A Glossary of Health Issues

The Shiba Inu is generally a sturdy, healthy little dog, well suited to outdoor  activity while also enjoying the comfort of indoors. They are natural athletes, able to run for miles. Their catlike agility and resilience provide a good resistance to injury, and the "natural" size and symmetrical proportions lessen susceptibility to conditions caused by structural imbalance. Their digestive systems can handle a variety of foods, and they generally have a robust constitution. They are easy, natural whelpers, excellent mothers, and exceptionally clean, easy-to-care-for puppies. But even with all these assets, Shibas can have some health issues. None are considered rampant, nor are they considered exclusive to the Shiba, but rather occur in all dogs. The following diseases or conditions have been identified in one or more Shibas, this list is not to suggest that the breed is overrun with health problems, but simply as information and to help owners recognize symptoms and investigate further. Maintaining a lean body weight and plenty of physical exercise is a huge factor in health and longevity.

Addison’s Disease is a disorder of the adrenal glands, where the glands produce insufficient adrenal hormones. The condition may result from damage through infection, cancer, or drugs. Pituitary gland disease may also cause adrenal insufficiency. Insufficient adrenal hormones can upset the body’s conservation of salt, reducing circulating blood volume, impairing heart and kidney function, damaging the heart muscle, and may cause faulty sugar and fat metabolism. Decreased tolerance of stress is the primary characteristic of Addison’s disease and affected pets often present in a shock-like state of collapse called an Addisonian crisis. Extensive blood and adrenal function tests are necessary to properly diagnose and plan treatment for Addison’s disease.

Allergy-like Symptoms include intense itching around the muzzle, ears and between the toes,with subsequent hair loss and secondary bacterial infection (caused by the dog damaging its own skin with scratching) – these symptoms may indicate parasites (fleas,sarcoptic OR deomodectic mites); vaccinosis (reaction to vaccines); or an allergy (see Atopic Dermatitis below).

Arthritis is defined as inflammation which may occur in any joint. Symptoms may include painful or stiff joints, swelling, a grating sensation during joint movement, as well as fever and redness over the affected joint. Arthritis can occur in several joints at one time (polyarthritis), and can be associated with internal diseases. Aging, infection, injury, blood diseases, inherited conditions, cancer, and allergic or immune-mediated disease can be causes of arthritis. X-rays and lab tests are required to determine the type and extent of the disease. Arthritis cannot be cured however therapy can be designed to minimize the discomfort and delay or prevent the progression of the disease.

Atopic Dermatitis is an allergic skin condition caused by reactions to allergens such as dust mites, pollens, mould spores, danders and insects. There’s much controversy about the link between AD and vaccinations – it is suggested (but has not been conclusively proven) that vaccines could make symptoms in AD worse, at least temporarily. There are no controlled studies to back up or refute this suggestion. However, some veterinarians suggest minimizing vaccines.

Cataracts are any abnormal cloudiness (opacity) of the eye lens or the capsule that contains the lens. They may be caused by body chemistry changes or defects, injuries to the eye, or inherited. Development ranges from a few days to years.  Cataracts should not be confused with lenticular sclerosis, which is a natural graying of the lens occurring in pets which are or are nearing about 9 years of age. This graying results from older lens fibers being forced forward by new fibers, crowding the center of the lens. Reasonable vision is retained and no corrective action is required.

Cushing’s Disease AKA hyperadrenalism, is a disorder of the adrenal glands where excessive adrenal hormones are produced. Possible causes of this condition include abnormal pituitary gland function, cortisone therapy, tumors of or unexplained overactivity of the adrenal gland. Due to hyperadrenalism being a slowly progressing disease, the early signs are often overlooked. These signs include reduced activity, increased drinking and urination, increased appetite, and enlargement of the abdomen. These symptoms will intensify as the disease progresses, and further symptoms of increased weight gain, heavy panting, and losing hair evenly on both sides of the pet’s body. Lab tests and x-rays are necessary to diagnose Cushing’s. There is no cure for this disease and controlling it may require surgical and medical treatment. Treatment must be monitored as medical therapy may cause underproduction of adrenal hormones (Addison’s disease).

Dentition such as bad bites and missing teeth are evident in every breed of dog, but when the problem is severe enough to interfere with the dog's ability to eat, it then becomes a health problem. Typically, small breeds of dogs have dental problems with weak jaws, poorly aligned teeth and early tooth loss. This also occurs in the Shiba, and can be distressing in a breed that is supposed to be a hunting dog. As many as 11 missing teeth have been reported as well as premature tooth loss. For the health of the dog, the quality as well as the quantity of the teeth should be considered.

Diabetes Mellitus is a disease caused by a deficiency of insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas necessary for body tissues to use blood sugar. Without insulin, sugar remains in the blood and eventually passes into the urine. This causes increased urine production and thirst. Hunger increases because the body cannot use the sugar in the blood. As the disease progresses, chemicals called ketones accumulate, resulting in vomiting and dehydration. Eventually coma and death occur in untreated animals. Although not curable, with proper insulin administration and urine sugar testing, the disease can be controlled at home.

Elbow Dysplasia results when there is abnormal development of one of the bones of the upper foreleg (ulna). As this bone grows a small area of the bone fails to join with the rest of the bone, causing unstable elbow joint and lameness that is aggravated by exercise. Treatment involves the surgical removal of the ununited fragment and post-operative strict exercise restriction. Elbow dysplasia occurs in young dogs and may affect one or both front legs. Due to its inheritable nature, affected animals should not be bred.

Epilepsy is a sudden, excessive discharge of electrical energy in groups of brain cells which causes seizures or convulsions. The cause of this spontaneous discharge is unknown, but in many cases the condition is hereditary in dogs. This disease usually appears between 6 months and 5 years of age. Almost all breeds have been affected, as have mixed breeds. There is no known cure for Epilepsy, however treatment controls the condition by decreasing the frequency, duration, and severity of the seizures. Seizures occur in three distinct phases and rarely last more than 5 minutes. The first phase (aura) is the period before a seizure where the pet may seem overly anxious, and will last less than a minute. The second phase is the actual seizure, which may range from a mild muscle spasm to a severe convulsion. Loss of consciousness may or may not occur. The final phase occurs immediately after the seizure, when confusion, weakness, and rapid breathing can be seen. Status epilepticus is when one seizure immediately follows another. This condition can be fatal therefore status epilepticus is a medical emergency and requires immediate medical assistance.

Glaucoma causes pressure within the eyeball to increase to dangerous levels, and is one of the most common causes of blindness in dogs and cats. Normal pressure depends on a balance between the production and escape of internal eye fluid (aqueous humor). Internal eye pressure may rise to dangerous levels if this fluid flow is blocked. The pressure can permanently destroy the retina as well as injure other structures of the eye. If glaucoma persists over a long period of time, the eyeball may become enlarged. Glaucoma may be caused in several ways - a birth defect which blocks the drainage passage (possibly inherited), injuries to the eye, tumors, inflammatory conditions, blockage of the pupil, and lens disorders. Reduction of the pressure and relieving the pain can be a complex treatment which may require hospitalization. Eye pressure should be monitored to ascertain the pet’s response to treatment. Often medication alone will not control the condition over time and other procedures may be necessary to reduce pain and save vision.

Hip Dysplasia or HD, is a potentially crippling condition where abnormal formation results in an unstable hip joint, causing arthritis and hip degeneration. There is no certain cause for HD but it is believed to develop because the skeleton grew faster than the supporting muscles. This imbalanced growth can be influenced by heredity and diet, and there may be other unknown factors which may influence the development of and severity of HD. Symptoms may occur and will vary due to the degree of affectedness. HD usually affects both hips however it occasionally affects only one side. &#x201CBunny-hopping” while running, hind leg lameness, reluctance to jump or climb stairs, and a staggering gait are all common signs of HD. Treatment depends on the severity of the disease and can range from supplemental joint therapy to surgical treatment. Dogs with HD should not be bred.

Hypothyroidism is caused by abnormal functioning of thyroid hormone resulting in inadequate production of hormones of the thyroid. The condition rarely occurs in animals under two years of age and is most likely to be seen in middle-aged or older pets. Symptoms include all or a random combination of the following: hair loss, slow hair growth, recurrent skin infection, dry coat and skin, premature graying of the muzzle, dark pigment in the skin, increased sleep, reduced stamina, and reduced tolerance to cold. Females may experience irregular heat cycles as well as reduced fertility. Males may have a shrinkage of the testes and do not show interested in females. Blood tests are necessary to diagnose the condition and monitor the treatment. There is not a cure for this condition, but lifetime drug therapy is necessary to control it.

Patellar Luxation is defined as the dislocation of the kneecap, allowing the kneecap to move toward the inside, or outside of the leg, as well as moving on both directions. Patellar luxation may be present at birth or may be the result of an injury. This disease can vary in severity and duration of the luxation, although it usually is found in milder forms in small breeds. Severe cases will cause more intense pain and limping. Treatment can range from 1-2 weeks rest to surgical reconstruction of the knee joint. Over weight dogs will also require weight reduction.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy or PRA, is a slowly progressive eye disease where the retina slowly wastes away. It causes no discomfort but will result in permanent blindness. PRA has been determined in some breeds to be heriditary. It occurs in all breeds of dogs and cats, can appear earlier in some breeds as well as taking several years to complete blindness in others. The retina contains light-sensitive rods and cones that change light into energy for transmitting messages to the brain, and can be likened to that of film in a camera. The first noticeable symptom usually is the pet’s inability to see in dim light. Due to the slowing progressive nature of PRA most pets adapt well to the gradual loss of sight. There is no effective treatment available and blindness will eventually result. Prevention can be obtained through selective breeding of animals with normal eyes.