Watching a giant, goofy dog bounding toward you fills you with delight. Large-breed dogs are special creatures, not only because there is more to love and to pet, but also because they often are truly gentle giants. Such large dogs, however, have some unique issues that pet owners should know about. Here are the top eight health conditions that affect large-breed dogs. 

#1: Cranial cruciate ligament injuries

Similar to ACL injuries in professional athletes, dogs can also tear their anterior, or cranial, cruciate ligament (CCL), which is vital for stabilizing the knee joint. Without the CCL, a dog often cannot bear weight on the affected limb because of instability and pain. Obesity is a main contributor to CCL injuries, because the excessive weight exerts extra pressure on the joints. Over time, the wear and tear on the ligament can cause a partial tear, and a single traumatic event can lead to a total rupture. 

#2: Improper nutrition

Proper nutrition is important for all pets, but none more so than giant-breed dogs, whose calcium, phosphorus, and protein requirements are different from other breeds. Excessive calcium and protein can cause orthopedic conditions during a giant-breed pup’s development. Panosteitis, a type of painful bone inflammation often found in growing large-breed puppies, is thought to be caused by rapid growth and high-protein diets. Slow, controlled growth through carefully balanced nutrition is critical for a healthy large-breed dog. 

#3: Rapid aging

Dogs’ lives are already too short, but giant dogs leave us earlier. On average, giant breeds live about eight years, although some can reach 13 or older. With this rapid aging comes a variety of health problems associated with senior pets—metabolic disorders, osteoarthritis, cognitive dysfunction, and cancer. Ensure your large pup lives a long, healthy life with routine preventive care that includes twice-yearly wellness visits with our team. 

#4: Osteoarthritis

Although osteoarthritis can affect any breed and is common in senior pets, larger dogs, whose growth patterns and weight contribute to stiffness, limping, and difficulty moving, are prone to developing this painful orthopedic condition. Keep your large dog at her appropriate weight to limit the osteoarthritis risk, and the potential pain. 

#5: Elbow and hip dysplasia

Common orthopedic conditions that affect large- and giant-breed dogs include hip and elbow dysplasia, which occur when the joint does not align correctly, leading to instability, pain, joint degeneration, and osteoarthritis. Genetics are the biggest contributor to hip and elbow dysplasia, although rapid weight gain and growth due to excessive eating can complicate these diseases. X-rays will show if a pet has dysplasia. 

#6: Stomach bloat and torsion

Gastric dilation and volvulus syndrome (GDV), commonly known as bloat, is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the stomach dilates and then twists around on itself, cutting off blood supply to the stomach and spleen. Large-breed dogs with deep, narrow chests are more prone to bloating, and special care should be taken when feeding and exercising—allow plenty of time for digestion before intense play. 

#7: Dilated cardiomyopathy

A heart condition commonly seen in large- and giant-breed dogs, dilated cardiomyopathy weakens the heart, which then cannot pump blood properly. As the heart chambers become enlarged, the muscle wall becomes thinner, inhibiting its ability to pump blood through the rest of the body. Since the heart can’t pump adequately, fluid builds up, especially in the lungs, leading to congestive heart failure. 

#8: Wobbler syndrome

Cervical spondylomyelopathy (CSM), or Wobbler’s, is a disease of the cervical spine that affects the alignment of the neck vertebrae. Dogs with CSM become weak, with an unsteady gait, that will progress without surgical correction. 

The best thing you can do for your big dog is to purchase health insurance when she is a puppy. Some policies do not cover pre-existing conditions, so investing in health insurance when your pup is young will ensure that your dog is always fully covered. 

Any time your best, big friend needs medical care, or if you have questions about pet insurance—give us a call