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How Often Should Large Dogs Go to the Vet?

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Overview

Parenting a large dog is a lot of work. Large dogs require extra food, bigger kennels, and often more vet visits than smaller canines. One reason big dogs tend to visit the vet a lot is they’re prone to health conditions — especially orthopedic problems — due to the added strain their weight puts on their body.

Regular vet visits can help keep your large dog healthy and identify the early signs of illness. So how often should you be taking your large dog to the vet? Let’s discuss.


How often should large dogs go to the vet?

How often large dogs should visit the vet depends on their age, underlying conditions, and if they're exhibiting symptoms. 

During puppyhood, large breed dogs will need to visit the vet every few weeks for vaccinations and checkups until 16 weeks of age. When large breeds enter early adulthood, vets usually suggest yearly checkups and sick visits as needed.

Large and giant breeds age quicker than small dogs and require senior veterinary care as early as 5 or 6 years of age. Most vets recommend twice-yearly geriatric screenings and wellness checks for large dogs over 5 years old. Dogs with certain pre-existing illnesses will need to visit the vet more regularly to monitor their condition. 

Regardless of age, you should seek veterinary care for large dogs if they are exhibiting any of the symptoms below:

  • Signs of pain (whimpering, crying out, jumping when handled)
  • Pale gums
  • Trouble walking or limping
  • Changes in drinking or eating habits
  • Breathing irregularities
  • Abnormal heart rate
  • Behavioral changes
  • Convulsions
  • Trouble urinating or defecating
  • Increased urination
  • Excessive shaking of the head
  • Head tilt
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Changes in eye appearance
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • The presence of blood in any bodily fluids


Common health conditions in large dogs

Unfortunately, the same body frame that makes dogs big and strong can also put them at risk for health conditions. Below are some of the most common health challenges large dogs face.

Arthritis

It’s well-known that large dogs tend to struggle with joint problems as they age. Arthritis in particular can cause active dogs to lose the ability to participate in activities they once enjoyed.

Osteoarthritis is a painful and often debilitating condition that causes joint inflammation. This condition is most common in older dogs due to years of joint use, although injury, genetics, and pre-existing conditions can cause younger dogs to develop arthritis as well.

Symptoms of arthritis include:

  • Swollen joints that feel hot
  • Stiff joints
  • Trouble standing after laying down
  • Decrease in activity level
  • Weight changes
  • Whimpering or snapping when touched


Hip dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is an orthopedic condition that can affect large breeds of any age. This condition is often genetic and results from a skeletal deformity that causes the femoral head to fit incorrectly into the hip socket. Over time, this improper fit will cause the bones to wear down gradually and can lead to loss of leg function.

This condition is especially prevalent in Great Danes, Saint Bernards, Labradors, and German Shepherds. Obesity and injuries can also put dogs at risk of developing hip dysplasia.

Symptoms of hip dysplasia include:


Bloat

Bloat (also known as gastric dilatation volvulus) is an extremely dangerous condition that's common in large deep-chested canines. This condition occurs when a large amount of air accumulates in the stomach and cuts off the blood supply to vital organs, including the heart and pancreas.

Bloat is a complex condition that can kill dogs in several ways, from sending dogs into shock to triggering cardiac arrest. Unfortunately, only 30% of dogs survive an episode of bloat, even with intensive care.

Symptoms of bloat include:


Dilated cardiomyopathy

Dilated cardiomyopathy, also known as an enlarged heart, is responsible for 11% of all canine heart diseases and is a leading contributor to heart failure. This heart condition is particularly prevalent in large dogs, although experts aren’t sure why.

With dilated cardiomyopathy, the heart muscle gradually deteriorates and stretches, causing the heart to expand and weaken. These anatomical changes cause the heart not to pump as effectively. This condition may also cause dogs to develop an irregular heartbeat and leaky heart valves.

Dilated cardiomyopathy is a serious and often fatal illness that progresses quickly. See a vet immediately if your dog starts exhibiting any of the symptoms below.

Symptoms of dilated cardiomyopathy:


Wobbler syndrome

Wobbler syndrome is a collective term for several conditions that cause spinal compression and interfere with an animal’s ability to walk normally. This condition commonly affects large and giant breeds like Bernese Mountain Dogs, Mastiffs, Doberman Pinschers, and Labs.

Most forms of wobbler syndrome are progressive and may leave dogs unable to walk. Surgery, medication, and physical therapy may help improve the symptoms of wobbler syndrome if the condition is diagnosed before it becomes severe.

Symptoms of wobbler syndrome include:

  • Unusual, uncoordinated gait
  • Swaying while walking
  • Walking with the legs far apart
  • Limb paralysis (especially after trauma)
  • Falling


Osteosarcoma

Osteosarcoma is highly aggressive form of bone cancer that's common in large breed dogs. This type of cancer usually develops in the limbs, but it can occur anywhere in the skeletal system.

Dogs with this type of cancer may experience bone breaks due to a decrease in bone’s structural integrity. By the time dogs start exhibiting symptoms of osteosarcoma, the disease has usually progressed so far that treatment isn’t an option. Sadly, most dogs will not survive this condition.

Symptoms of osteosarcoma:

  • Inflamed mass(es) on the limbs 
  • Limb pain
  • Difficulty walking or limping
  • Bone breaks


Pet care considerations for large dogs

Below are some things to consider when bringing a large fur-baby into your home.


Start obedience training early

Sure, it may be cute when your tiny puppy jumps on you, but when they turn into a 100-pound giant, it won’t be so adorable — this is why you must start obedience training early for large dogs. Not only will training make your dog more enjoyable to be around, but when done correctly, training is a great way to bond with your dog.


Invest in an orthopedic dog bed

Large dogs are prone to joint problems as they age. However, a supportive dog bed can help reduce the stress on your pet’s joints and make your pet more comfortable too. Orthopedic dog beds are a great choice for older large breed dogs since they help with weight distribution and can help prevent pressure sores.


Buy good-quality dog food

Large dogs have very complex nutritional needs. Many conditions that affect large breeds — like bloat and developmental orthopedic diseases — can be influenced by diet.

Adult large dogs need a well-balanced diet that has real meat as the first ingredient and is free of fillers and additives. Steer clear of high-fat dog food or formulas with fatty ingredients near the top of the ingredients list. Diets high in fat have been linked to bloat in large dogs.

Picking a dog food for a large breed puppy can be even more difficult since they are prone to overnutrition. Large breed puppies need a dog food that’s low in fat, calcium, phosphorous, and vitamin D to prevent developmental diseases like hip dysplasia and osteochondrosis. Picking the right dog food can be challenging, so ask your vet for recommendations if you’re unsure.


Do your part to prevent bloat

There are a few things you can do to reduce your large dog’s risk of bloat. Rather than feeding your dog one big meal, divvy up your pet’s daily allotment of food into several small meals throughout the day.

Slow feeders can also prevent your dog from scarfing down large quantities of food at one time. Refrain from using raised feeders since there is some evidence this can increase the risk of bloat. Lastly, wait a couple of hours after your pet finishes their meal to walk or roughhouse with them.


Buy supplies specifically made for big dogs

Large dogs can destroy a regular dog toy in the blink of an eye. Besides making a mess, destroying toys can cause dogs to choke or develop gastric obstructions. Protect Fido and prevent messes by buying toys specifically for large dogs and heavy chewers.


Save on pet insurance for your pet

Paying for a large dog's vet costs out of pocket can be a major financial burden. Fortunately, most pet insurance companies reimburse claims within 3 days, putting 90% of the bill back in your pocket. In the market for pet insurance? Compare leading pet insurance companies to find the right plan for your pet.


Average vet care costs for large dogs

Routine vet care is expensive, no matter your dog’s size. But since dog medication often is priced by weight, veterinary care for large dogs is often much more costly than for small dogs. Below is an average vet cost breakdown for large dogs:

Large breeds:

  • Routine checkup: $50 to $250
  • Spay/neuter: $160 to $220
  • Yearly vaccines: $120 
  • Heartworm prevention (yearly): $204
  • Flea and tick prevention (yearly): $240 
  • Dewormer (yearly): $68 
  • Dental cleaning: $70 to $400
  • Bloodwork: $80 to $200

Giant breeds:

  • Routine checkup:$50 to $250
  • Spay/neuter: $160 to $220
  • Yearly vaccines: $120 
  • Heartworm prevention (yearly): $216 
  • Flea and tick prevention(yearly): $301 
  • Dewormer(yearly): $68
  • Dental cleaning: $70 to $400
  • Bloodwork: $80 to $200

As you can see, veterinary care for large breeds can get expensive. Prepare for routine and unexpected veterinary expenses by insuring your fur-baby ASAP.  Start comparing insurance plans from leading insurers like Healthy Paws and Embrace and save over $270 a year.


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