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The Akita Information Center
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Akita Thyroid Issues
Akita Eyes
What may seem to be an allergy issue may actually be an issue with the thyroid. An imbalance of thyroid levels compromises the immune system which can affect the liver, heart, pancreas and the skin.

Canine thyroids require a large quantity of iodine but only secrete approximately 1/3 of it as hormonal iodine. 

It is thought, by some, that for this breed, there may be some connection to diet, as the Akita evolved on a high iodine diet (derived from fish) and this may be what led the breed to be sensitive to today’s diet.

There is 1 form of hypothyroidism in adult dogs, although for a long time it was thought that there were 2, both Lymphocytic thyroiditis and idiopathic atrophy.

It is now known that idiopathic (previously thought of as cause unknown) is actually the same disease but at different stages. Idiopathic atrophy is, in effect, canines that have had Lymphocytic thyroiditis for 2 years.

Less common is congenital (present at birth) and secondary hypothyroidism (caused by tumors or other abnormalities).

Lymphocytic thyroiditis is an immune-mediated disease which is caused by a buildup of antibodies that attack the dog’s own tissues or glands.  It is not uncommon with the Akita breed and it is both hereditary in the sense that it can be a congenital defect and the condition can be aggravated by external factors including stress, diet, environment, radiation, chemicals, antibiotics and toxins.

Unfortunately, the Akita breed is prone to this, as are the Dalmatian, Boxer, Husky, Golden Retriever, English Setter, Basenji and Shetland Sheepdog.

Symptoms of Hypothyroidism with the Akita Breed

Not all symptoms need to be present; there may be an imbalance if your dog is showing just 1 of the following signs:
  • Lethargy (fatigue, a slowing down and signs of feeling tired and weak)
  • Weight gain
  • Low appetite
  • Coat issues – This can include a dulling of the coat and/or hair loss.  A thinning may be noticeable on the front of the neck to the chest, the back of the thighs, the sides of the body and/or the tail. The coat may become overly dry and brittle, to the point of clear breakage.
  • Skin issues – Skin may flake which appears to look like dandruff, along with a bad odor. There may be a rash and intense itching. For some Akita dogs, certain areas of the skin may appear raised and swollen.
  • A darkening of the skin on the stomach
  • Sudden aggressive behavior
  • Intolerance to cold
  • Seizures (rare)
  • Infertility / Skipping heat cycles (females) – This is one of the most common health concerns for Akita breeders. ALL dogs should be tested before breeding.  Additionally, dogs that are used in programs should be tested at regular intervals, as one normal reading does not clear a dog.

Secondary and Associated Conditions


Hypothyroid dogs may develop:
  • Blepharitis (the outer tissues of the eye to become inflamed)
  • Corneal ulcers
  • Deafness
  • Adult-onset megaesophagus ( a weakening of the esophagus muscles) 
  • Chronic constipation
  • Anemia (a loss of red blood cells)
Hypothyroidism has been found in association with:
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy (a disease of the heart muscle)
  • Strokes
  • Myasthenia gravis (a neuromuscular disease that presents as muscle weakness)

Approximately 2/3 of dogs that have a high serum cholesterol level also are found to have thyroid problems when further tested. For this reason, if an Akita is found to have elevated serum cholesterol, this is a red flag that calls out for a thyroid level workup.

What Happens as the Disease Progresses

The body creates antibodies that work against the thyroid gland AND to the hormones that it secretes. These antibodies, which develop in the dog’s blood, often exist for months if not years before it is apparent that there is a problem.

Aside from congenial (at birth) hypothyroidism, the levels of hormones in the bloodstream do not drop until a rather large section of the thyroid gland has been destroyed.  Once this happens, it is then that symptoms will begin appearing.

Diagnosis

Reading test results is often a matter of interpretation based on the frequency with which the lab runs the test, the norm for the Akita breed and taking into consideration the clinical sings in the dog. Many veterinarians that are unfamiliar with the Akita will look at a dog with a good coat, with no visible skin lesions and say, “Looks fine to me!”.

If you have noticed the above listed signs, it is highly recommended to locate a reputable veterinarian who has experience with this breed.

Thyroid Levels of the Akita

Normal levels for this breed will be slightly higher than what is considered normal for most other dog breeds. In addition, levels can fluctuate due to stress or, with females, the heat cycle.

If a test result is normal, but borderline, a recheck in 2 weeks could result in a completely different reading. Also, a dog with seemingly
normal levels may still have a hormone deficiency if the thyroid receptors are low, insensitive, defective or blocked.

Lab tests may also disagree with symptoms because of a quantity of thyroid hormone is measured rather than its biological effectiveness for that particular dog.  Best is for a veterinarian to look at test results, symptoms and clinical condition of the dog before making a diagnosis.

Keeping in mind that this breed should be at the high end of the normal, these are the normal ranges:
  • Total Thyroxin (TT4) (Normal: 22-54)
  • Total Triiodothyronine (TT3) (Normal: 1.2-3.1)
  • Free T4 (FT4) (Normal: 8-36)
  • Free T3 (FT3) (Normal: 1.0-3.7)
Treatment

The treatment for hypothyroidism involves hormone replacement therapy.  Most veterinarians will begin with prescribing medication and this works very well for most dogs. Only in severe cases there may be a recommendation for surgical removal of the diseased portion of the thyroid gland.

It may take some trial and error to find the exact medication that works best for any one particular dog, while a time period of 2 to 3 months is given to see if there is a sign of improvement, for many if it is indeed the correct one, improvement is seen in just weeks.

In regard to fur loss, this can take longer to see regrowth, usually upward of 4 months. Once levels are controlled it, a decision may be made to lower the dosage.



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