10 Most Common Health Issues for Giant Dogs

By PetMD Editorial on Dec. 2, 2014
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Giant-Breed Health Problems

We love giant dogs like Saint Bernards, Great Danes, Mastiffs, Irish Wolfhounds and Dogue de Bordeaux (pictured here) because of their big hearts and genteel character. It’s important to note that their size also makes them more prone to certain health concerns and gives them shorter lifespans. In fact, according to the 2013 Banfield State of Pet Health Report, giant dog breeds have an average lifespan of 8 years versus 10.8 years for a medium-sized dog. Promote a healthier lifestyle by feeding your gentle giant a quality diet developed to meet their specific needs, visiting your veterinarian regularly and watching out for the following health issues.

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1. Hip dysplasia

"Canine Hip Dysplasia (CHD) is a condition that begins in dogs as they grow and results in instability or a loose fit (laxity) of the hip joint," according to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons (ACVS). Most commonly occurring in large dogs like the Saint Bernard pictured here, hip dysplasia can eventually lead to pain, joint degeneration, and arthritis. Genetics is the biggest single factor causing hip dysplasia in dogs, according to the ACVS, though "rapid weight gain and growth through excessive nutritional intake can complicate the development of CHD."

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2. Elbow dysplasia

"Most owners of giant breed dogs [like the Great Dane pictured here] are aware of the perils of hip dysplasia," says Jennifer Coates, DVM. "In contrast, when I mention elbow dysplasia as a possible cause of a pet’s lameness, I tend to be met with blank stares." The wear and tear from the malformation of the elbow joint leads to wear and tear and eventually joint inflammation and osteoarthritis. According to Dr. Coates, genetics and unnaturally rapid growth also seem to play a role in determining which dogs develop elbow dysplasia and which do not. Discuss with your vet how nutrition plays a role in supporting controlled growth.

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3. Arthritis

Although it can occur in any-sized dog and is most often associated with senior dogs, giant dogs like the Rottweiler pictured here are especially at risk of arthritis because of their growth patterns and weight. Symptoms of arthritis include stiffness, limping, pain and difficulty moving or exercising.

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4. Wobbler syndrome

Cervical spondylomyelopathy (CSM), or wobbler syndrome, is a disease of the cervical spine (at the neck) that is commonly seen in large and giant-breed dogs like the Irish Wolfhound pictured here. It affects how the vertebrae line up with one another. "This is turn," says Ashley Gallagher, DVM, "can result in neck pain and spinal cord compression."

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5. Dilated cardiomyopathy

Dilated cardiomyopathy is a heart disease commonly seen in large and giant-breed dogs like the Scottish Deerhound pictured here. "At its most basic level," says Dr. Coates "the heart becomes weak and can no longer adequately pump blood throughout the body." The symptoms of dilated cardiomyopathy can include weakness, exercise intolerance, coughing, difficulty breathing, and, if the right ventricle is affected, a fluid-distended abdomen.

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6. Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is a clinical condition resulting from a lowered production and release of T4 and T3 hormones by the thyroid gland. This can lead to lethargy, mental dullness, unexplained weight gain, hair loss, excessive scaling and recurring skin infection. Hypothyroidism is common in medium to giant-breed dogs like the Bullmastiff picture here. According to Dr. Coates, "medication (methimazole) or dietary therapy using a food with a reduced iodine content are good options when I131 therapy is not appropriate"

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7. Bloat

Gastric dilation and volvulus syndrome (GDV), more commonly referred to as gastric torsion or bloat, is a disease in dogs in which the animal’s stomach dilates and then rotates, or twists, around its short axis. "This twisting," says Dr. Coates, "prevents the dog from being able to burp or vomit and eventually cuts off the blood supply to the stomach and sometimes also the spleen, both of which can quickly lead to shock and death." There are several risk factors for GDV in dogs, but large breed dogs with deep and narrow chests like the Weimaraner pictured here are more prone to the disease.

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8. Entropion

Entropion is a genetic condition in which a portion of the eyelid is inverted or folded inward. Facial shape is the primary genetic cause of the condition, though it is often seen in large breed dogs like the Bernese Mountain Dog pictured here.

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9. Ectropion

Ectropion is another eyelid abnormality which causes the margin of the eyelid to roll outward, resulting in exposure of tissue that lines the inner lids (palpebral conjunctiva). Ectropion is common in giant breeds such as the Great Pyrenees pictured here.

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10. Cherry Eye

Cherry Eye is still another eye health concern for large and giant breed dogs such as the Newfoundland pictured here. It refers to a pink mass protruding from the dog's eyelid. Cherry eye is most commonly associated with congenital weakness of the gland's attachment to the eye, and can occur in one or both eyes.