All About Akitas

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on June 20, 2024
7 min read

Akitas are courageous, furry giants from the working group. They’re the strong, quiet guardians of the dog world. 

Of course, Akitas aren’t for everyone. They’re not particularly social animals. Families with small children and other dogs should consider bringing home a different breed

If you’re looking for a fiercely loyal and occasionally affectionate guard dog, though, then these are the right pets for you. 

Body size. The Akita size can be intimidating to people who are unfamiliar with the breed. The males are typically larger than the females.

A male’s average height falls between 26 and 28 inches. Females are usually anywhere from 24 to 26 inches tall. 

A healthy male can weigh anywhere from 100 to 130 pounds. Healthy females average between 70 and 100 pounds. Be sure to talk to your veterinarian if you’re worried that your pet is too far underweight or overweight.  

Their large size means that the Akita can be a difficult dog to transport. You need to keep their needs in mind whenever you make travel plans. They also need a decent amount of space to live. Make sure your home is big enough for the entire family before choosing this dog. 

Body shape. Akitas are burly, heavy-boned dogs. They’re slightly longer than they are tall, which gives them a rectangular shape. 

Typical Akita characteristics include strong bodies that are topped by massive — but proportionate — heads. When you are looking down on these dogs, their heads look like blunt triangles. Their ears are erect points that look small compared to the rest of their head. 

Their tails are large and full. They naturally balance out their wide heads. The tail is always raised up over their backs. 

Lifespan. The Akita lifespan is surprisingly long for such a large breed. It’s very likely that yours will live for longer than a decade. 

The average lifespan for the breed is between 10 and 14 years. This means that you should prepare for a long life with your pet — especially if you get them as a puppy.  

Coat. Akitas have a double coat of medium length. This means that they grow two different coats — each with unique characteristics. 

Their undercoats are thick, dense, and soft. It’s the shorter of the two coats. 

Their outer coats are straight and have a rough texture. They’re shortest on the head and limbs and get longer on their torsos. The longest that the coat gets on their bodies is around two inches. The outer coat also makes up the very long strands on their tails.   

Akitas are a colorful dog breed. There are at least 20 color combinations recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC). Examples include: 

  • Black
  • Brown
  • Red
  • Silver
  • Fawn with a black overlay
  • White with red shading

These colors can come in a number of patterns. Examples include: 

  • Black masks
  • White masks
  • Pinto
  • White markings 

Eyes. They have small, deep-set eyes that are vaguely shaped like triangles. They’re most often dark brown in color. 

Personality. The Akita personality isn’t what everyone expects from a dog. They aren’t full of bouncy enthusiasm, but rather, are calm and reserved. 

The Akita temperament is defined by their alert disposition. At their best, they’re full of courage and strength. They’re also fiercely loyal. This means that they make fantastic guard dogs — something they were bred to do.

Being around other dogs — particularly of the same sex — tends to bring out the worst in them. They become defensive and intolerant. 

This means your Akita may be at their happiest and most affectionate when separate from other dogs. Some Akitas can get along with housemates too, though, so you’ll just need to decide what situation is best for your individual pet. 

Grooming. Akitas have moderate grooming needs. You should brush their coats at least once a week to keep them looking their best. 

Most of the time, they don’t shed very much, but about twice a year, their undercoat will shed massive amounts of fur. When this happens, brush them as often as you can to keep some of the shed coat off of your furniture. 

Trim their nails when needed and brush their teeth daily with a dog-friendly toothpaste to round out their grooming routine. 

Feeding. Your Akita's diet will depend on their age and size. Most will do well on a high-quality diet. Pick out a brand that you both like or make your own. Just make sure to talk to your veterinarian about your dog’s nutritional needs before making your own food as it is very difficult to get a well-balanced, nutritionally complete diet

Some experts recommend that Akitas who are older than seven eat fewer calories than they did when they were younger. In fact, most dogs from this breed should only eat senior food after age seven. 

Always make sure that clean water is available to your dog. Additionally — since Akitas can be protective of their food — you should make sure to keep them away from other dogs while they eat or when they get treats. 

Exercise and Mental Stimulation. Akitas don’t need a lot of exercise to be healthy. Most will be fine with a brisk walk or slow jog around the block once or twice a day. 

They do enjoy playing, though, and need a moderate amount of mental stimulation. They like to spend time with their family, so games as simple as fetch are a great way to satisfy both their physical and mental needs.  

Keep in mind that — since they were bred to hunt in the snow — they don’t do well in the heat. Make sure you don’t overexert your dog while providing the exercise that they need. 

Veterinary visits, medications, and immunizations. Your veterinarian is the best person to determine all of the vaccinations that your pet needs. Talk to them to receive the most accurate and up-to-date information.

All dogs need a core set of vaccinations. This includes vaccinations for:

These treatments can begin as early as six weeks of age. There are also other, non-core vaccinations that you can discuss with your veterinarian. 

Dosages for flea and tick medications are based on your dog's weight. Oral and skin-based applications are available from your veterinarian or other distributors. Use them as needed.

Many of these medications can be effective against a variety of pests and parasites, so talk to your veterinarian to figure out the best one for you. These days, heartworm medication is also recommended year-round in all parts of the U.S.

Akitas can develop a number of health problems. These include: 

  • Eye disorders. Your dog should get annual eye exams to check for signs of problems.
  • Thyroid disorders. One example is autoimmune thyroiditis. Your veterinarian can test for this condition. 
  • Hip dysplasia. This is a common problem in dogs where their hip joint isn’t properly formed. It can lead to arthritis and make movement painful. 
  • Bloat. This is a serious — sometimes life-threatening condition — that can affect any dog but is more common in the larger ones. Their stomachs become inflated. Get your dog to the veterinarian as soon as possible if you believe it has bloat, as their inflated stomach might twist and cut off circulation (a condition called gastric dilation and volvulus), which is a life-threatening emergency.

Akitas are only moderately eager-to-please. They can be trained, but this training will also go against their independent, willful natures. Start their training early and consistently keep it up as they grow. They’ll respond best to a firm, steady leader. 

You also need to socialize them with as diverse a group of people as possible. They were bred to protect their families — so they’re not very open with strangers. For the sake of your dog and your future guests, you need to make sure that they’re comfortable with all kinds of people. 

Don’t let them off of their leash in open areas. They have very strong prey instincts and are likely to run off in pursuit of a squirrel — or someone else’s dog. 

As a bonus, Akitas rarely — if ever — drool. They also don’t bark unless there’s a real disturbance. No one would ever describe this breed as yappy — which is great for owners who enjoy peaceful interactions with their pets. 

They also smell better than many breeds. They’re not known for that characteristic dog odor that can infiltrate your fabrics. 

A fun Akita fact is that they were bred to work in groups to take down large prey, including: 

  • Boar
  • Deer
  • The Yezo bear

Akitas are a spitz-type dog that originated in Japan. Spitz dogs are part of an ancient lineage and were bred in colder, northern climates for centuries — possibly millennia. 

The modern version of the breed was created in the 17th century in the Akita prefecture of Japan. The story goes that a nobleman was banished to this remote, northern region. For entertainment, he had his underlings compete to see who could breed the best large, versatile hunting dog. 

After a few generations, these efforts produced the Akita. For a time, only noblemen were allowed to own these dogs. This could be one of the reasons why the breed has teetered on the brink of extinction multiple times in its hundreds of years of existence. 

Today families all across Japan — and all over the world — are allowed to own this breed. In Japan, they are full of symbolic meaning. Akitas represent good health, happiness, and long life. Akita figurines are frequent gifts to new parents. 

Helen Keller brought one of the first Akitas to the U.S. It was a gift she received while visiting Japan. They became even more popular after World War II. The AKC officially added the breed to their registry in 1972.