Akita Breed Guide: History, Characteristics & Care

by Richard Walther, DVM
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Akita Breed Guide
Is an Akita the right choice for you and your family? Learn more about this dog breed, including the temperament of an Akita, its physical trainability, and more.

Originating from Japan, Akita dogs are known for being extremely loyal pets. There are actually two separate varieties of the breed: an American variety, also known as the Akita or American Akita, and a Japanese variety called Japanese Akita or Akita Inu.

While these beautiful dogs are very affectionate towards the members of their families, they can be aloof with strangers and other pets. In addition, due to their size, they would do best with experienced owners. Does this sound like you? Read on to find out if the Akita is the right choice of pet for your family.

Table of Contents

Pro Tip: Unfortunately, Akitas are at risk of several breed-specific health issues. Be sure to enroll in pet insurance to reduce the cost of possible vet bills that may arise throughout your dog's life.

Akita breed history

The Akita was named for the province of Akita in northern Japan, the breed’s region of origin. The breed is believed to originate in the 1600s1 when it was used for hunting and guarding Japanese royalty. To the Japanese people, these dogs traditionally represent good luck and health. In 1931, Japan declared the breed a Natural Monument and instituted a breed standard three years later.

During WWII, the breed was almost extinct in Japan when privations led to the government issuing an order to kill all Akita dogs.

The breed was introduced to the US by Helen Keller2, who brought the first Akita in 1937. After WWII, Akita dogs were brought to the States by servicemen and the popularity of the breed started to grow. The breed was officially recognized by the AKC in 1972.

Akita characteristics

Physical appearance

Akitas are large, sturdy, and powerful dogs. The average weight of an Akita is about 110 pounds for males and about 80 pounds for females. The male Akita's height averages between 26 and 28 inches, while the female’s height is between 24 and 26 inches.

Their bodies are muscular and slightly longer than they’re tall, and their legs are straight and strong. These Japanese dogs have broad chests and necks, as well as large heads with short muzzles, small eyes, and erect ears. The tail is full and curled over the body.

Akitas’ coat is short to medium in length and quite dense. They have a thick and soft undercoat, which makes them well suited to colder climates. The colors of the Akita dogs include:

  • Black
  • Fawn
  • White
  • Red
  • Brown
  • Brown Brindle
  • Red Brindle
  • Fawn Brindle
  • Black, Brown Undercoat
  • Black, Silver Undercoat
  • Black, Red Undercoat
  • Black, Fawn Undercoat
  • Brown, Black Overlay
  • Fawn, Black Overlay
  • Red, Black Overlay
  • Silver, Black Overlay
  • White, Red Shading
  • Silver
  • Black Brindle
  • Silver Brindle

Akitas also have well-defined markings across the body. Some members of the breed have a mask on their face, highlighting their intelligent eyes.

It should be noted that American Akita breed standards accepts all coat colors, while the Japanese breed is limited in color markings.3 The American Akita also differs by its bigger size, with a bear-like head and heavier bones, while Japanese Akitas are recognizable for their fox-like head.

american akita side profile

Temperament and personality

Typically, the Akita temperament is reserved, although these dogs tend to be very affectionate and loyal to their owners. These personality traits, along with a general distrust and hostility to strangers, often make Akitas great watch watch dogs. According to the ATTS4, 77.80% of the Akita temperaments passed the test (465 out of 598), which measures different aspects of temperament such as stability, shyness, and protectiveness towards owners.

Akitas were never bred to work or live in groups, so they’re usually happiest to live as a single household pet. Owners should be especially cautious in canine interactions as they may be aggressive toward other dogs, especially those of the same sex. With proper socialization, Akitas can learn to tolerate other animals.

Because Akitas are large, powerful, and headstrong dogs, they are not always the best choice for families with small children. They can be quite possessive of their toys or food and are generally not open to playing. However, with proper training and early socialization, Akitas can learn to behave around kids and make excellent family pets.

akita dog walking in grass

Average lifespan

The Akita life expectancy ranges from 10 to 13 years, on average5. In general, Akitas stay healthy as long as their owners provide them with proper healthcare, nutrition, and exercise. If well cared for, the members of this breed will show signs of sickness only when they’ve reached senior age.

Akita care tips

Training and exercise

Akitas are very intelligent dogs but they are also quite independent and headstrong, which can make them difficult to control. Due to their size and energy, they require consistent training from an early age. They can easily become bored with it but thrive when challenged and given jobs to do. Early socialization is very important in order for your pet to learn not to perceive strangers as a threat.

Akitas are generally not highly active and require moderate exercise. A brisk walk or jog once a day should be enough to keep them in good shape. They also enjoy playing and tend to love water so many members of the breed enjoy an occasional swim.

Diet and nutrition

Akita puppies grow rapidly, which makes them susceptible to bone disorders. They need a high-quality, low-calorie diet that prevents them from growing too fast. Adult Akitas should be fed three to five cups of dry food distributed into two meals.

Some members of the breed are prone to getting overweight, so make sure to watch your dog’s calorie intake and discuss any special needs with your vet.

Be sure your Akita has access to clean, fresh water at all times. Don’t forget that these pets can be food-possessive, and should be fed away from kids or other animals.

Grooming requirements

In general, Akitas are clean dogs that don't require extensive grooming. Brushing at least once a week should be enough to help their thick double coat look its best. Akitas shed profusely when the season changes from cold to warm and vice versa. During this time, they require more frequent grooming in order to get rid of the dead coat. Their teeth should be brushed often and their nails should be trimmed on a regular basis.

Living with an Akita

Even though Akitas are large dogs, they can do well in relatively small homes, provided they have enough daily exercise. These hardy dogs were originally bred to withstand the harsh outdoor conditions of northern Japan as guardians and house dogs, and tend to adapt very well to life in the home.6

Akitas are relatively silent dogs. When they aren’t chasing smaller animals around, they love to nap for hours throughout the day.

They also like to keep clean and are easily housebroken. This, along with their affection and loyalty, makes them very popular as pets.

akita inu close up photo

Common Akita health problems

Like most purebreds, this lineage of Japanese canines is more prone to certain health issues in dogs that may be less common in other breeds due to a smaller gene pool:

  • Gastric dilatation-volvulus, also known as bloat, occurs when dogs eat or drink too quickly, resulting in the production of gas. If the dog’s bloated stomach twists, it will cut off the blood supply and become a medical emergency. Unfortunately,
  • Hip dysplasia is a congenital condition in which the hip joint doesn’t fit together perfectly, eventually leading to arthritis.
  • Sebaceous adenitis is an autoimmune skin disease where the skin glands become sore and inflamed, resulting in hair loss on the back and head.
  • Hypothyroidism refers to an underactive thyroid gland that leads to issues with dogs’ skin, weight, and energy levels.
  • Various eye problems, including inherited problems such as canine cataracts and multifocal retinal dysplasia, canine glaucoma, progressive retinal atrophy, entropion, and ectropion.

Pro Tip: Keeping your Akita healthy requires great medical care, which is why many owners choose to buy Akita pet insurance as a way to ensure affordable coverage for their pet.

Adopting or buying an Akita dog

If you’re thinking about welcoming an Akita puppy to your family, the Akita Club of America is a good place to start your search. If you’re thinking about adopting an Akita, consider researching local rescue groups or check out the Akita Club of America Rescue.

If you are interested in similar breeds, take a look at German Shepherd, Siberian Husky, and Shar-Pei.


Key Takeaways

  • Known as a national treasure in Japan, the Akita is a large, muscular dog breed known for its intelligence, loyalty, and bravery.
  • Akitas are extremely affectionate pets who are happy to provide their owners with companionship and security. However, most members of the breed prefer being the only pet in a household without young kids, unless they have been properly socialized and trained from an early age.
  • These beautiful big dogs are not very energetic and only require moderate exercise. They also enjoy having a job to do and following their owners wherever they go.
  • Just like other breeds, Akitas are prone to certain health conditions, such as hip dysplasia, gastric dilatation-volvulus, and eye issues.

References

  1. Brittanica, "Akita dog" Accessed Nov. 10, 2021.
  2. Akita Club of America, "Helen Keller" Accessed Nov. 10, 2021.
  3. AKC, "Akita breed standards" Accessed Nov. 10, 2021.
  4. ATTS, "Breed Statistics" Accessed Nov. 10, 2021.
  5. AKC, "Akita" Accessed Nov. 10, 2021.
  6. Akitas.org, "Akita Breed History" Accessed Nov. 10, 2021.
Ricky Walther, DVM

About the author

Richard Walther, DVM

Associate Veterinarian - Petco

Ricky Walther, DVM, is a small animal general practitioner in the greater Sacramento, California area. Realizing the positive financial and medical impact that pet insurance can provide for pet parents and the profession, he lends support and advice to companies like Pawlicy Advisor that simplify the process of connecting with veterinary financing resources.

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