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Updated June 5, 2019
You hear it all the time: Vet care is expensive. But could you really put a price tag on your precious companion?
Some people don’t realize how expensive owning a pet can be. And owning one of the most unhealthy dog breeds on our list could be the most expensive pet companion decision you make, especially if you own a big dog breed.
Over the last few millennia, humans have winnowed down the wolf to fit their needs. When a trait they liked appeared, they would breed for that trait. And over time, the wolf became what we see today: the domestic dog.
But breeding animals to fit specific traits means interbreeding closely related bloodlines. And we know from human history that keeping it in the family doesn’t bode well for future generations. It’s well understood now that different dogs come with different health problems. And these problems can largely be blamed on genetics.
If you plan on buying a purebred dog, you should do your research ahead of time. This way you can know exactly what health problems your dog might encounter throughout its lifetime.
This is why we’ve put together a list of the least healthy large breed dogs with the most expensive problems. This is not meant to discourage you from buying or adopting a specific breed, but to educate you on the possibilities.
The Akita is both a fun and funny dog. They have strong guard-dog-like instincts and yet they’re known as the “silent hunter” in Japan. They also groom themselves like cats — lick a paw and rub in the appointed area.
But the Akita is also one of the most unhealthy dog breeds you could own. Not only are they expensive to buy ($800+ a pup from your breeder), but they come with a host of health issues.
The American Kennel Club (AKC) recommends regular blood work, x-rays, and physical exams to catch any health problems your Akita might encounter. A general exam at a vet clinic can cost anywhere from $40 to $100 depending on what part of the country you live in. And that’s just base cost without blood work and other tests.
The Akita, like many large breed dogs, is prone to bloat or gastric dilation volvulus, a condition where the stomach twists and gasses can’t escape. A dog can die from this if it’s not caught early and fixed. This condition can be prevented by stapling the stomach to the cavity wall, but again surgery is expensive.
Your Akita can also experience hip dysplasia or abnormal hips. This condition can cause arthritis and you will have to manage arthritis with medication. Sometimes surgery is needed.
Later in life, your Akita might develop progressive retinal atrophy which causes blindness.
Hailing from the Middle East, the Samoyed only recently joined the ranks of the AKC in 1906. They are full of energy and will chase anything and everything.
But being a large breed dog selectively bred for the Samoyed traits means health challenges along the way. A good breeder will do genetic testing to breed healthy Samoyed dogs, but not all breeders are such.
Diseases common in the Samoyed include hip dysplasia (you will see this a lot on this list), aortic stenosis, and various eye diseases. Treatment for hip dysplasia alone, if surgery is needed, can cost anywhere from $1500 to $14,000 depending on the surgery.
Of the large breed dogs, the Great Dane can be considered a giant. And like human giants, the Great Dane sadly doesn’t live very long.
How long are we talking? 7 years on average. Compare that with your typical mutt that lives around 12-14 years.
Because of their massive chest size, they are the most prone to bloat out of all the large breed dogs. And corrective bloat surgery can cost up to $5000. This includes IV fluids, x-rays, and overnight care.
The Great Dane can also suffer from hip dysplasia, autoimmune thyroiditis and cardiac disease (often because of their over-sized heart). But if you keep your Great Dane healthy, feed them right, and exercise them, they should live out their full lifespan.
The third most popular dog breed next to the German Shepherd and the Labrador Retriever, the Golden Retriever is a rambunctious and seemingly healthy retrieving breed. And if taken care of correctly, the Golden can live up to 12 years.
Cancer plagues both humans and animals alike. And your Golden Retriever is prone to a particular cancer that could retrieve a rather large vet bill.
Osteosarcoma is a cancer of the bone tissue. And the Golden Retriever is the most likely to grow this cancer.
It’s a vicious cancer and spreads rapidly to other parts of the body. Prognosis is generally poor when a vet finds the cancer, but if caught early, it can be treated. But the side effects of the treatment aren’t all that pleasant on your dog.
The Golden Retriever is also prone to other cancers, so be aware and do blood work often.
This one family dog is a huge fan of its own people. But they’re also well known as one of the best guard dogs because of their territorial nature.
You must train a Rottweiler well or they will walk all over you. And Rottweilers have a high energy quotient, so regular daily exercise is a must.
And if you keep their bodies, minds, and hearts healthy, you should be able to avoid many of the problems that plague Rottweilers.
But some conditions can’t be avoided due to genetics. Your Rottweiler can experience aortic stenosis, a partial obstruction of blood flow from the heart’s left ventricle.
Breeders can now test their breeding animals for this condition. They use a painless test that gives a readout on the dog’s heart condition.
Other expensive conditions Rottweilers experience include hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, entropion and ectropion (the rolling of the eyelids as the dog grows), Cruciate Ligament rupture (like the ACL in humans; up to a $9,000 surgery), and cancer.
Like its name suggests, the Portugues Water Dog hails from the sunny coast of Portugal. They are one of the most loyal dogs you could own and they boast a waterproof coat to boot.
Although this prince among large breed dogs lives a full 10-14 years, they can be prone to some inherited diseases. The most prominent of these diseases is Addison’s disease.
Addison’s disease is a hormonal disorder. Your dog will have a deficient production of the hormones from the adrenal glands which causes other problems.
There are two kinds of Addison’s disease, primary and secondary. Primary is the most common in dogs. In primary Addison’s your dog’s immune system destroys the adrenal gland.
Your dog will have to be on a lifetime of medications for Addison’s, but they can live a normal life during the treatment. This is the main reason why a Portuguese Water Dog might run up your vet bill. But other common large breed dog problems can affect your dog.
This large and aloof character could be your watchful best friend. The Tibetan Mastiff is the kind of dog that loves to wander alone with its master rather than hang with crowds of humans.
But this loyal breed also comes with its share of problems. Hyperthyroidism is the first thing a vet will look for when examining a Tibetan Mastiff.
The thyroid decreases its production of hormones and decreases the dog’s metabolic rate. Both a change in diet and medication can correct this condition.
Your pet’s doctor will recommend a reduction in fat during the beginning stages of therapy. And the most expensive part of therapy will be the drugs, blood work, and checkups.
This ghostly gray coated dog will worm their way into your heart. But exercise them often or their energy will become destructive faster than you can throw a ball.
Despite their size, the Weimaraner lives 10-13 years. And when taken care of correctly, they are a happy and healthy breed.
But just like most large breed dogs, they tend to experience bloat and hip dysplasia. And as we’ve pointed out earlier, these are costly to correct.
Unique to the Weimaraner, however, is von Willebrand’s disease, which is a bleeding disease. It’s common in both dogs and humans. But the Weimaraner is particularly disposed to inheriting it.
If your Weimaraner does present with this condition, they may need a blood transfusion from another dog. This requires someone to donate their dog’s time and blood to your dog. And it can be an expensive procedure.
Apart from any other related cost, the transfusion itself can be up to $600 per whole unit of blood. That could end up being over $1000.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback, so named for the tuft of fur that sticks up along its spine, is a mild-tempered dog. And they can be both loyal and fun dogs to own.
But their worst enemy when it comes to health is cancer. Mast cell tumors plague this breed, and your Ridgeback has a 1 in 10 chance of developing it.
They are also prone to hyperthyroidism and skin conditions such as allergies. And because they have a deep chest, they can experience bloat.
Less likely, but possible, are bone and joint diseases such as hip dysplasia. And even less likely are neurological diseases such as epilepsy and wobbler’s syndrome. But these are all possible with the Rhodesian Ridgeback.
Proud, alert, and watchful, the Doberman Pinscher is known as a guard dog. But they can be lovable family dogs as well.
But they are among the deep-chested of the large breed dogs and are prone to bloat. This is the most expensive item on the list of problems a Doberman might experience in their lifetime. But Wobbler’s Disease could give bloat a run for its money.
Wobbler’s Disease or Cervical spondylomyelopathy as it’s known by doctors is a neck spine disease. Basically, the bones in the spine compress the nerves and spinal cord resulting in neurological signs.
The diagnosis requires x-rays. Treatment, depending on the severity of the problem, could mean surgery. This could run your vet bill up to $7,000 or more depending on where you live.
Another giant among the large breed dogs, the Newfoundland is a great outdoor dog due to their wooly coat. But they are gentle giants and will roam with and protect children wherever they go.
Because of its size, the Newfoundland is prone to heart problems. From subaortic stenosis to tricuspid valve dysplasia, your Newfoundland dog will most likely have heart issues at one point or another.
Taking your Newfoundland into the vet for regular checkups will help catch these common diseases before they become an expensive and debilitating problem.
The Newfoundland can also suffer from panosteitis early on in life. Panosteitis is a bone disease found in growing young dogs. This causes lameness in the affected leg. Usually, with management, a dog will grow out of this condition, but it will require anti-inflammatories and a limitation on rambunctious activity.
While the Bernese Mountain Dog will love you to pieces, it isn’t a long-lived breed. They only live 6 to 9 years. But during those years, they tend to live a happy healthy life if well cared for.
Sadly, the Bernese Mountain dog is prone to several cancers. The most prevalent of these cancers is the histiocytic sarcoma, a malignant cancer that can be found in a lot of places in the body including the spleen and lung tissues.
Doctors don’t know exactly what causes cancer, but they do know it’s genetic and they’re trying to figure out how to breed it out of the Bernese Mountain Dog.
The German Shepherd Dog is the second most popular dog in the United States. These dogs take care of their own but are fairly standoffish toward strangers. And as their name suggests they have a strong herding instinct.
The German Shepherd Dog comes with a fairly long list of possible health disorders. But they are most infamous in veterinary circles for the bone and joint issues.
Correcting any number of these issues will run your vet bill up into the low thousands for each. And of course, they suffer from the most common dysplasias as well which are even more expensive to fix.
If you have a German Shepherd dog that does not present with bone or joint issues, count yourself a lucky owner.
While not recognized by the AKC, the American Bulldog is an actual breed. Often, the American Bulldog is confused with the Staffordshire Terrier or Pit Bull. The American Bulldog is its own breed of terrier.
The list of problems this dog exhibit is short. The most expensive will be hip problems. About 1 in 3 American Bulldogs will show signs of hip dysplasia.
Often, like other terriers, the American Bulldog can have skin allergies which lead to bacterial infections in extreme cases of neglect. If you catch your dog’s skin allergy before it becomes too much of a problem, your vet can put your dog on a specially formulated diet.
While British Bulldogs are cute and snorty and fun, the source of their cuteness is also their biggest problem: their stubby snout. While we love these dogs, they aren’t for first-time dog owners.
They are expensive to take care of primarily because both their skin folds and their short snouts cause health problems. And they need special care to keep them happy and healthy.
They are also highly sensitive to heat and cold, so they aren’t a great exercise companion either.
If they do develop skin issues, caring for infections could cost a lot of money at the vet. So make sure that if you own a British Bulldog you give it a bath daily.
If your British Bulldog snores like your intolerable ex, take them to the vet. They can develop sleep apnea and suffocate. This can be corrected with soft palate surgery, which is another reason this dog can be expensive to own.
Large breed dogs make excellent pets. And despite their possible health issues, they are amazing companions.
But with great privilege comes great responsibility. And it’s your job to know how to keep your dog healthy.
If you want to know more about how to take care of your large breed dog, check out more of our articles below.