As a large dog owner, health problems are something you don’t want to think about. However, many health conditions are treatable, or at least manageable, if caught early enough, so it’s crucial that you’re aware of what symptoms to look out for so you can get your dog treatment as soon as you notice any potential red flags.
With that in mind, here are the most common health problems in large breed dogs.
18 Common Large Dog Health Problems
1. Hip Dysplasia
One of the most common problems in large breed dogs is hip dysplasia, a skeletal problem where the hip joints don’t form properly.
Instead of the head of the femur sliding smoothly inside the hip joint, it rubs and grinds against the joint instead. Over time, this causes the joint to deteriorate, leading to immense pain and a reduced quality of life.
Hip dysplasia can be caused by a variety of factors. Some factors, like genetics, are unavoidable, but other factors, like excessive growth, are preventable.
That’s why it’s crucial to buy the right food for your large breed puppy – you want to give them the best start in life and let them grow at an appropriate pace to help prevent developmental problems like dip dysplasia.
Check out our guide to the best large breed puppy food to make sure your puppy is off to a great start. If your dog is an adult, it isn’t too late to make sure they’re on the best possible food.
Have a look at our large breed dog food review to ensure you’re giving your dog a food they can thrive on.
2. Elbow Dysplasia
While hip dysplasia causes pain in your dog’s back legs, elbow dysplasia can affect your large breed dog’s front legs.
Elbow dysplasia is caused by abnormal growth of the elbow joints and is one of the most common causes of front-leg lameness in giant and large breed dogs.
The breeds most commonly affected by elbow dysplasia include:
- Bearded Collies
- Bernese Mountain Dogs
- Chow Chows
- German Shepherds
- Golden Retrievers
- Labrador Retrievers
Symptoms of elbow dysplasia typically start when a puppy is 4-10 months old.
Managing your dog’s weight can help reduce the painful symptoms of elbow dysplasia, but surgery may be required as your dog ages and pain increases.
If you’re concerned about your large breed dog’s weight, you might want to read our review of the best low-fat dog foods.
Cancer is a frightening diagnosis, and osteosarcoma (a type of bone cancer) is, unfortunately, quite common in large breed dogs.
Dogs over 80 pounds are more than 60 times as likely to develop osteosarcoma as dogs weighing less than 75 pounds. Rottweilers are especially hard hit by this disease, with 1 out of every 8 Rottweilers affected.
If osteosarcoma is caught very early on, amputation of the affected leg is sometimes enough to cure the disease. Sadly, though, 90% of osteosarcomas spread to a dog’s lungs, where it becomes much more difficult to treat.
Between hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and osteosarcoma, your large breed dog should be taken to the vet at the slightest sign of limping or leg pain. Early diagnosis and treatment are the keys to managing most of these health problems.
4. Arthritis/Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD)
Degenerative Joint Disease, better known as arthritis, is a condition where the cartilage in one or more of your dog’s joints becomes worn down. Without enough cartilage, the bones in a joint rub together and cause your dog a lot of pain.
Obesity is one of the main factors that contribute to arthritis, so it’s crucial to keep your large breed dog at a healthy weight.
Arthritis can cause painful inflammation in your dog’s joints. Fish oil supplements contain large amounts of omega-3, a fatty acid that can help reduce inflammation and decrease pain.
There is a ton of omega 3 products on the market, so we’ve narrowed it down with this list of the best fish oil supplements for dogs.
Related: 7 Best Joint Supplements for Dogs
You’ve probably heard of growing pains in human children. Panosteitis is a similar condition that affects growing large breed puppies.
Panosteitis causes inflammation of the leg bones. While the front legs are most commonly affected, the back legs can also be affected.
Panosteitis is typically treated with pain medications and sometimes steroids to reduce inflammation. The pain may last from a few days to a few months. Most puppies will eventually outgrow the problem, although some dogs can develop juvenile arthritis.
6. Cervical Spondylomyelopathy (CSM), or Wobbler Syndrome
Cervical spondylomyelopathy (CSM), better known as wobbler syndrome, is a disease of the neck that most commonly affects large and giant breed dogs.
Half of all cases of wobbler syndrome are diagnosed in Doberman Pinschers. Other dog breeds that are more likely than others to develop wobbler syndrome include Dalmatians, Great Danes, Rottweilers, and Weimaraners.
While the symptoms of wobbler syndrome may appear neurological, the cause is actually a compression of the spinal cord in the neck, which can lead to neck pain and nervous system problems (like wobbling).
Wobbler syndrome can often be treated with crate rest and pain medications as needed throughout their lives, although it occasionally requires surgery. 1 in 5 dogs that get surgery for wobbler syndrome suffers another case of wobbler syndrome after surgery.
7. Dilated Cardiomyopathy
Dilated cardiomyopathy is an enlarged heart that doesn’t pump well, leading to fluid buildup in the lungs and around the heart. This disease is not reversible and can eventually lead to death.
Symptoms may include:
- Reduced exercise tolerance
- Increased panting
- Cough (especially after being active)
- Fainting episodes
- Loss of appetite
- Inability to rest comfortably
- Sudden death
There is no cure for dilated cardiomyopathy, and the disease isn’t reversible, so treatment revolves around preventing the situation from getting worse using various medications.
8. Aortic Stenosis
The aorta is the large artery that comes out of the heart and helps pump blood throughout the body.
Aortic stenosis is a narrowing of the aorta, which can result in a heart murmur, fainting, congestive heart failure, and death. Dog breeds that are more prone to aortic stenosis include large breeds like:
Aortic stenosis in dogs is typically treated by managing the symptoms. Dogs with a minor case of aortic stenosis may live relatively normal lives, while dogs with severe cases can expect to have congestive heart failure and premature death.
The thyroid gland is located in your dog’s neck and produces a hormone that regulates his metabolism. Sometimes, the thyroid doesn’t produce enough of that hormone.
Other times, your dog’s immune system attacks the thyroid hormone, thinking it’s a pathogen.
Either of these result in your dog not having enough thyroid hormone for their metabolism to function properly, which is referred to as hypothyroidism.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Hair loss
- Flaky skin
- Intolerance to cold
- Weight gain
- Loss of appetite
- Ear and toenail infections
- Muscle loss
- Slowed heart rate
Luckily, hypothyroidism is easy to treat with daily medication to provide your dog with enough thyroid hormone for him to function normally.
10. Addison’s Disease
While hypothyroidism is a lack of thyroid hormone, Addison’s disease is lack of a different hormone, cortisol, which is usually released during times of stress.
Symptoms of Addison’s disease, which may appear over time or all at once, include:
- Lack of appetite
- Increased thirst and urination
Addison’s disease is easily managed with medication and dedication to reducing your dog’s stress levels.
More than half (56%) of all dogs are overweight or obese, and dogs can suffer from many of the same weight-related health problems as people.
Large breed dogs may be disproportionately affected because their owner mistakes the dog’s additional weight as a normal size for their large breed dog.
Obesity can shorten a dog’s lifespan by up to two years and cause health problems including:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Joint degeneration and pain
- Bladder stones
- Higher risk of complications during anesthesia
How can you tell if your dog is overweight?
You should be able to feel their ribs, they should have a waist when viewed from above, and their chest should tuck upward toward their hips. If you’re unsure, you can ask your veterinarian to assess your dog’s weight.
Think your dog needs to lose some weight? Here are 9 fun ways to exercise with your dog.
12. Bloat and Torsion
Large breed dogs, especially deep-chested breeds like Great Danes, Standard Poodles, and German Shepherds, can suffer from an emergency condition called bloat or Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV).
This condition is caused when a dog’s stomach rotates, preventing food from moving through the rest of the digestive tract.
Symptoms of bloat include:
- Anxious behavior
- Excessive drooling
- Abdominal pain and distension (swelling)
- Vomiting past the point where anything is left in the stomach
Gastric decompression can relieve the initial bloating symptoms, but surgery is typically required to flip the stomach back in place and move all internal organs back to where they are supposed to be. During surgery, the stomach is often secured in place to prevent it from twisting again.
To prevent this life-threatening health condition, you should feed your large breed dog 2-3 times per day, preferably using a slow feeder bowl (like this) to prevent your dog from gulping their food too quickly and swallowing air, which may cause bloat.
13. Cruciate Ligament Tears
The CCL is a ligament that is equivalent to the ACL in human knees. Small tears in the ligament may heal with rest, but large dogs that suffer from CCL tears often require surgery. Dog breeds that are more likely to rupture their CCL include:
- German Shepherds
- Golden Retrievers
- Labrador Retrievers
After surgery, it’s crucial to keep your dog calm for around 8 weeks to allow your dog to heal. Without their normal amount of exercise, your dog may become antsy. Make sure he has plenty of toys he can quietly chew on during this period, like these.
14. Dental Problems
Most dogs show signs of periodontal disease by the age of 3. Problems with your dog’s teeth and gums are not only unsightly, but they can cause your dog serious pain and health problems as well as contribute to their death if left untreated.
That’s because bacteria like to live under your dog’s gum line, and left to reproduce uncontrolled, they can eventually enter your dog’s bloodstream and even reach his heart.
Luckily, dental problems are the easiest health problem to prevent in dogs.
Daily tooth brushing is the best way to go (you can check out our dog toothpaste recommendations here), but dental treats and toys can make a big difference in your dog’s dental health if they won’t tolerate toothbrushing.
As terrifying as it is to watch your dog have a seizure, it’s important to remember that it isn’t painful, and your dog won’t swallow their tongue.
If your dog has a seizure, you should take them to the vet to try to figure out why since seizures can be a symptom of poisoning or other serious health conditions.
Once other conditions have been ruled out, your vet may have you keep an eye on your dog before starting them on medications. Seizures that happen less frequently than once a month and last for less than a few minutes aren’t especially dangerous.
On the other hand, seizures that occur in clusters or last for more than a few minutes can be very serious and potentially life-threatening. Your dog should be taken to the vet immediately to try to prevent permanent brain damage.
Epilepsy is a condition where a dog has serious, frequent, or cluster seizures. It can be treated with anticonvulsant medications, but once your dog starts those medications, they will need them for the rest of their life.
Stopping anticonvulsant medication can trigger seizures even in dogs who hadn’t previously had them.
Entropion is a genetic condition where a dog’s eyelid rolls inward, allowing the fur on the eyelid to scratch the eye. While it may affect only one eye, it commonly affects both eyes.
Large breed dogs that are more prone to entropion include:
- American Staffordshire Terrier
- Old English Sheepdog
- Siberian Husky
- Bassett Hound
- Chesapeake Bay Retriever
- Flat-coated Retriever
- Golden Retriever
- Labrador Retriever
- Gordon Setter
- Irish Setter
- Bernese Mountain Dog
- Great Dane
- Saint Bernard
- Shar pei
- Great Pyrenees
Entropion may require multiple surgeries to fix, but the prognosis is good once the surgeries are complete. However, any corneal damage that occurs as a result of the fur rubbing against the eye before surgery may be permanent.
Ectropion is essentially the opposite condition of entropion – affected eyelids droop away from the eyeball instead of curling toward it.
It’s most common in breeds like:
- Saint Bernard
- Bassett Hound
Lubricating eye drops may be enough to treat mild cases of ectropion, while two or more surgeries may be required for more severe cases. Dogs who have surgery for ectropion have a good prognosis.
Obviously, large dogs aren’t the only breeds that deal with parasites, but they are an important health hazard that is important to discuss. Parasites are more than just “gross” – they can cause serious health problems for your dog.
Fleas like it warm, so depending on where you live, you may have to deal with them year-round or just during the summer.
In any case, these pests are incredibly difficult to eliminate from your home and can cause your dog intense itching at best and bald spots or tapeworms at the worst.
Since fleas are so difficult to rid your home of, preventing them from living on your dog in the first place is a much better plan than tackling them after your dog and home become infested.
Ticks can be more difficult to spot than fleas since they don’t move and can hide easily under your dog’s fur. Unfortunately, ticks can carry some very serious diseases like Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme disease.
If your dog has very short hair, you may be able to just inspect them regularly for ticks and pull them off (making sure you get the head out).
However, most dogs will benefit from being on a medication that prevents ticks in the first place. You can learn more about tick repellants here.
Intestinal worms can cause your dog a variety of problems from diarrhea to anemia and even death in some cases. There are four main types of dog worms that affect dogs: hookworms, roundworms, whipworms, and tapeworms.
Over-the-counter dewormers will work for some types of worms, but you may need prescription deworming medication for other types of worms.
Learn more about intestinal worms and the best dog dewormers for large breed dogs here.
Heartworm is a parasite that, as the name implies, grows inside your dog’s heart, which can eventually prevent blood from flowing properly and kill your dog.
While heartworm is expensive and difficult to treat, it is quite easy to prevent by keeping your dog on a heartworm-preventing medication around the year.