Common Health Problems in Big Dogs

Do you have a big doggo? One sad fact about our large four-legged friends is that the larger they are, the shorter lifespan they tend to have. There's not much we can do about that except love the bejesus out of them while they are with us and make their lives as happy and healthy as possible.

While large dogs are as loving and loyal as smaller ones, they are more prone to serious health conditions which makes it especially important to ensure that the breeder you choose takes canine health testing very seriously.

Common health issues in large and giant dogs include hip dysplasia, gastric conditions, arthritis, heart problems, eye problems, obesity, skin conditions, and cancer.

Some of these conditions affect all larger doggos because their huge size puts a lot of pressure on the skeleton and joints but others are common to specific breeds.
health problems in big dogs



Arthritis is a common issue in big doggos. It is a degenerative, progressive disease that can cause stiffness, lameness, limping, or difficulty getting up. Weight puts a lot of pressure on joints and can lead to them wearing down more quickly, resulting in arthritis. This condition can eventually cause joint degeneration and inflammation, lameness, and difficulty climbing stairs or jumping. Treatment with medication and physical therapy can help to manage the pain and discomfort caused by arthritis and improve quality of life for affected dogs. You can also provide joint supporting supplements even before symptoms of arthritis develop.

Bloat (Gastric Dilation Volvulus)

Bloat, more properly known as gastric dilation volvulus is a serious medical emergency. It is especially common in large breeds and deep-chested dogs such as Great Danes, Saint Bernards, Weimaraners, German Shepherds, and Labradors. This condition occurs when air is swallowed and builds up in the stomach, causing it to dilate.

Also known as gastric dilation volvulus, bloat is a serious medical emergency that commonly affects large breeds and dogs with deep chests like Great Danes, St. Bernards, Weimaraners, German Shepherds, and Labradors. This condition occurs when the stomach swells due to the buildup of swallowed air.

Symptoms of bloat include a distended stomach, excessive drooling, restlessness, and difficulty breathing. If left untreated, bloat can be fatal.

Prevention involves monitoring your dog’s eating habits and avoiding vigorous exercise after meals.

It is important for owners to seek veterinary advice if they suspect their dog is suffering from bloat. Some owners opt to have a preventative procedure done while their dog is being spayed or neutered.


Cancer is a serious health concern for big dogs. Osteosarcoma, or bone cancer, is found in Boxers, Golden Retrievers, Great Danes, German Shepherds, Doberman, Irish Wolfhound among many others.

Osteosarcoma may develop in a limb in the radius/ulna, tibia/fibula, hip, femur or toes. It is a paniful condition and your dog may develop a limp, become listless, lose his appetite and appear disinterested in regualr activities. A swelling may or may not appear at the site of the cancer. If you notice any changes in your pet’s behavior or health, make sure to contact your veterinarian right away. With early detection and proper treatment, many forms of cancer can be managed successfully.

Dental Disease

As in humans dental and gum disease in dogs can lead to other serious issues such as kidney and heart problems. The most common dental issues seen in dogs are periodontal disease and gingivitis. However, dental issues are more commonly seen in small breeds.

With most bigger doggos, establishing a dental care routine early on will help prevent dental issues and your vet will check your dog’s teeth as part of his regular veterinary visit.

Eye Health

Eye Problems

Eye problems are common in large dog breeds and can range from minor irritations like cherry eye in the Neapolitan Mastiff, to more severe conditions. like progressive retinal atrophy or PRA in Golden Retrievers and Labradors. Most dogs diagnosed with PRA will lose their vision within two years of diagnosis. It is a genetic disease and therefore is one of the health conditions that should be discussed with the breeder. And Golden or Lab with this condition should never be bred.

Other signs of eye problems include eye discharge and rubbing of the eyes. If your dog is suffering from cornea damage, surgery may be necessary to repair it. Antibiotic eye drops can help ulcers heal while artificial tears can keep the eyes moist. All these health issues should be monitored closely by your vet and treated promptly for the best outcome for your pet.

Heart Disease

Heart Disease

Big dog breeds, such as Great Danes, St. Bernards, Newfoundlands, Afghan Hounds, and Dobermans, are prone to heart disease. Symptoms of cardiac issues in dogs include fatigue, difficulty exercising, and a general lack of energy.

One of the most serious heart conditions that can affect big doggos is dilated cardiomyopathy, which causes inflammation and disruption of the heart’s normal functioning. Studies suggest that genetics can play a role in the development of this condition, as can nutrition and infections.

Hip Dysplasia

Canine Hip Dysplasia

Big dogs are more prone to hip dysplasia. In fact, in large and giant breed dogs like Mastiffs and Saint Bernard, it is an all too common issue. It is caused by an abnormal formation of the hip joint. A dog with this condition can start to show signs of pain and discomfort when walking, running, or jumping.

Both hip and elbow dysplasia tend to affect bigger dogs more than small ones, making them more likely to develop painful arthritis at a younger age. SIgns can sometimes be seen in puppies aat only a few months old but it is more likely to be noticed in young dogs of one to two years old. In dogs who have only mild dysplasia may not show symptoms of arthritis until they are fully mature.

While there is no cure for Hip Dysplasia, proper nutrition, exercise and regular veterinary check-ups can help manage the condition and keep your pet healthy and happy. Joint supporting supplements are beneficial, and can be started at a young age to minimise or delay the onset of hip and elbow dysplasia, in particular those containing green-lipped mussel, glaucosomine and turmuric.



It is no secret that weight gain is an increasingly common problem in large breeds, and vets see the associated health complications all too often. Not only does it carry severe welfare risks that can drastically shorten a dog’s life span and reduce its quality of life, but excess weight also puts greater pressure on joints, which can lead to joint disease and chronic pain.

Being overweight can also increase the risk of anaesthetic and surgical complications, heat or exercise intolerance, as well as entropion, a condition in which the eyelids turn under. Thankfully, awareness is increasing surrounding this issue, and pet owners can take simple steps to help their furry friends maintain a healthy weight. For example, ensure that you are feeding an appropriate diet for the dog’s stage of life. A young dog needs a more calorific diet to support growth spurts and high energy levels. As the dog matures, his diet may need to change to reflect a slower pace of life.

Skin Conditions

Skin Conditions

Skin conditions are common among large dog breeds, and they are often a symptom of underlying medical issues. For example, hip dysplasia and arthritis can cause chronic inflammation of the skin, leading to irritation and infection.

Bloat can also cause skin irritation due to the toxins that are released in the body during bloat. Furthermore, heart disease can cause poor circulation, leading to dry, itchy skin.

Eye problems can also contribute to skin conditions due to the fact that the eyes are so close to the facial skin.

Finally, obesity can lead to an increase in skin folds, causing an environment that is ideal for bacteria and fungal growth. As with naturally wrinkly breeds like the Doge de Bordeaux and Neapolitan Mastiff keeping folds clean and dry will prevent any problems.

With proper care and attention, most skin conditions can be managed and treated effectively at home with veterinary supervision,

hip and joint issues in large breed dogs

Knowing what health issues commonly affect your chosen breed better prepares you for talking to breeders to find your perfect pup. You will want to discuss what prebreeding health and genetic tests he or she did on the sire and dam.

In conclusion, large size dogs are prone to a number of health problems, from joint and spinal problems, to digestion issues, arthritis and heart disease. They’re also more likely to suffer from eye problems, obesity, skin conditions, and cancer. It’s important for their owners to be aware of the potential health risks and take steps to prevent them or provide early treatment if necessary. By taking proactive measures, owners can help their big doggos live longer and healthier lives.

It is worth noting also, that the larger the dog, the larger the vet bill. Most medications are given by weight, so even the simple routine of monthly heartworm pills is going to cost considerably more when you have a Great Dane than if you had a Shi Tzu. Not surprisingly, medical pet insurance is recommended for owners of big doggos.

It is also a good idea to invest in a few books on pet health particularly those related to home remedies for dogs, home veterinary handbooks and breed specific guides. Not that I recommend skipping vet visits for serious issues but there’s a lot of good advice out there for maintaining your dog in tip top shape and dealing with minor ailments.