Kita, a 14-month
old female was turned over to ARSA when her owner "moved to an
apartment." Kita was purchased from the Petland Pet Store in
Northridge, California. She was born at Waconda Kennels in Glen
and came with a five-generation pedigree marked by a gold seal. Kita
may have been born and bred in Kansas, but her pedigree proved that
in her third generation, she was from some of the best known
breeders in the country. How their dogs ended up as the foundation
stock for puppy mills is not the topic of this article.
Kita was lucky
for two reasons: (1) She was now in the hands of ARSA who cared
deeply about each and every
Akita, and (2) I had just received an article from
Dr. Jean Dodds
discussing "Behavioral Problems Associated with Thyroid Disease."
first arrived at the ARSA Kennel, she appeared to have a lovely coat
and certainly did not exhibit any symptoms one usually associates
with thyroid disease. Within a few short weeks, however, she began
constantly pacing the perimeters of her kennel and rapidly lost
weight. She was friendly and very affectionate with all people and
spent the days fence-playing with the other dogs. We attributed her
restlessness to being kenneled and had her spayed in hopes of
finding her a home.
Kita was with
us about two months when we realized her pacing had elevated to an
abnormal level. Within days of our awareness of this abnormal
behavior, Kita began constantly fence-fighting every dog at the
kennel during her exercise time. One day, she turned that aggression
toward one of the kennel girls, baring her teeth and charging. She
landed a light nip on the hand of the thoroughly surprised employee.
Of course, I was immediately notified of this dangerous and abnormal
behavior. I had just finished reading Dr. Dodds' new article and
decided to take Kita in for a complete blood panel, along with a
copy of the article. Dr. Dodds described "sudden onset" behavioral
changes as one of the likely cases of dogs suffering from a physical
cause rather than a genetic behavioral problem.
moment it took to withdraw the blood sample, Kita had to be
restrained because she had already shown aggression. This short
period of restraint was very stressful to her but we obtained the
blood sample without further problems. The blood was to be shipped
University for a complete thyroid panel, including the autoantibody
test. It would take between 7-10 days for the results to come back.
Kita was put on twice daily doses of Phenobarbital to take the edge
off her agitation. By now, she was skin and bones; her weight
reduced to 61 pounds, though she was receiving 7 cups of Eukanuba
daily. Minor coat problems, no skin problems, an excellent appetite,
incredible energy levels, bone thin--not one of these symptoms is
usually associated with diminished thyroid function.
seemed to help. Her aggressive behavior slowed, her pacing was not
quite as frantic and she was once again friendly and playful. Ten
days later, the results came back from
(TT4) 23 (Normal: 22-54)
Triiodothyronine (TT3) 1.1 (Normal:
T4 (FT4) 11 (Normal: 8-36)
T3 (FT3) 1.2 (Normal: 1.0-3.7)
Kita was at
the bottom of all normal ranges. Akitas should be at the upper
ranges of normal. She was started on Soloxine, thyroid hormone
supplementation immediately. Within a few days, her behavior
improved greatly and she began to gain back some of her lost weight.
She continued to make progress and was placed in a home where she
has been maintained on hormone replacement therapy with annual
thyroid re-testing. Kita is a very lucky dog. There are many Akitas
whose behavior changes result in immediate euthanasia because
neither their owners nor the attending vet are aware that sudden
onset aggression can be caused by thyroid disease.
Dr. Dodds has
given her permission to excerpt from her article, which appeared in
DVM Newsmagazine. The article is long but I will share the salient
points with you:
" A typical
history starts out with a quiet, well-mannered and sweet natured
puppy. The animal was outgoing, has attended puppy training classes
to prepare for obedience, working, or show dog events, and comes
from a reputable breeder whose kennel has no history of behavioral
problems. At the onset of puberty, however, which usually varies
anywhere from seven months to a year in age, major changes in
personality are suddenly observed. Typical signs include one or more
of the following: incessant whining, nervousness, schizoid behavior,
fear in the presence of strangers, hyperventilation and undue
sweating, occasional disorientation and failure to be attentive.
These can progress to unprovoked aggressiveness in unfamiliar
situations with other animals, with people, and especially with
children.... Oftentimes these animals are then neutered, which
appears to alleviate the behavioral problems and specifically the
aggression for varying lengths of time. For a significant proportion
of these animals, however, neutering does not alter the symptoms and
they progressively intensify to the point that the animal can be
described as flaky, unable to handle any kind of stress, frantically
circling, hyperventilating and not being able to settle down.
Animals that are used for field work and tracking often fail to
follow the scent whereas those at obedience training may lose the
scent articles. Their power of concentration is often very short and
dogs that were training well at obedience appear to lag behind and
become disinterested. With all of these changes in behavior the
problem of most concern is unwarranted aggression. When large breeds
of dog are affected it poses a significant hazard to family members,
friends and strangers.
In some cases
affected animals do not show aggression but become very shy and
fearful to the point that they are social outcasts and do not make
acceptable house pets.... Some dogs will show extreme submissive
behavior, roll over and urinate upon being approached.
group of dogs showing aberrant behavior are those that experience
seizure or seizure-like disorders of sudden onset beginning from
puberty to mid-life. These are dogs that appear perfectly healthy
outwardly, have normal haircoats and energy, but suddenly seizure
for no apparent reason. The seizures are often spaced several weeks
to months apart, and occasionally they appear in a brief
epileptiform cluster. In some cases the animals become aggressive
and attack those around them shortly before or after having one of
these seizure episodes.
The number of
animals showing various types of aberrant behavior in these three
classical modes (aggression, extreme shyness or seizure-like
activity) has been increasing in frequency over the last decade.
Consequently, we began to examine these animals by using the
stepwise diagnostic approach outlined above [ Complete history;
clinical examination; neurological work-up; routine laboratory
testing of CBC, blood chemistry and thyroid profiles, urinalysis,
fecal exam and x-ray; additional specific laboratory tests as
indicated; examination of cerebral spinal fluid; more specialized
neurological examinations). We were surprised to find that in many
cases studied, significant abnormalities were found in the thyroid
profile. Some cases also had changes in the liver enzyme patterns,
specifically with abnormal increases in resting and postprandial
bile acids and elevated gamma glutamyl transferase levels. About 10%
of these young dogs had abnormalities of the liver profile and a few
also had changes in renal function. For the majority, however, the
primary abnormality was attributable to abnormal thyroid function.
This thyroid dysfunction would classically express high levels of T3
and/or T4 autoantibodies [Ed. note: Kita did not have high levels of
autoantibodies.], with an artifactual, apparent elevation of T3
level. It would not be uncommon to find circulating T3 levels that
read as high as 3,000-5,000 ng/dl. While not all affected animals
had documented evidence of T3 and T4 autoantibodies; some of these
had positive anti-thyroglobulin antibody (ATA) tests. In either
event, the diagnosis was confirmed as autoimmune thyroiditis.
thyroid disease present in these patients is apparently inducing
some type of physiological change at the cellular level, which leads
to their aberrant behavior. This supposition can be made with some
assurance because treatment of the thyroiditis with appropriate
doses of thyroid hormone given twice daily along with a one month
tapering course of low-dose corticosteroids has successfully
reversed the behavioral problems within 4-8 weeks. Dramatic changes
in behavior have been recognized in a few cases after only 10 days
of therapy. However, it usually takes 5-7 months of thyroid
replacement therapy to effect disappearance of the circulating
antithyroid antibodies. These dogs should be maintained for life on
the appropriate dose of thyroid hormone, which may need to be
of affected dogs does not have demonstrable anti-thyroid antibodies
but have baseline thyroid profiles that are clearly abnormal. In
these cases, levels of Total T3, Total T3, free T4 and free T3 are
usually below the lowest limits of the adult normal ranges or are in
the low-normal or borderline ranges. The latter situation is of
particular significance in young dogs of about 9-15 months of age.
When these dogs are treated with standard twice daily doses of
thyroid replacement therapy (0.1 mg/10 lbs. of body weight BID) the
clinical signs associated with aberrant behavior rapidly resolve....
Animals on therapy have successfully returned to obedience
activities, completed show championships, and have undertaken active
field and tracking work.
old male Akita, weighing 110 pounds, suddenly attacked the owner and
bit her in the face. The dog had been owned by the same family since
early puppy hood and had been a remarkably even-tempered,
well-behaved and non-aggressive pet with people and other animals.
After seeking the advice of two veterinary clinicians and a major
teaching hospital, the owner was about to give up in despair because
no physical abnormalities could be found. She was then referred to
us by an Akita rescue group, as this pattern of behavioral change
has been associated with thyroid dysfunction in Akitas. A complete
thyroid panel, which had not been performed earlier, was suggested
and the animal was found to be significantly hypothyroid. Thyroid
therapy was initiated on a twice-daily basis. The dog's exemplary
temperament returned and he has not shown any unusual behavior for
over a year. An interesting complication of the case was a
moderately severe thrombocytopenia, which has also resolved with low
doses (5-10mg) of alternate day steroid therapy along with the
animals that show occasional seizure disorders, thyroid medication
alone will usually suffice. Anticonvulsant medication is needed
along with the thyroid therapy to control cases with more severe
seizure clusters. The anticonvulsants of choice would be
Phenobarbital or alternatively, sodium bromide, particularly if the
patient has abnormalities of liver function. Because many of these
animals have autoimmune thyroid disease, concomitant medical
management includes avoiding environmental factors that can further
challenge the immune system. This means placing the animal on a
hypoallergenic "natural" diet preserved without chemical additives
(e.g. lamb and rice based lower protein kibble), avoiding drugs that
may alter the immune system such as the potentiated sulfonamides and
monthly heartworm preventatives, and withholding vaccination
boosters until the thyroid function is properly balanced and the
behavioral abnormalities are resolved. If animals are due for annual
vaccine boosters during this period, vaccine antibody titers for
distemper and parvovirus can be determined to assess the need.
the onset of sudden behavioral changes in an otherwise healthy young
dog, should alert the practitioner to the possibility of an
underlying thyroid imbalance as shown by presence of thyroid
autoantibodies, low baseline levels of thyroid hormones, or failure
to triple baseline T4 levels in response to challenge with TSH."
If you breed
Akitas, we encourage you in the strongest terms to PLEASE test your
Akitas for thyroid disease BEFORE breeding. The disease is very much
a part of the Akita and not simply an intermittent, environmental
condition. We are seeing epidemic proportions of thyroid disease in
our dealings with Akitas--there is little doubt in the minds of most
open-minded folks that a genetic cause is responsible. TEST.
been surfing the Internet for an answer to sudden onset aggression
in your own Akita.
Unexplained aggression is often linked to health problems. Begin
your search by having your Akita tested for thyroid disease.
For a basic
understanding about one cause of thyroid malfunction in all dog
breeds, take a moment to read this article:
Pesticides and Aggression
for more information, visit these sites:
TEST! Before you euthanize an Akita for behavior changes, TEST!