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10 of the Most Common Health Problems in Large Breed Dogs

By Stacy Painter
January 29, 2021 • 3 min. read
man with dog outside

Large and giant breed dogs include the Great Dane, Doberman Pinscher, Saint Bernard, and Mastiff, to name a few. With proper training, these gentle giants make steadfast companions, and those that live with children also serve as noble nanny dogs. Part of caring for a large dog is being aware of the health conditions they may face and taking preventive measures to ensure good health. If you have a large dog in your family, these are the health conditions you should know about.

Hip dysplasia

This orthopedic condition occurs when the ball and socket joint of the hip is malformed, resulting in a loose hip joint or grinding of the bones. Genetics and environmental factors can influence whether or not a dog gets hip dysplasia. Symptoms may start to show as early as 4 months of age and include looseness in the hips, pain, and reluctance to rise, run, jump or climb up stairs. Treatment depends on the severity of the case and may require surgery.

Elbow dysplasia

Elbow dysplasia is defined by abnormal growth at the elbow joint which results in pain, lameness, and fluid buildup at the joint. This condition is caused by genetics and rapid growth and may be seen between 4 and 12 months of age. In many cases, surgery is recommended, but veterinarians may opt for medical management for mild cases. 


Also known as gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV), bloat is a serious condition that can happen to any large breed dog and requires immediate treatment. It is described as the stomach twisting and filling with gas. Often bloat can occur when a dog is excessively active after drinking or eating a large volume. Symptoms include pain, drooling, panting, and the appearance of a swollen stomach. It’s important to get your dog to a vet or emergency clinic as soon as possible because a dog cannot survive without treatment which involves surgically untwisting the stomach.


Sometimes called growing pains, panosteitis (or pano) is inflammation of the bones and usually affects the leg bones of young, growing dogs. Symptoms include pain and difficulty walking. Pain can last for a few days or a few months and treatment involves medication to manage the pain and working with your veterinarian to monitor progress. 

Dilated cardiomyopathy

This disease of the heart muscle is characterized by an enlarged heart that does not function properly. It cannot pump enough blood to the lungs, which results in fluid buildup in the lungs as well as lethargy, rapid breathing, and sometimes loss of consciousness. The cause is not quite known, but may be due to genetics or nutritional deficiencies. This condition becomes more prevalent as dogs age, but can be seen as early as 4 years of age. Treatment may involve drugs to help improve the heart’s function and reduce fluid buildup. 

Aortic stenosis

Defined by the narrowing of the aortic valve, this heart condition restricts blood flow, resulting in thickening of the heart wall as it tries to maintain blood flow. Aortic stenosis is present at birth and is the second most common congenital heart defect in dogs, according to PetMD. Symptoms can appear at any age and include congenital heart failure, difficulty breathing, and fainting. Treatment generally involves management of the complications that result from this condition. 

Cruciate ligament tear

The cruciate ligaments are connective tissues at the knee joint. A partial or complete tear can be a result of repeated use or activity, such as jumping and landing wrong. Genetics and obesity may also play a role as to whether a dog is more susceptible to this condition. Symptoms include pain and lameness as well as permanent deterioration of the joint and muscles if left untreated. Surgery is the required treatment for a torn cruciate ligament.


As dogs get older, the cartilage surfaces on their joints get thinner, resulting in pain and inflammation. Extra weight can exacerbate the problem, so it’s important to keep your dog at a healthy weight throughout his life. There are multiple approaches to assist a dog with arthritis, including therapy, supplements, medications, and making adjustments to the home so your dog can get around more comfortably. 

Cherry eye

This condition can be spotted by a red mass, which is the third eyelid, protruding from the corner of your dog’s eye and it may occur in one or both eyes. Cherry eye typically occurs in younger dogs and often requires surgical correction. This condition should be treated as quickly as possible to prevent further inflammation, infection, and secondary problems. 


Typically occurring in middle-aged dogs, hypothyroidism is when the thyroid gland doesn’t produce sufficient amounts of a hormone that controls metabolism. Symptoms include hair loss, weight gain, lethargy, and slowed heart rate. Though there is no cure, treatment is easy and requires medication for the rest of the dog’s life. 

Stacy Painter profile
By Stacy Painter

Stacy has always been an animal lover and has worked in the pet industry and pet insurance specifically for over a decade. As a writer since early childhood, content writing for Healthy Paws pet insurance was a natural career path to combine her two passions. She currently lives in Florida with her boyfriend and Taiwanese rescue dog, Kaya.

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