Desert Danes of Las Vegas

What You Need to Know About Great Dane Health

All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines. The Great Dane is prone to a host of health problems. Here’s a brief rundown of what you should know.

Among the conditions that can affect the Great Dane is bloat, a condition in which the stomach expands with air. This can become the more serious condition, gastric torsion, if the stomach twists on itself, cutting off the blood supply. This is as grave an emergency as you'll ever face with your dog, and immediate surgery is the only thing that can save his life. The Internet is full of home remedies and suggestions for how to avoid that expensive trip to the emergency hospital. Ignore them and head for the veterinarian if you want to save your dog.

Before surgery, ask about having your dog's stomach tacked, a procedure that will prevent it from twisting again in the future. Nearly all dogs that bloat once will do so again, and that surgery can save your dog's life. In fact, many Great Dane owners have it done routinely on all their dogs as a preventive measure.

Also known as gastric dilation-volvulus, gastric torsion is the number one killer of Danes, and they bloat more often than any other breed. According to a Journal of the AVMA study reported in 2000, 5.3 percent of Great Danes exhibited GDV every year of the study. This condition may be at least partly genetic, but there is no screening test for bloat at this time. Your puppy's breeder should be able to give you an idea of how many close relatives of his parents have bloated in the past; the fewer such animals in your puppy's ancestry, the better.

Great Danes also suffer from a high incidence of cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle resulting in an enlarged heart. This is very common in many giant dogs, and when it occurs late in life, it is often manageable with medication. Have your dog's heart checked at least once a year, and have any murmurs or unusual symptoms investigated by a board-certified veterinary cardiologist. This condition may be genetic as well, but the testing currently available can only clear the dog for the time being; a dog could test clear one day and develop heart disease the next.

Great Danes can also suffer from hip dysplasia, a crippling malformation of the hip socket that may require costly surgery to repair and that can result in painful arthritis later in life. Another genetic problem with an imperfect screening test, the best prevention for hip dysplasia at this time is to only buy a puppy whose parents both tested with normal hips who have very few close relatives with the disease. Keeping your dog lean, particularly when he's young, can also help.

Another painful bone condition is hypertrophic osteodystrophy, occurring during the rapid growth phase of puppyhood. Ask your veterinarian about puppy foods for large breed dogs. These diets are formulated to help the puppies grow slowly, which can help prevent developmental orthopedic problems.

Cancer is another leading cause of death in Great Danes, particularly bone cancer. They are also prone to a number of other skeletal, vision and neurological problems, both major and minor. Great Dane vet bills, like the dogs themselves, tend to be very, very large.

Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it is impossible to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder who is committed to breeding the healthiest animals possible. They should be able to produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for common defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.

Before individual Great Danes can be included in the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) database, the Great Dane Club of America requires them to have a hip evaluation from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) or PennHIP; a clearance from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation; an OFA thyroid evaluation from an approved laboratory; and a cardiac evaluation from OFA or the ACVIM Registry of Cardiac Health (ARCH).

Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease, but all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents. If the breeder tells you she doesn't need to do those tests because she's never had problems in her lines and her dogs have been "vet checked," then you should go find a breeder who is more rigorous about genetic testing.

Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.

Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Great Dane at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Free feeding is recommended for the Great Dane breed, it is almost impossible to know when your dog is hungry. Bad feeding habits are mainly the cause of many behavior issues. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.

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