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Pet Care. Pet Training. Pet Stories.
Pet Care. Pet Training. Pet Stories.

Common Illnesses in Large Dog Breeds

06/11/2015 by Colleen Williams
June 11th, 2015 by Colleen Williams

Large dog breeds are the gentle giants of the canine kingdom. Examples of large or so-called “giant” dog breeds include Great Danes, Pyrenees, and Irish Wolfhounds. These pups have plenty of love to give, but with these large dogs comes larger health issues, typically involving the joints or heart.

If you have one of these large breed dogs, pay close attention to your pet’s health and happiness, especially for senior pets. Any changes in activity level, gait or breathing may indicate the presence of a medical condition.

large dog breeds health issuesHip Dysplasia

Frequently occurring in large dog breeds, hip dysplasia is a congenital condition causing misalignment of the hip joint and socket. According to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, hip dysplasia occurs in up to 50 percent of big dog breeds; Bernese Mountain Dogs, Golden Retriever, German Shepherds, and Standard Poodles all have higher prevalence of hip dysplasia.

The first sign of hip dysplasia in dogs is decreased activity level. As the disease progresses, joint pain increases; symptoms typically arise between four months and one year old. Dogs with hip dysplasia may “bunny hop” and also avoid running or climbing stairs, which aggravates joint pain.

If caught before 10 months old, the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals recommends a triple pelvic osteotomy, which can reverse early subluxation of the hip joint. Older pets may find success with a total hip replacement – a costly procedure not covered by all pet insurance policies. (We’re proud to say the Healthy Paws plan covers non-preexisting hip dysplasia in all pets enrolled before age six!) Pet parents can prevent canine hip dysplasia by keeping pups slim and trim, providing daily exercise and regular vet checkups.

entropion in dogs surgery repair

This pup’s eye is all better after an entropion repair. The condition turns the eyelid inward, irritating the eye. (


This painful medication condition is hereditary, causing the eyelid to roll inwards, irritating the eye. Entropion in dogs is not unique to large breed dogs, but is more common. Ectropion may also occur, where the eyelid rolls outwards.

In cases of entropion, the eyelid visibly rolls inwards; your pet’s eyes may excessive tear or blink and will appear red or inflamed. Pain lead dogs to paw at the affected eye, causing more damage.

Visit your vet for a diagnosis, where a dye will be used on your dog’s eyes to make any damage visible. Entropion surgery is commonly used to correct the eyelid and repair lacerations to the cornea. A “cone of shame” protects eyes post-surgery, which has a success rate of 90 to 95 percent, according to Michigan Ave Animal Hospital. Multiple surgeries may be required, but the prognosis for a full recovery is good in most pets.

Aortic Stenosis

Big dog breeds require big hearts to keep their blood pumping. Congenital heart conditions like aortic stenosis are common in large dogs, particularly Golden Retrievers. Large breed dogs like the Boxer, Newfoundland, and German Shepherd are also susceptible to the condition.

Aortic stenosis in dogs is the narrowing of the heart’s valve or surrounding arteries. This obstructs the flow of blood, forcing large dogs’ hearts to pump even harder. Symptoms include a cough, difficulty breathing, fainting, or exercise intolerance – often there are no symptoms.

After determining the severity of the dog’s heart murmur, further testing will be done to detail the condition of the heart. In severe aortic stenosis, surgery and/or beta-blocker drugs may be required. Pets with mild cases of the disease should avoid intense exercise, especially in hot weather, and stay slim.


Also common in elderly pets, osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease – dogs’ joint cartilage decreases over time, causing intense pain. There are several types of arthritis in dogs, some caused by cancer or infections; osteoarthritis arises in large dog breeds because of the high stress placed on joints.

Dogs suffering from osteoarthritis will limp as their joint pain increases. Bony growths often occur on joints, leading to swelling; in severe cases of osteoarthritis, joints will audibly grate when the animal moves.

Treatment of arthritis in dogs typically begins with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or steroids. The side effects of these medications can be rough on pets’ digestive systems, so they are not a long-term treatment method. Several types of surgery are effective for repairing or replacing the joint; amputation is considered in severe cases. Lifestyle changes are also recommended to further provide pain relief for dogs with osteoarthritis. Weight loss relieves pressure on pained joints, while glucosamine for dogs is a supplement often recommended by vets.


dog food

Always monitor large dogs at meal time – eating too much or too fast can have deadly consequences. (

Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus

Also known as gastric torsion, this condition is most often seen in extra large dog breeds due to the shape of their chests. Gas builds up in the stomach, which expands dangerously in large dogs’ deep chest cavities. Overeating or eating too quickly is thought to be a main culprit of excessive stomach gas; speedy eaters often gulp down a side of air with their meal. Danger happens when the stomach or intestines twist, obstructing blood flow by compressing blood flow – a life-threatening condition.

Retching, abnormal heart and breathing rates, excessive salivation, and a distended abdomen are the primary signs of GDV. As the vena cava artery continues to be compressed, symptoms of shock occur.

Emergency treatment focuses primarily on stabilizing the pet, decompressing the stomach and reversing any torsion or twisting that occurred. With speedy treatment, large dogs have a good prognosis. Prevent GDV by monitoring your pet during meal times and slowing down speed or binge eaters.

(Featured image via