All animals are prone to illness from time to time, particularly purebred ones.
The Great Dane is no exception, and while breed societies do their utmost to regulate the good health of their breed, there will always be exceptions.
Irresponsible breeders, undetectable defects, and plain bad luck will always play a role in the world of pedigreed dogs.
If you have a Great Dane or are thinking of getting one, read on to find out about Great Dane health problems and what you can do about them.
Great Dane Health Problems
1. Endocrine problems
Large dog breeds are more prone than others to this genetic hormonal condition, which mostly affects young to middle-aged females. The good news is that it is one of the rarest health problems in Great Danes.
Addison’s disease (hypoadrenocorticism) refers to a malfunction of the adrenal glands which produce hormones vital for overall health.
Over or underproduction of these hormones can cause weakness, dehydration, low blood pressure, depression, and heart toxicity. Addison’s disease is known as the ‘The Great Pretender’ in medical circles as it mimics so many other ailments.
The symptoms of this serious disorder are:
- Lack of appetite (anorexia)
- Weight loss
- Increased frequency of urination (polyuria)
- Increased thirst (polydipsia)
- Weak pulse
- Low temperature
- Blood in feces
- Hair loss (alopecia)
- Painful abdomen
Get your dog to the vet immediately if they show any of these signs. If it is diagnosed early, the condition is easily treated with ongoing hormone-replacement shots. Left untreated, it is fatal.
Another ailment that is easily treated with hormone therapy is hypothyroidism.
The most obvious symptom is an increase in weight although your dog has been eating no more than usual. This happens when the thyroid gland malfunctions and stops producing enough thyroxine to regulate your dog’s metabolic rate.
Further symptoms are dry or infected skin and thickened patches of skin with hair loss.
2. Bloat and Gastric Torsion
This is one of the most common Great Dane health issues and the number one killer of these dogs. What happens in instances of bloat is that the stomach expands with digestive gases. This can easily lead it to twist on itself (gastric torsion), cutting off the blood supply.
Gastric Torsion is a severe emergency and there is no remedy but emergency surgery. Do not believe any old wives tales for curing bloat – get your dog to the vet without delay if it shows the following symptoms:
- Abnormal, distressed panting
- Restlessness – lying down and getting up repeatedly
- A distended abdomen
- Blue-tinged gums
If your dog gets gastric torsion once, it is likely to get it again and many Great Dane owners choose to get their dogs’ stomachs ‘tacked’ to prevent it twisting as a matter of course.
This congenital condition is an issue in Great Danes that does not often occur in other breeds of dogs. It may occur in conjunction with other muscle-debilitating conditions such as myasthenia gravis or Addison’s disease.
Dogs affected with megaesophagus suffer from an inability for their esophagus to contract and push food into their stomachs. Thus ingested food can only enter the stomach via gravity.
Any food that is ingested thus remains in the esophagus, causing it to stretch. Eventually, it dilates so much that the sphincter at the entrance to the stomach is pulled open and the food can pass through.
Food is often regurgitated due to this and Great Danes affected with this condition rarely thrive or survive beyond a few months. It is possible to keep your dog alive with dedicated care involving elevated feeding stations and even holding the dog upright after eating.
Most puppies born with this defect are put to sleep and it is not recommended to commit to a lifetime of heartache by taking on one of these animals. Pneumonia, which can cause the dog immense suffering and even death, is often a side-effect of this disorder.
4. Heart disease
Heart conditions are one of the most common health problems in Great Danes.
Great Danes are prone to cardiomyopathy, which affects the heart muscle causing an enlarged heart. There is no happy ending for dogs who suffer from this condition. Heart failure is inevitable but this can be delayed with proper treatment.
Get your Great Dane checked out by your vet at least once a year, so that any symptoms of cardiomyopathy can be picked up early. This disease can start without warning, is unpreventable and may show no outward symptoms until it is too late.
Medication will make your dog’s life a lot easier during his final months.
Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) has the opposite effect, causing the heart wall to become thin and dilated. Massive complications arise from this; such as inadequate blood circulation and fluid buildup in the lungs or tissue. Once again heart-failure is inevitable but medical treatment can prolong the dog’s life.
Congenital heart problems
Further Great Dane health concerns that affect the heart are mitral valve defects and tricuspid valve dysplasia.
Aortic and sub-aortic stenosis is also more common in Great Danes than in other breeds and is a defect in the structure of the heart.
The only heart conditions that are correctable thanks to surgery are patent ductus arteriosus (PDA), also known as a heart murmur, and persistent right aortic arch (PRAA).
5. Anal Sac Impaction
Also known as “fish butt”, anal sac impaction means that your dog’s anal glands underneath his tail are blocked.
Your vet will show you how to clear this impaction manually. If you don’t want to do it yourself, you will need to take a trip to the veterinary clinic about every 2 months to get it done for you.
This is one of the most common Great Dane health problems, but does not have severe side effects and is easily treated
Bone Cancer (osteosarcoma) and skin cancer (lymphoma) are prevalent within Great Danes and one of the leading causes of death in this breed.
Early detection is key and diagnosis is usually done via biopsy. Treatment is as effective as with human cancer and depends on the type of cancer and how advanced it is.
If you notice any unusual lumps on your dog’s body, get them checked out by your vet. Many lymphomas turn out to be benign but it’s best to be certain.
Great Dane’s have a short lifespan of only 7 to 10 years, and a few succumb to old age before cancer becomes aggressive enough to kill them.
7. Orthopedic problems
Apart from cancer, large breed dogs tend to suffer from other complications with their skeletal system.
Apart from cancer, Hip Dysplasia is one of the best-known Great Dane health problems. This malformation of the hip socket leads to crippling arthritis later in life. It can be repaired with surgery if detected early enough.
Most large dog breeders are vigilant about breeding from affected parents to prevent hip dysplasia in their puppies.
A simple vetting will help calm worries about your puppy developing problems with their hind limbs.
This is one of the most painful Great Dane health problems and is a result of incorrect nutrition during the rapid growth phase of puppies. Hypertrophic osteodystrophy is the canine equivalent of ‘roach legs’ in humans.
A special puppy-friendly diet as recommended by your vet can assist your young dog to develop at the correct rate for their age.
8. Eye problems
Cataracts are somewhat common in Great Danes and usually occur before the age of 2 years old. They eventually result in blindness if left untreated. Surgery is possible but costly and is most effective if done soon after diagnosis.
Ectropion and Entropion
Ectropion and Entropion occur in many breeds of dog and are also common in Great Danes. Ectropion means the eyelids curve inwards, while a dog with entropion has eyelids that curl outwards. In both cases, the eye will be irritated, teary and inflamed and you may notice them scratching at their eyes to relieve this discomfort.
Both of these conditions can be symptoms of something more serious so don’t delay taking your dog to the vet. Most cases can be treated with eye drops or surgery if necessary.
Cherry Eye is not exclusive to the realm of Great Dane health disorders and can affect any dog. This condition affects the third eyelid of the dog causing it to become inflamed and even pop right out of the eye.
Treatment is simple – your vet will stitch the offending eyelid back into place and all will usually be well within a few weeks. You may need to apply eye drops for a time and in rare cases, further surgery is necessary.
9. Skin diseases
A wide range of Great Dane health issues fall under the umbrella of skin diseases. Some of the more common ones are:
- Allergies causing itchy skin
- Demodectic mange
- Elbow hygroma
- Lick granuloma
Skin problems usually clear up under veterinary supervision and application of topical ointments.
Color dilution alopecia is one of the health issues which occurs in Blue Great Danes, and while unsightly, it is not life-threatening.
Wobbler syndrome is one of the Great Dane health issues that occur in other large dogs too. It is caused by spinal cord compression in the region of the neck vertebrae and results in an inability for the dog to coordinate its actions. Often the dog has difficulty standing at all.
Wobbler syndrome usually becomes apparent early on in a puppy’s life but may also appear later. The condition is treated with cortisone and in extreme cases, surgery.
Just like in humans, epilepsy can be an inherited disorder and occurs across many species. A number of things can cause a seizure in dogs, so ask your vet to do comprehensive tests to determine what the causes are. If your Great Dane is epileptic, you will be given medication to keep the symptoms under control.
Epileptic attacks are usually not harmful to dogs so remain calm if your pet has one, it should pass quickly.
It is a good idea to make a note of what seems to bring the epileptic fits on, how long they last and how severe they are. This can help you to anticipate them and assist your vet in prescribing the most suitable medication.
Most dogs remain oblivious to this disorder and live otherwise happy lives.
Cystinuria is another inherited disorder. Although the Great Dane is earmarked as a breed that is prone to this condition, it is still pretty rare in the breed.
Dogs with cystinuria are incapable of effectively reabsorbing the amino acid, cysteine in their kidneys. While it is forbidden by breed societies to breed with dogs who suffer from this disorder, you can treat kidney and bladder stones with medication. Your vet may even recommend a low protein diet to prevent them from forming in the future.
If all else fails, your Great Dane will need to have surgery to remove the stones.
This can lead to kidney and bladder stones if left untreated, which in turn can lead to failure in these organs.
13. Bowel Obstructions
Bowel obstructions are one of the most common Great Danes health risks due to their love of chewing or eating almost anything.
Try to keep harmful items out of their reach and keep an eye on them when you can. Die-hard offenders may even need to be muzzled until they learn not to chew anything but their food.
Get your dog checked out by a vet if it eats anything indigestible – bowel obstructions can be fatal.
Avoiding Great Dane Health Issues
It’s a well-known fact that owning a dog is good for your health. Avoid Great Dane health problems by purchasing your puppy from a registered, responsible Great Dane breeder.
Keep your vet in the loop along every stage of its life. Go for regular check-ups, get vaccinations done on time, exercise your dog regularly and feed them correctly.
Most importantly, try to return the love and loyalty that this magnificent, good-natured breed will give you unconditionally.
Dr. Lillian is a D.V.M. passionate about promoting awareness of dogs. She shares her expertise through her blogs on canineweekly.com and provides animal care services, including internal medicine, dermatology, and emergency care. Dr. Lillian is committed to contributing to animal welfare.