Health issues common to giant dog breeds

Health issues common to giant dog breeds

Health & Safety

Not many people find themselves able to offer a home to one of the giant breeds of dog, such as the Great Dane or the St. Bernard. Giant dog breeds require a lot of food, space and care, even moreso than most other smaller breeds. Even so, the appeal of these hefty canines cannot be denied, and most giant dog breeds are calm, loyal, loving and full of personality, making them popular with owners from all walks of life and of all ages. Giant dog breed ownership in the UK has gradually been on the rise for over a decade now, and it is becoming more and more common to see several relatively new-to-the-UK breeds of larger dogs out and about. Buying or adopting a dog of any shape or size is not an endeavour to be undertaken lightly, and any prospective owner will need to spend a significant amount of time researching their prospective choice of future dog. However, if a larger dog has caught your eye and you find yourself falling for the undeniable appeal of a giant dog breed or type, there are also several other things that you should be aware of.Giant dog breeds generally live slightly shorter lives than most other types of dog, and few dogs of giant breeds live to an age much greater than ten or twelve years old. Giant dog breeds as a whole are also rather more prone to a range of potential health and wellness issues less commonly seen in smaller dogs, and this is something that every prospective giant dog breed owner should be aware of. Some of the conditions listed below have genetically inherited risk factors, so you may be able to identify the possible future onset of some potential problems by having your prospective dog checked out and tested by a vet before you commit to a purchase. Others, however, have no precedent or discernibly obvious heightened risk factors, other than the actual size of the dog itself and the associated stresses that this can place on their bodies.Here are some of the most common health issues that giant dogs can be prone to, and a little more information on each one.

Gastric Dilation Volvulus (‘bloat’ or GDV)

Bloat, or GDV, refers to an extremely painful stomachache in the dog that is also accompanied by a torsion, or twisting, of the gut itself (the volvulus). Caught early, bloat may not make it as far as the ‘volvulus’ stage, however, the onset of the symptoms of bloat or GDV can be acute, and may not manifest until the dog is in a significant amount of pain.Giant dogs of all breeds are rather more prone to bloat or GDV than smaller dogs, however, the Great Dane and the St. Bernard statistically seem to suffer more from the condition than most others. The underlying cause of the condition itself is unknown; various theories have been suggested for the condition, including feeding too soon after or before exercise, excessive consumption of air alongside of meals, and a slow digestive system.

Heat stroke

Big dogs generally have a lot of hair, as well as insulating fat and muscle on their bodies. This means that simply walking around and exercising normally can be harder work for them, and that they will expend more energy going about their daily lives than smaller, lighter dogs will. During the summer months when it is hot out and there is no respite from the heat, it is important to monitor your larger dog carefully for the potential signs of the onset of heat stroke. Don’t let your dog get too hot, make sure that they can get out of the sun and heat if they need to, and make sure that they drink enough water.


Hypothyroidism is a condition that causes lethargy, excessive weight gain and poor condition in dogs, and can present itself in any breed or type of dog. Giant dogs of all breeds are particularly at risk of developing hypothyroidism. Treatment involves artificially supplementing the thyroid gland’s production of thyroxin, the hormone responsible for regulating the metabolism and digestive system, by means of administering a synthetic thyroid hormone pill. Treatment is usually effective at reversing hypothyroidism, although the dog will require ongoing treatment for life.

Heart problems

Big dogs have big hearts, both in the metaphysical sense and the literal one. Larger breeds of dogs are at a slightly increased risk of a range of health problems relating to the heart, including embolisms, murmurs and other problems that may be present at birth or develop later in life. There is often a genetically inherited element to heart conditions, although this is by no means always the case.


The sheer weight of a giant dog places a significantly larger amount of stress on their bones and joints, which can manifest as arthritis in later life. Rheumatoid arthritis causes a painful swelling and inflammation of the capsules that enclose the joins of various parts of the body, and cannot be cured, although treatment can help to manage the pain and inflammation.

Hip dysplasia

Again, the sheer weight of a larger dog and the associated additional pressure that this places on the bones and joints can lead to the development of hip dysplasia, a condition where the sockets of the hips form abnormally and wear down more easily. Hip dysplasia has a significant hereditary factor to it, and if the dam or sire of a dog have suffered from hip problems, their offspring are significantly more likely to do so. Hip scores, which indicate the condition of the hips and their development, can be taken for the dam of any dog that is to be used for breeding, and with breeds particularly prone to hip dysplasia, this is often done as part of the decision making process to breed the dog. Prospective puppy owners are often invited to view the hip scores of the dam when considering buying a puppy of a giant breed.

If you have your heart set on a giant dog, do not rule one out simply due to fear of future unknowns; dogs of any breed or type can become ill, and there is no sure-fire way of avoiding problems later in life. However it is of course important to go into any purchase with your eyes open, and do what you can before making your decision to find out about any problems that may possibly present themselves further along the line.



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