Common Health Problems in Large Dog Breeds

We all want our canine best friend to live happy, healthy lives forever. But the truth is, the large/giant breed dogs are more prone to health issues – giving them a shorter lifespan. To shed some light on this, we have put together a list of the top 10 common health problems in large dog breeds for you.

1. Canine Hip Dysplasia (CHD)

Canine hip joints are what is known as a ‘ball and socket’ style joint where the ball of the femur bone fits snuggly into the hip socket forming a joint, and surrounded by cartilage. In the case of large/giant breed dogs, there is a rapid increase of weight gain and overall size due to nutritional intake typically seen in larger breeds. This often leads to abnormal development of the hip joint – causing persistent wearing and rubbing of the skeletal ball and socket hip joint. As large/giant breed dogs grow, they may experience laxity of the hip joint causing pain, joint dysfunction and instability of the hip. Eventually the dog suffers from painful hip joint deterioration and arthritis.

Risk Factors

Although the cause of canine hip dysplasia is multifaceted and not selective to a particular breed or size; scientific research has proven genetics is the most single contributing factor. Other common risk factors also include types of activity and exercise, weight, nutritional intake or the lack thereof, individual growth rate and hereditary factors.

2. Elbow Dysplasia

The canine elbow joint is the first joint on a dog’s leg nearest the chest cavity, and consist of three bones; the radius, ulna and humerus. It is imperative these three bones align together perfectly for a normally functioning elbow. With elbow dysplasia; the dog’s abnormal growth rate and weight distribution will cause excess wear and tear due to deformities in the elbow joint, inflammation and osteoarthritis typically presented initially with clinical signs of lameness.

Risk Factors

Theories abound for the exact cause of elbow dysplasia, however hereditary factors and unnatural fast growth seen in large/giant dog breeds are major contributors. In fact, 80% of patients have been found to have elbow dysplasia in both elbows. Other significant risk factors have been linked to trauma, nutrition, and defective cartilage growth.

3. Arthritis

Simply put, arthritis is the inflammation of any joint resulting in pain and swelling. Common arthritis can affect any dog’s joints and bones – but especially in seniors and larger breed dogs. However, large/giant breeds are more susceptible to due to their patterns of growth rate and weight. Just as with humans, arthritis can cause moderate to severe pain and stiffness, limping, and mobility trouble.

Risk Factors

While arthritis is very common in seniors and larger breeds of dogs, there are many contributing factors that lead to increased risks including: Hip Dysplasia, joint infections, Elbow Dysplasia, Patellar Luxation, autoimmune disorders, previous fractures or ligament injuries, Osteochondrosis Dissecans (thickening of joint cartilage), diet, exercise and activity.

4. Cervical Spondylomyelopathy (CSM)

Known as Wobbler syndrome, this cervical spine disease affects the vertebrae alignment resulting in compression of the spinal cord and cervical pain found in dogs older than 3 years of age. Dogs diagnosed with CSM frequently display uncoordinated gaits in their rear hind quarters that progresses to the front legs as well. Effects are also loss of muscle mass and neck pain.

Risk Factors

While there have been many theories as the what causes CSM through the years, most have have fell by the wayside. In recent years, the rapid growth rate in giant dog breeds has been the favored proposed cause. In fact, over 50% of Wobbler Syndrome cases have been linked to Doberman Pinschers, Rottweilers, Great Danes, Dalmations and Weimaraners.

5. Dilated Cardiomyopathy

A common heart disease in large/giant breed dogs where the heart becomes weak and unable to sustain enough blood flow to the body; resulting in weakness and intolerance to exercise, breathing difficulty and coughing, and possibly a distended abdomen due to fluid build-up.

Risk Factors

Hereditary components have a direct correlation to dilated cardiomyopathy. Other factors include diet.

6. Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is a common condition that occurs when the release of T-4 and T-3 hormone productions are lowered by the thyroid gland frequently seen in medium to giant breed dogs. Hypothyroidism can affect mood and activity level, weight gain, vision and hair loss – including scaling and skin infections.

Risk Factors

Neutered male and female dogs,presence of a thyroid tumor and or cancer are among those with an increased risk factor for hypothyroidism.

7. Bloat (GDV)

Gastric Dilation and Volvulus Syndrome (GDV) or gastric torsion/bloat is a canine disease where the stomach dilates, then twists around in short radius. This prevents the dog from belching, vomiting and severs necessary blood supply to the stomach and spleen quickly leading to shock and death. Breeds that are deep barrel and narrow chested are more likely to contract the disease.

Risk Factors

While canine bloat has a strong hereditary link with emphasis on large to giant breed dogs, there are other dispositions posing increased risks. For instance; we know that males are twice as apt to bloat than females. Diets containing the first four ingredients of soybean meal or oils and fats stand to quadruple their chance of bloat.

8. Entropion

Entropion is when the part of the eyelid is transposed, or flipped inward causing the eyelid hairs to rub and irritate the cornea. In most cases, the dog is diagnosed by the time it is one year old. Entropion can cause intense eye pain, ulcers on the cornea, perforations, pigment change and vision changes. Squinting, hold their eye shut, drainage or discharge from the inflicted eye(s) or excessive tearing are all common reactions.

Risk Factors

While the genetic connection is a mystery, research has shown there is a hereditary connection among large/giant breed dogs as well as the flat-faced breeds like the Pugs and Pekingese. Just as with ectropion, an additional risk factor is associated with acquired ectropion due to spasm or trauma.

9. Ectropion

Opposite of entropion, the abnormal Ectropion is the eyelid deformity causing the edge of the eyelid to roll outward – resulting in the exposure of the inner eyelid tissue and the appearance of a droopy eye. Complications of ectropion can cause dryness, irritation, damage and scarring of the cornea along with frequent bouts of conjunctivitis.

Risk Factors

Congenital Ectropion is very common among large/breeds of dogs. However risk factors contributed to acquired Ectropion include:

  • Hypothyroidism

  • Facial nerve paralysis

  • Neuromuscular disease

  • Secondary scarring as a result of optic injury

  • Chronic infection and inflammation to the optic tissues

10. Cherry Eye

Cherry eye is a slang term for the prolapse of the third eyelid gland in canines. A pink mass which projects from the eyelid is usually linked to congenital weakness from the gland’s appendage to the eye and can occur in just one, or both eyes.

Risk Factors

While Cherry Eye is not limited to large/giant breeds, it is linked to congenital weakness in the gland’s attachment of the dog’s eye found in short muzzled dogs and the larger breeds. Additional risks factors are previous head and eye trauma.

The Bottom Line

The average lifespan of large breed dogs can range from 6-14 years, depending not just on the breed but many factors including; genetics, living conditions, environment and overall care provided throughout their lifespan. Every dog is as different as its individual situation. Even dogs that are genetically prone to a condition or disease does not necessarily mean it is written in stone they will inherit the problem – much less die from it. If you have a large/giant breed dog, you should take preventative steps to have their health monitored regularly and treated accordingly.

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