6 min read

How to Care for a Giant Dog Breed: What You Need to Know

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Overview

Giant dog breeds are much loved by pet parents. They're gentle and goofy, and there's more of them to cuddle. Giant breeds are among the kindest and laziest dogs around — "pawfect" for a busy family looking for a laid-back buddy! 

You might be asking yourself, "What exactly is a giant dog breed?" There's no exact definition, but any dog breed weighing 100 pounds or more is considered a giant. Common examples include Newfoundlands, Great Danes, Saint Bernards, and Mastiffs.

While having a giant dog comes with plenty of perks, these big breeds can develop several health problems. Here's everything you need to know about how to care for a giant dog breed.


How often should giant dog breeds go to the vet?

Caring for a giant dog is a lot different than caring for a petite pup. Unlike their pint-sized counterparts, giant dog breeds grow rapidly during puppyhood. As a result, giant dog breeds are prone to developing bone and joint disorders like hip dysplasia. Many giant dog breeds will continue growing past 2 years old.

Giant breeds also tend to have shorter lifespans than small and medium-sized breeds. For example, a Bullmastiff's life expectancy is 8 to 10 years, compared to a Jack Russell Terrier, which has an average lifespan of approximately 15 years.

All things considered, giant breeds require a routine check-up once every 6 months (compared to once a year for smaller breeds). Giant breed puppies and older dogs may require more frequent visits to the vet. The same goes for giant dogs with pre-existing conditions or those at risk of developing hereditary diseases. Speak to your vet about how often your giant dog needs a check-up.


Common health conditions in giant dog breeds

The most common ailments in giant dog breeds are orthopedic and joint conditions. Eye conditions can also be common among some giant dog breeds. Here are a few health problems you should watch out for.


Hip dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is the most common orthopedic condition among large and giant dog breeds. Hip dysplasia occurs when the ball and socket of the hip grow at a different rate to the rest of the body.

This malformation causes the head of the femur to rub against the joint socket. As a result, the bones rub together, causing discomfort and potentially fractures. 

Common symptoms of hip dysplasia include:

  • Hind limb lameness
  • Decreased mobility
  • Difficulty standing
  • Difficulty climbing/jumping
  • Narrow hind-leg stance


Arthritis

Arthritis is the most common orthopedic condition among senior dogs and is also common among some giant breeds, like Rottweilers. Approximately 1 in 5 dogs show signs of arthritis by the age of one. 

Arthritis is defined as pain or inflammation in a joint. Arthritis is a degenerative condition caused by general wearing of the joints but can be caused by several other factors, including growth, injury, and weight. 

Common symptoms of arthritis include:

  • Lameness (especially after resting)
  • Lethargy
  • Biting/licking at the affected area
  • Weight/muscle loss
  • Pain in the affected area (when touched)
  • Difficulty running/jumping


Bloat and gastric dilatation and volvulus syndrome (GDV)

Bloat is common among deep-chested and giant dog breeds. It occurs when a dog's stomach becomes filled with air. Bloat can develop into a life-threatening condition called gastric dilatation and volvulus syndrome (GDV)

GDV occurs when a dog's bloated stomach becomes twisted. Surgery is usually the only way to resolve GDV. Bloat and GDV are most common among senior dogs and dogs with a genetic predisposition.

Common symptoms of bloat and GDV include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Retching
  • Noticeable swelling of the abdomen
  • Drooling
  • Lethargy
  • Anxiety


Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism usually affects large and giant dog breeds between 4 and 10 years old. Irregularities in the thyroid and pituitary glands cause hypothyroidism, throwing a dog's hormones out of balance.

Idiopathic thyroid gland atrophy and lymphocytic thyroiditis are the most common causes of hypothyroidism. In rare cases, thyroid cancer can cause hypothyroidism. 

Common symptoms of hypothyroidism include:

  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Lethargy
  • Dull hair/excess shedding
  • Cold intolerance
  • Dark skin pigmentation
  • Susceptibility to infections


Entropion

Entropion is a genetic condition that causes part of a dog's eyelid to fold inwards towards the eye. It most commonly affects the lower eyelid but can affect the upper eyelid as well. The dog's eyelashes will rub against their eye, causing severe discomfort.

Entropion usually results from the shape of a dog's head and affects many giant dog breeds, including Bernese Mountain Dogs. Entropion is one of several eye conditions that affect giant breeds, along with cherry eye and ectropion

Common symptoms of entropion include:

  • Inflammation of the eye
  • Eye redness
  • Visible discomfort
  • Light sensitivity
  • Pawing at eyes
  • Eye discharge


Average vet care costs for giant dog breeds

Caring for a giant dog breed can be more expensive than a medium or small dog. Below is a rough breakdown of the average* vet care costs for giant dog breeds. 

  • Routine check-up: $50–$250
  • X-ray: $150–$250
  • Annual vaccinations: $120
  • Annual heartworm treatment: $216
  • Annual cost of flea and tick treatment: $301
  • Annual cost of dewormer: $68
  • Treating hip dysplasia: $2,500
  • Treating arthritis: $300
  • Treating GDV: $6,000
  • Treating hypothyroidism: $1,300
  • Treating entropion: $1,500

*Prices are averages and may differ significantly depending on your dog's breed, size, and age.


Other considerations for giant dog breeds

There's plenty more to consider when caring for a giant dog breed than just their vet costs and possible conditions. From traveling to grooming, here's a look at what else to consider when caring for a giant dog breed.


Diet

Giant dog breeds require different diets than smaller dogs to promote proper development and reduce the risk of bone and joint problems later in life. A poor diet contributes to the development of conditions such as hip dysplasia as your giant dog grows. 

High levels of protein are important to developing healthy muscles and bones. Glucosamine is also essential as it helps mobility. Fatty acids like omega-3 and omega-6 are also good to include to promote shiny, healthy fur. 

Overall, a balanced diet will ensure your giant dog is getting the right amount of nutrients and calories. Giant dog breeds are prone to piling on the pounds if their diet isn't managed correctly. Speak to your vet about which diet is right for your dog. 

When feeding your giant dog breed, you should also take steps to reduce the chance of bloat. Feed your dog 2 to 3 meals a day, rather than just once, as this reduces the chances of bloat. You should also add water to kibble, restrict access to water for an hour after eating, and discourage fast eating.


Grooming

Some long-haired giant dog breeds, like Newfoundlands and Great Pyrenees, require regular brushing to keep their coat healthy and avoid matting. You'll want to brush your long-haired dog several times a week to keep their fur healthy. 

Giant dog breeds will also benefit from a trip to the groomer every once in a while. Old English Sheepdogs have dense double coats, and you should take them to a groomer every 4 or 5 weeks to keep their fur in the best possible condition. Talk to your vet if you're unsure whether your dog needs to see a groomer.


Training

Training from puppyhood is essential for giant dog breeds. If your giant dog is poorly socialized, fearful, or hard to control, they could end up hurting another person or pup. A fully-grown Irish Wolfhound jumping up at a person is much more dangerous than a Chihuahua

Giant dog breeds aren't any more difficult to train than small or medium-sized dogs. Your giant dog should know how to sit, stay, heel, and walk on a loose leash before adulthood.


Exercise

Despite their size, most giant dog breeds require low to moderate levels of exercise. One 30-minute walk with low-impact exercise a day is all many giant dog breeds need. You should also provide mental stimulation around the house, so your giant dog doesn't get bored. 

Avoid high-impact activity, which could put stress on your dog's joints, causing problems later in life. You should especially avoid any exercise that puts stress on your dog's joints during puppyhood.

Not sure how much exercise your dog needs? Check out our breed guides to learn more about your pup's activity requirements.


Traveling

Traveling with a giant dog can be difficult. You'll need to get a crate large enough for your giant dog to fit in comfortably; however, finding one that fits in your car isn't easy. If you're going on vacation, ensure your accommodation is pet-friendly and big enough for your dog. 

Flying with a giant dog breed can be tricky as well. You'll need to pay to place your dog in the cargo hold. You may incur additional charges depending on your dog's weight.

Different airlines have different rules. For example, Southwest Airlines has different policies from United. Always check the rules thoroughly when flying with a dog. If you're traveling abroad, contact the embassy of the country you're visiting prior to departure.


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