Are you familiar with the potential Great Dane health problems? A responsible owner is informed

Of course, we believe that once you have a Dane in your life, you couldn’t imagine being without one. But you need to approach Dane ownership with open eyes. Every breed has health problems more prevalent than in other breeds and the Great Dane is no exception. There are some unique Great Dane health problems you should understand.

Good breeding practices strive to produce the healthiest animals possible and many hereditary health issues have been significantly reduced in the Dane because of this. But these medical conditions havenot been eliminated, so if you are considering submitting yourself to Dane ownership, make sure your prospective breeder allows you to see the mother and provides health history documentation. Of course, just because mom or dad have not had any health problems doesn’t necessarily mean your Dane will be disease free its entire life. But the odds are much better.

Great Danes get many of the things other dogs get: fleas, worms, kennel cough, cancers etc. The aim of this article is not to go over any of those in great detail. A generic dog book will cover that adequately. This article will highlight some of the health issues that appear to be more prevalent in the Dane.(This article does not discuss injuries. See Dog first aid kits for information regarding this subject.

Review the information on this page and you’ll have enough knowledge to start asking the questions you need to ask if talking with a breeder. If you are already owned by a Dane, this overview will sum up some of the options available should your special companion get sick.

When you consider the unbelievable growth rate in these animals –from birth to the weight of an adult human in 12 months (we get 18 years to do this), it is not surprising that bone growth disorders and orthopedic problems have a much higher incidence in Great Danes. Hip Dysplasia, Wobbler’s syndrome, HOD and Pano (more on these conditions below) are all diseases that can afflict your Dane. But there are other types as well. In fact, the number one killer of our Danes is not an orthopedic issue, but rather a heart condition.


In January 2004 the Great Dane club of America published a survey which concluded that heart disease had overtaken bloat and cancer as the most frequently occurring fatal condition in Danes. Dilated cardiomyopathy is a degenerative heart muscle condition that gradually weakens the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively. It is usually associated with an enlargement of the left ventrical.

If your Dane does develop cardiomyopathy, medication will relieve pain and make your best friend somewhat comfortable. But there comes a time when medication cannot provide relief and it is heartbreaking to watch as the end draws near. This condition is always fatal.


One of the health issues that is most commonly associated with the Great Dane is a condition known as bloat. This is a terrible medical emergency that can cause horrible pain and proves fatal in 40% of all cases.

Bloat is a gastric dilation of the stomach caused by an abnormal accumulation of gas or liquid. This can be dangerous enough in its own right, but sometimes it leads to a second stage called volvulus, which is a stomach twisting or tortion. This shuts the stomach off from the rest of the body and prevents any of the accumulated gas or fluid within to escape. The stomach continues to expand, setting off a catastrophic series of events that in most cases can only be averted with emergency surgery.

The “experts” have not determined the cause of bloat, although many breeders have concluded stress is the number one factor. There are just too many stories of responsible Dane owners returning home after work to find their animal dead. We had a gastropexy done so even though bloat could still occur (although statistically the chances have been greatly reduced because of this procedure), we at least know that our Bismarck will not suffer the volvulus, or stomach twisting .


Given the enormous growth of these beauties, it might be a reasonable assumption that orthopedic issues would be particularly prevalent. And they are.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is a genetic degenerative joint disease affecting the joints of the hip. The soft tissues surrounding the joints break down and the joints themselves begin to separate. The best way to avoid dealing with this issue is to choose your animal carefully. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) will examine xrays and rate the condition of the hips. Any breeder should be able to provide OFA rated documentation for the parents of your new puppy. This is excellent information. Be wary if this is not offered. Surgery can correct this condition in many cases, however a hip replacement will mean thousands of dollars in vet bills.

Wobbler’s Syndrome (Cervical Vertebral Instability)

Another orthopedic medical problem more frequently associated with Great Danes is cervical vertebral instability, or Wobbler’s syndrome. The symptom is a clumsy, or wobbly gait when walking. This Dane health problem is caused by a malformation in the neck vertebrae that causes pressure to be exerted on the spinal cord.

Wobbler’s is thought to be a hereditary condition, although there may also be a connection between this Great Dane health issue and nutritional deficiencies.

HOD (Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy)

Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy – there’s a mouthful! HOD is an orthopedic condition that occurs due to the rapid bone growth in Great Dane puppies. It causes severe joint pain (usually in the front joints, or pasterns) and is accompanied with fever. If HOD is going to strike, it usually occurs in puppies between four and seven months old.

The danger with this medical problem is that it can lead to severe secondary infections (i.e. pneumonia) that can be fatal.

If your puppy appears to be in pain and develops a temperature, HOD is the most likely culprit. HOD can be treated and provided it does not lead to further complications, is not life threatening.

Pano (Panosteitis)

Pano, is another bone health issue that occurs due to the rapid growth puppies go through during the first year. When the bones develop faster than the soft tissue around them, inflammation will sometimes result. A lump normally appears on one of the legs and although it can be stationary, it is not uncommon to see it migrate to the other one. This condition disappears once the Dane is a year old.

There is no cure for this health condition, although anti-inflammatory medication will manage it. The real secret to preventing pano is to properly feed during the first year. Don’t over feed, watch the protein levels and in particular, the calcium levels of you puppy. Growing your Great Dane too fast always leads to trouble.

OCD (Osteochondritis Dissecans)

Yet another puppy orthopedic condition – if this one shows up it is usually when your Dane pup is between four and eight months of age. It affects the shoulder joints and lower leg joints and occurs when cartilage at the end of the long bones (leg bones) is injured because it is not developed enough to sustain the impacts and stress from vigorous exercise.

There are medications that can manage this condition but in more serious cases, surgery may be required. The best way to approach this health problem is through prevention: try and limit the intensity of your puppy’s physical activity. During that first year of growth in particular, even though they look magnificent, they really are quite fragile!


Skeletal issues aren’t the only type of condition that shows up in Great Danes. Another medical issue that is seen more often than anyone would like is hypothyroidism.

This is an inherited immune system disorder which inhibits the thyroid gland from producing sufficient hormones to support the Dane’s metabolism. It causes body systems to slow down and your beautiful Dane will display an unhealthy lack of energy and a complete disinterest in everything around him. This is totally unnatural behavior for these canine children! A blood test will determine if this is the problem and there are medications that will treat this condition.


All dog breeds suffer from cancers. Indeed, data is now starting to show that over 50% of ALL DOGS develop some kind of cancer in their lives. And more and more “dog people” are concluding that the processed dog food diets we have been using for the last 60 years may have a large part to do with that shocking statistic.

Great Danes are no exception – they get cancer as well. Fibrosarcoma, a bone cancer, is more common in Danes and usually appears in the jaw or legs. Hemangiosarcoma, an organ cancer, is also prevalent in our breed and in particular, seems to attack the spleen.

It is a good idea to get any new lump checked by a vet as quickly as possible. It may just be a cyst, but breeders generally agree that something like 20% of new “lumps” will be cancerous.

The only precaution a responsible owner can take against cancer is a nutritious and balanced diet. Although no formal studies have been completed, proponents of a raw dog food diet (BARF) say one of the benefits is the dramatic reduction in the instance of cancers as medical problems for their Danes.

So, those are the major Great Dane health problems any owner or prospective owner should be aware of. Despite the muscles and the obvious strength of these dogs, they can be delicate! However, proper screening of the parents, good nutrition, appropriate levels of exercise and lots of love will go a very long way in increasing the odds that your special Dane will not suffer from these health conditions.

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