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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Akita Inu eye health

Akita’s eye is a complicated organ, but it works in a simple way. Light bounces off objects and enters the pupil, passes through the lens, and strikes the nerves on the retina. The brain gets the signals through the optic nerve and translates them into a picture. Where the pictures from the two eyes overlap, the Akita has a greater depth perception. Akita’s eyes are set apart to provide a wider field of view at the expense of depth perception.

Eye structure

The eye position and movement is controlled by seven eye muscles, powerful enough to instantly turn the eye as needed. During the movement, the eye is temporarily blind. Fat pads inside the eye socket cushion the movement, and some of these muscles can pull the eye deeper into the socket to prevent injury.

Eyelashes and two eyelids block the debris; tear and sebaceous glands provide lubrication for the eye and help clean it from the debris. Each eye has a third eyelid as well, hidden beneath the lower one, protecting from injury and cleaning the eye as needed. It’s usually hidden from view by a set of muscles; when it’s exposed, it might mean the eye is damaged.

The eye is made of layers, which are, from front to back:

  • sclera/cornea
  • aqueous humor
  • lens/iris/pupil
  • choroid
  • vitreous humor
  • retina

The white of the eye is called “sclera”. Its purpose is to nourish the entire eye with blood, oxygen, and nutrients. The transparent part of the sclera is called “cornea”. Compared to sclera, cornea is very delicate and sensitive to pain. It is larger than in humans, giving an Akita a better night vision.

The cornea’s curvature helps light go through the opening in the iris and fall on the retina. This opening is called “pupil” and can react to the ambient light, expanding in dark and contracting in bright light. Behind the iris is the “lens”, which is controlled by special muscle-like tissues to contract and expand, controlling where the light falls on the retina.

Thanks to the lens, the eye can focus on near or far objects as needed. In older Akitas, the lens becomes thicker and develops a blue tint. This doesn’t impact the Akita’s vision.

The eye is filled with two fluids that are rich in nutrients and help focus the light.

Between the cornea and the retina is a layer called “choroid”, a thin membrane that blocks out stray light. It is rich with blood vessels and heavily pigmented. The term for the choroid, the muscle-like tissues and the iris is “uvea”; inflammation of any of these is called uveitis.

Around the retina, there is another membrane called “tapetum lucidum”. It reflects stray light onto the retina, providing for a better night vision. In poorly lit situations, Akita’s eyes can flash blue or yellow, which is due to the tapetum lucidum.

Retina is a light-sensitive layer lining the interior of the eye. It consists of rod-shaped and cone-shaped cells; rods detect light, and cones detect color. In Akitas, there are five rods for each cone, giving them a solid night vision and just enough color recognition to see blue and orange but not red and green.

Eye Diseases


A lens with an opaque spot is diagnosed with a cataract. It appears either as a genetically predisposed condition, as a result of an uveitis or due to nutritional deficiencies. Akitas with cataracts will most often not show any problems with vision until the cataract is in an advanced stage. The nutritional cause of cataracts is most likely due to lack of arginine in the diet, specifically because of feeding the Akita cow/goat/processed milk rather that weaning it on its mother’s milk.

The protein content of cow/goat/artificial milk is 30–70% lower than that of a female Akita. Arginine is found in meat, but especially in the liver, so the most sensible solution is added beef or liver baby food to the non-Akita milk; there can’t be too much meat/liver, save that it causes gastric distress.

Akita puppies should be weaned on a female Akita’s milk to reduce the chance of nutritional cataracts.  If using milk replacements, check their protein level and whether they have added arginine.

Cataracts are diagnosed with a thorough eye exam and treated with surgery, a routine procedure with few complications and a high success rate.


The aqueous liquid inside the eye can build up, leading to a part of the eye enlarging and exerting pressure on the rest of the eye structures. This is most often a complication of another health problem or a result of injury.

Glaucoma that is not a caused by a health complication or injury is most often caused by the immune system or bad genes. In all case, the glaucoma progresses the same way — fluid buildup inside the eye due to some kind of obstruction causes a pressure increase and intense pain, eventually leading to blindness.

As the glaucoma worsens, the Akita will go from having runny eyes and squinting to depression and constant whining. A vet will diagnose the glaucoma by measuring the pressure inside the eyes. Eye drops may alleviate the symptoms but the disease inevitably worsens, leading to one or both eyes being removed.

Deficiencies in vitamin C, magnesium and alpha-lipoic acid are linked to glaucoma; supplementing those nutrients might help slow the disease down. Talking with a vet about the best nutrition is a good idea.

Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA)

In some Akitas aged five or older, rods and cones can start rapidly degenerating, with an early symptom being night blindness. The final result is always blindness, with no treatment for the disease. The causes are genetic, with retina tests at four weeks of age showing the early signs of PRA. Genes determining the disease are recessive, meaning the parents can carry it without showing any signs of PRA.

Small eye syndrome (microphthalmia)

Cloudy, abnormally small eyes showing up in Akita puppies as young as 3 weeks might mean the small eye syndrome. Stiff, restricted eye movement and congenital deficiencies in eye or face structure are common as well.

The appearance of microphthalmia in one puppy makes the entire litter ineligible for breeding, even if the siblings don’t have any apparent flaws. They are likely to carry the recessive gene combination responsible for the disease, and research appears to show the gene carriers also have perturbed coat colors. Gravid Akita’s exposure to fungicides, pesticides and industrial degreasers are known to cause microphthalmia in her puppies.


The lower eyelid can turn in, scraping the cornea to cause discomfort, pain, runny eyes, and infection. In some cases, entropion can affect the upper lid. The problem is solved through surgery, though the condition makes the affected Akita ineligible for breeding. If untreated, entropion leads to blindness.


In humans, antioxidants and manganese help prevent cataracts, making it feasible that the same works for Akitas as well. Other nutrients that fortify eye health are:

  • Vitamin E
  • Selenium
  • Vitamin A
  • Carotene
  • Folic Acid
  • Melatonin
  • Bilberry
  • Flavonoids (quercetin and its derivatives in particular)
  • Lutein
  • Ginger
  • Rosemary
  • Turmeric

Vets frown at the mention of supplementing an Akita’s diet with vitamin C since its liver can produce plenty from glucose. Still, there’s no way to know if your Akita’s liver is producing enough of vitamin C to shield its body from all the toxins and stresses.

If you do want to supplement your Akita’s diet with vitamin C, the goal is 2,000mg a day but you should start small and pay attention to Akita’s reaction. For a puppy, use pediatric liquid as early as 10 days of age. Wean it on 75mg of vitamin C a day from 6 months of age and then gradually work up to 2,000mg a day.

Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) shields the eye blood vessels from damage, especially that caused by glaucoma, but also prevents cataract formation. Consult with a vet before starting your Akita on 30mg of ALA a day and don’t exceed 200mg a day, except in severe diabetes cases.

Flavonoids give color to plants and their fruits. They synergize with vitamins, boosting their effect. Bilberry is a blueberry-like fruit, with anecdotal evidence supporting its protective effect on the eye affected by PRA and cataract formation. Bilberry extracts are rich in flavonoids, supplied to an Akita in a capsule 1–2 times a day.

Vitamin E is another antioxidant, with its specialty being to help fats remain stable and promote vitamin C’s effects. If both are present in the eye when the liver produces glutathione, a complex antioxidant, the three synergize for the proper drainage of ocular fluids and regular lens metabolism.


Degenerative eye diseases are rare in Akitas. They are passed on through genes but why they appear in some Akitas and not in others is unknown. The most likely explanation is that there is an unknown level of genetic propensity for each eye disease, increased by environmental factors and decreased by proper care and nutrition.

The quantity of any given nutrient is not as important as its presence in the diet. Small amounts of various nutrients synergize with each other when taken together, helping provide for a strong, healthy Akita’s eyes at all stages of 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.

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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.

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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

Read More »

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