Shiba Inu

Your Shiba Inu

Caring for Your Faithful Companion

Shiba Inus: What a Unique Breed!

Your dog is special! She’s your best friend, companion, and a source of unconditional love. Chances are that you chose her because you like Shibas and you expected her to have certain traits that would fit your lifestyle:

  • Confident and self-reliant
  • Loyal to those she trusts
  • Energetic, active, and athletic
  • Protective of family; good watch dog
  • Lovable, playful companion
  • Bold, steady, and fearless

However, no dog is perfect! You may have also noticed these characteristics:

  • Early obedience training and socialization is recommended
  • Can be snappy when nervous
  • Can be possessive of toys and food, tending to show dominance
  • Territorial with larger dogs, especially of the same sex
  • Suspicious of strangers
  • Prone to boredom and separation anxiety, with associated chewing and howling behaviors

Is it all worth it? Of course! She’s full of personality, and you love her for it! She is willful, bold, and clever. With a calm-assertive and consistent leader she makes a gentle and affectionate family companion.

The Shiba Inu is an ancient breed that originated in Japan. They are the smallest of the Japanese dog breeds and were used for small game hunting in the dense brush of the mountains. Shibas are often described as cat-like due to their fastidiously clean and independent nature. They are notoriously easy to housebreak and are often busy grooming themselves and other members of their pack. The Shiba Inu is agile and lively and can be an excellent escape artist. Shibas tend not to alert-bark, but do have a highly diverse vocabulary that includes yodeling and the “Shiba scream.” The Shiba Inu is a generally healthy breed with an average lifespan of 12-13 years.

Your Shiba Inu’s Health

We know that because you care so much about your dog, you want to take good care of her. That is why we have summarized the health concerns we will be discussing with you over the life of your Shiba. By knowing about health concerns specific to Shiba Inus, we can tailor a preventive health plan to watch for and hopefully prevent some predictable risks.

Many diseases and health conditions are genetic, meaning they are related to your pet’s breed. There is a general consensus among canine genetic researchers and veterinary practitioners that the conditions we’ve described herein have a significant rate of incidence and/or impact in this breed.That does not mean your dog will have these problems; it just means that she is more at risk than other dogs. We will describe the most common issues seen inShiba Inusto give you an idea of what may come up in her future. Of course, we can’t cover every possibility here, so always check with us if you notice any unusual signs or symptoms.

This guide contains general health information important to all canines as well as the most important genetic predispositions for Shiba Inus. This information helps you and us together plan for your pet’s unique medical needs. At the end of the booklet, we have also included a description of what you can do at home to keep your Shiba looking and feeling her best. You will know what to watch for, and we will all feel better knowing that we’re taking the best possible care of your pal.

General Health Information for your Shiba Inu

Brushing your dog’s teeth daily will prevent periodontal disease.

Brushing your dog’s teeth daily will prevent periodontal disease.

Dental Disease

Dental disease is the most common chronic problem in pets, affecting 80% of all dogs by age two. And unfortunately, your Shiba Inu is more likely than other dogs to have problems with her teeth. It starts with tartar build-up on the teeth and progresses to infection of the gums and roots of the teeth. If we don’t prevent or treat dental disease, your buddy will lose her teeth and be in danger of damaging her kidneys, liver, heart, and joints. In fact, your Shiba’s life span may be cut short by one to three years! We’ll clean your dog’s teeth regularly and let you know what you can do at home to keep those pearly whites clean.


Shiba Inus are susceptible to bacterial and viral infections—the same ones that all dogs can get—such as parvo, rabies, and distemper. Many of these infections are preventable through vaccination, which we will recommend based on the diseases we see in our area, herage, and other factors.


Obesity can be a significant health problem in Shiba Inus. It is a serious disease that may causeor worsen joint problems, metabolic and digestive disorders, back pain and heart disease. Though it’s tempting to give your pal food when shelooks at you with those soulful eyes, you can “love herto death” with leftover people food and doggie treats. Instead, give her a hug, brush her fur or teeth, play a game with her, or perhaps take her for a walk. She’ll feel better, and so will you!

Roundworm egg as seen under the microscope.

Roundworm egg as seen under the microscope.


All kinds of worms and bugs can invade your Shiba’s body, inside and out. Everything from fleas and ticks to ear mites can infest herskin and ears. Hookworms, roundworms, heartworms, and whipworms can get into hersystem in a number of ways: drinking unclean water, walking on contaminated soil, or being bitten by an infected mosquito. Some of these parasites can be transmitted to you or a family member and are a serious concern for everyone. For your canine friend, these parasites can cause pain, discomfort, and even death, so it’s important that we test for them on a regular basis. We’ll also recommend preventive medication as necessary to keep her healthy.

Spay or Neuter

One of the best things you can do for your Shiba is to have her spayed (neutered for males). In females, this means we surgically remove the ovaries and usually the uterus, and in males, it means we surgically remove the testicles. Spaying or neutering decreases the likelihood of certain types of cancers and eliminates the possibility of your pet becoming pregnant or fathering unwanted puppies. Performing this surgery also gives us a chance, while your pet is under anesthesia, to identify and address some of the diseases your dog is likely to develop. For example, if your pet needs hip X-rays or a puppy tooth extracted, this would be a good time. This is convenient for you and easy for your friend. Routine blood testing prior to surgery also helps us to identify and take precautions for common problems that increase anesthetic or surgical risk. Don’t worry; we’ll discuss the specific problems we will be looking for when the time arrives.

Genetic Predispositions for Shiba Inus

Eye Problems

Not many things have as dramatic an impact on your dog’s quality of life as the proper functioning of his eyes. Unfortunately, Shiba Inus can inherit or develop a number of different eye conditions, some of which may cause blindness if not treated right away, and most of which can be extremely painful! We will evaluate his eyes at every examination to look for any signs of concern.

Glaucoma, an eye condition that affects Shiba Inus and people too, is an extremely painful disease that rapidly leads to blindness if left untreated. Symptoms include squinting, watery eyes, bluing of the cornea (the clear front part of the eye), and redness in the whites of the eyes. Pain is rarely noticed by pet owners though it is frequently there and can be severe. People who have certain types of glaucoma often report it feels like being stabbed in the eye with an ice pick! Yikes! In advanced cases, the eye may look enlarged or swollen like it’s bulging. We’ll perform his annual glaucoma screening to diagnose and start treatment as early as possible. Glaucoma is a medical emergency. If you see symptoms, don’t wait to call us, go to an emergency clinic!



Cataracts are a common cause of blindness in older Shibas. We’ll watch for the lenses of his eyes to become more opaque—meaning they look cloudy instead of clear—when we examine him. Many dogs adjust well to losing their vision and get along just fine. Surgery to remove cataracts and restore sight may also be an option.

Distichiasis is a condition caused by extra hairs that grow inside of the eyelid and rub on the surface of the eye. This is one of the most commonly inherited diseases in dogs, and your Shiba is more likely than other dogs to develop this painful condition. If untreated, these abnormal hairs can cause corneal ulcers and chronic eye pain. Several treatment options are available, and the prognosis is good once the hairs have been permanently removed.

Eyeballs are pretty complicated structures, and sometimes they don’t grow exactly according to plan. Several different specific structural defects are sometimes seen in Shiba’s eyes. Most of these developmental errors cause no problems at all, some can only be detected by a vet using special tests, some are obvious, and a few can cause serious vision problems. We’ll check his eyes for problems, and discuss specific conditions as they apply to your buddy.

Sometimes small strands of tissue that were meant to disappear soon after birth remain attached to the iris. When this happens, it’s called Persistent Pupillary Membrane, and your Shiba Inu is more likely to have this condition than other dogs. Fortunately, these tissue bits usually don’t hurt or impede vision, but occasionally they can cause problems.


Each time a female goes through her heat cycle, her hormones cause a growth of nourishing cells to line the walls of the uterus. This becomes a lush environment for the development of a raging bacterial infection that can progress rapidly into a critical emergency that may require surgery. Pyometra can happen to any female dog, but it seems to be more common in Shibas. If you don’t plan to use your friend as a breeding animal, a spay/neuter procedure is best for health!

Bone and Joint Problems

A number of different musculoskeletal problems have been reported in ShibaInus. While it may seem overwhelming, each condition can be diagnosed and treated to prevent undue pain and suffering. With diligent observation at home and knowledge about the diseases that may affect your friend’s bones, joints, or muscles you will be able to take great care of him throughout his life.

Normal Knee

Normal Knee

Illustration of patellar luxation. Notice how the knee cap has moved out of the groove it normally resides in.

Illustration of patellar luxation. Notice how the knee cap has moved out of the groove it normally resides in.

Sometimes your Shiba’s kneecap (patella ) may slip out of place (called patellar luxation). You might notice that he runs along and suddenly picks up a back leg and skips or hops for a few strides. Then he kicks his leg out sideways to pop the kneecap back in place, and he’s fine again. If the problem is mild and involves only one leg, your friend may not require much treatment beyond arthritis medication. When symptoms are severe, surgery may be needed to realign the kneecap to keep it from popping out of place.

Both hips and elbows are at risk for dysplasia, an inherited disease that causes the joints to develop improperly and results in arthritis. Stiffness in your Shiba’s elbows or hips may become a problem for him, especially as he matures. You may notice that he begins to show lameness in his legs or has difficulty getting up from lying down. We can treat the arthritis—the sooner the better—to minimize discomfort and pain. We’ll take X-rays of your dog’s bones to identify issues as early as possible. Surgery is sometimes a good option in severe and life-limiting cases. Keep in mind that overweight dogs may develop arthritis years earlier than those of normal weight, causing undue pain and suffering!

Many older dogs have arthritis , and bigger dogs tend to have more pain and disability than smaller dogs. Shiba Inus are particularly prone to developing arthritis, for which we need to use many treatments. The earlier we begin treatment, the better the results. Good nutrition and proper exercise are also very important to help reduce bone and joint problems as your pet gets older. Do not let him become overweight; this puts a huge strain on the joints.


In humans, an allergy to pollen, mold, or dust makes people sneeze and their eyes itch. In dogs, rather than sneeze, allergies make their skin itchy. We call this skin allergy “atopy”, and Shibas often have it. Commonly, the feet, belly, folds of the skin, and ears are most affected. Symptoms typically start between the ages of one and three and can get worse every year. Licking the paws, rubbing the face, and frequent ear infections are the most common signs. The good news is that there are many treatment options available for this condition.

Bleeding Disorders

There are several types of inherited bleeding disorders which occur in dogs. They range in severity from very mild to very severe. Many times a pet seems normal until a serious injury occurs or surgery is performed, and then severe bleeding can result. Von Willebrand’s disease is a blood clotting disorder frequently found in Shiba Inus. We’ll conduct diagnostic testing for blood clotting time or a specific DNA blood test for Von Willebrand’s disease or other similar disorders to check for this problem before we perform surgery.


There are three types of seizures in dogs: reactive, secondary, and primary. Reactive seizures are caused by the brain’s reaction to a metabolic problem like low blood sugar, organ failure, or a toxin. Secondary seizures are the result of a brain tumor, stroke, or trauma. If no other cause can be found, the disease is called primary, or idiopathic epilepsy. This problem is often an inherited condition, with Shiba Inus commonly afflicted. If your friend is prone to seizures, they will usually begin between six months and three years of age. An initial diagnostic workup may help find the cause. Lifelong medication is usually necessary to help keep seizures under control, with periodic blood testing required to monitor side effects and effectiveness. If your dog has a seizure: Carefully prevent him from injuring himself, but don’t try to control his mouth or tongue. It won’t help him, and he may bite you accidentally! Note the length of the seizure, and call us or an emergency hospital.

heartNormalInsidesHeart Disease

Some breeds like your Shiba can be born with a variety of heart defects. Most of these affect the structure of the heart’s dividing wall or the vessels. They can also cause problems with the electrical signals that control the heartbeat or with heart valve function. Because of the significant risk of heart disease, we’ll pay special attention to his heart during each examination. Special testing will be recommended if we hear a heart murmur or you notice any unusual symptoms such as tiring easily, coughing, a swollen belly, or fainting.

Dental Abnormalities

Teeth abnormalities are often genetically induced and are relatively common in dogs, especially in purebred dogs like your Shiba. An overbite or underbite is called a malocclusion, or a bad bite. Oligodontia is a condition where only a few teeth are present. Misaligned teeth can also occur and cause lots of problems, but can usually be corrected with braces or extractions. (Yes, dogs can get braces!) We want to keep your buddy’s teeth healthy so we will be watching his developing teeth closely.

The thyroid glands rest on both sides of the neck alongside the windpipe.

The thyroid glands rest on both sides of the neck alongside the windpipe.

Thyroid Problems

Shibas are prone to a common condition called hypothyroidism in which the body doesn’t make enough thyroid hormone. Signs can include dry skin and coat, hair loss, susceptibility to other skin diseases, weight gain, fearfulness, aggression, or other behavioral changes. We’ll conduct a blood screening test annually to screen for the disease. Treatment is usually simple: replacement hormones given in the form of a pill.

High Potassium

Shiba Inus sometimes maintain higher-than-normal amounts of potassium within their red blood cells. This can cause their blood potassium level to read falsely high. Increased potassium level in the blood fluid is dangerous, but inside the red blood cells it is not. Thus, it is not a dangerous condition to the dog, but can cause confusion in interpreting blood potassium levels. It does make him more prone to onion toxicity, which can damage red blood cells and cause anemia. Avoid feeding your dog onions or garlic – something most people should do anyway.

VKH Syndrome

This complex disease, found at higher incidence in Shiba Inus, is also known as uveodermatologic syndrome: “uveo” referring to the inside of the eye and “derm” referring to the skin. This is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the cells that make pigment in the skin and inside the eyes. It can cause pain or blindness inside the eye and the pigmented areas of his nose, lips, and skin to change from dark to light. Sunlight makes the condition worse.

Nerve Disease

Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis, shortened to NCL, is a progressive neurologic disease found in several breeds, including your Shiba Inu. Clinical signs usually appear in younger dogs, between around one to three years of age. In the early stages, rear leg weakness and imbalance can occur. It can progress to weakness involving all four legs, and some dogs also lose vision. There is currently no effective treatment for this disease, but a genetic test is available. Dogs carrying the mutation should not be used for breeding, since it is readily passed to future generations.

Shibalnu2of2Taking Care of Your Shiba Inu at Home

Much of what you can do to keep your dog happy and healthy is common sense, just like it is for people. Watch her diet, make sure she gets plenty of exercise, regularly brush her teeth and coat, and call us or a pet emergency hospital when something seems unusual (see “What to Watch For” below). Be sure to adhere to the schedule of examinations and vaccinations that we recommend for her. This is when we’ll give her the necessary “check-ups” and test for diseases and conditions that are common in Shibas. Another very important step in caring for your pet is signing up for pet health insurance. There will certainly be medical tests and procedures she will need throughout her life and pet health insurance will help you cover those costs.

Routine Care, Diet, and Exercise

Build her routine care into your schedule to help your Shiba live longer, stay healthier, and be happier during her lifetime. We cannot overemphasize the importance of a proper diet and exercise routine.

  • Supervise your pet as you would a toddler. Keep doors closed, pick up after yourself, and block off rooms as necessary. This will keep her out of trouble and away from objects she shouldn’t put in her mouth.
  • She needs a thorough brushing at least weekly most of the year. Twice a year she blows her coat and loses crazy amounts of hair; daily brushing is recommended during this time.
  • Shiba Inus generally have good teeth, and you can keep them perfect by brushing them at least twice a week!
  • Clean her ears weekly, even as a puppy. Don’t worry—we’ll show you how!
  • She’s a smart dog with lots of energy, so keep her mind and body active, or she’ll get bored. That’s when the naughty stuff starts.
  • She has a high prey drive, so she needs to be leash walked and a sturdy fence is a must.
  • She is not recommended for homes with small children or small pets.
  • Keep your dog’s diet consistent and don’t give her people food.
  • Feed a high-quality diet appropriate for her age.
  • Exercise your dog regularly, but don’t overdo it at first.

What to Watch For

Any abnormal symptom could be a sign of serious disease, or it could just be a minor or temporary problem. The important thing is to be able to tell when to seek veterinary help, and how urgently. Many diseases cause dogs to have a characteristic combination of symptoms, which together can be a clear signal that your Shiba Inu needs help.

Office calls

Give us a call for an appointment if you notice any of these types of signs:

  • Change in appetite or water consumption
  • Tartar build-up, bad breath, red gums, or broken teeth
  • Itchy skin (scratching, chewing, or licking), hair loss
  • Lethargy, mental dullness, or excessive sleeping
  • Fearfulness, aggression, or other behavioral changes
  • Dull coat, hair loss, sluggish, weight gain
  • Lumps or bumps – regardless of size


Seek medical care immediately if you notice any of these types of signs:

  • Scratching or shaking the head, tender ears, or ear discharge
  • Inability or straining to urinate; discolored urine
  • Cloudiness, redness, itching, or any other abnormality involving the eyes
  • General reluctance to run or play
  • Stiffness or reluctance to rise/sit/use stairs
  • Any abnormal shaking, trembling, or excessive involuntary tremors
  • Tiring easily, coughing, a swollen belly or fainting/collapse

Partners in Health Care

DNA testing is a rapidly advancing field with new tests constantly emerging to help in the diagnosis of inherited diseases before they can become a problem for your friend. For the most up-to-date information on DNA and other screening tests available for your pal, visit

Your Shiba counts on you to take good care of her, and we look forward to working with you to ensure that she lives a long and healthy life. Our goal is to provide the best health care possible: health care that’s based on her breed, lifestyle, and age. Please contact us when you have questions or concerns.


  • Ackerman L. The Genetic Connection: A Guide to Health Problems in Purebred Dogs. Second edition. AAHA Press; 2011.
  • Bell JS, Cavanagh KE, Tilley LP, Smith FW. Veterinary medical guide to dog and cat breeds. Jackson, Wyoming. Teton New Media; 2012.
  • Gough A, Thomas A. Breed Predispositions to Disease in Dogs and Cats. 2nd Edition. Wiley-Blackwell; 2010.
  • Crook A, Dawson S, Cote E, MacDonald S, Berry J. Canine Inherited Disorders Database [Internet]. University of Prince Edward Island. 2011. [cited 2013 Apr 11]. Available from:
  • Breed Specific Health Concerns [Internet]. American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, Inc. [cited 2013 Apr 11]. Available from:

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