the body)
  • Boswellia (plant extract with anti-inflammatory effects)
  • Bromelain (enzyme from pineapples that can dissolve internal scar tissue)

DLPA (DL-Phenylalanine) is a natural amino acid that lowers chronic arthritis pain. It does not cause addiction and has no side effects. Taken in 500–750mg doses, 2–3 times a day before meals, DLPA improves the arthritic Akita’s condition within 2 weeks.

ETA (eicosatetraenoic acid) is an omega-3 fatty acid extracted from New Zealand mussels that reduces arthritic pain and inflammation in Akitas after mere six weeks of use. It is added to dry dog food or used as capsules in either powdered extract or oil form.

NAG (N-acetyl-glucosamine) is a form of glucosamine produced in the intestines that maintains overall health. Akitas with bowel problems may not produce enough NAG to repair occasional joint damage.

MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) is a sulfur nutrient that aids the production of connective tissue, including that found in joints. It also alleviates allergic symptoms by reducing the immune response to ingested or inhaled particles.

Sea cucumber treats contain chondroitin and trace minerals, increasing joint flexibility and reducing inflammation.

SOD (superoxide dismutase) is a nutrient from green plants that prevents muscles from stiffening and helps alleviate age-related degenerative joint processes in Akitas.

The market is awash with supplements meant to resolve Akita joint and spine problems, but there is never a wonder cure. Finding a trustworthy veterinarian who knows what supplements work and how to use them is priceless.

Acupuncture can also help by using needles to stimulate certain points on the body that coincide with nerve clusters. In theory, acupuncture always relieves pain and relaxes the body but in practice, the effect can vary depending on how it is being done.


Akita joint and spine problems are layered health issues that indicate the body is struggling to repair some form of damage due to a lack of nutrients and care.

Early diagnosis of joint and spine problems in Akitas is the biggest factor that determines the chance of full recovery. Observing the Akita to spot signs of discomfort, even temporary ones, goes a long way to diagnosing and curing its joint and spine problems while they are easy to manage.

Surgery is the quickest solution but also one fraught with complications. Unless the underlying lifestyle risk factors are eliminated, even surgery might not be enough. Alternative remedies are much easier to try and back out of.

Proper breeding practices favor Akitas with a healthy joint and spine structure but weight management and a sensible exercise regimen are crucial in delaying and minimising Akita joint and spine injuries when they do happen.

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.

Read More »

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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