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Dog Illnesses and Great Dane Health

Let's talk about Great Dane health & dog illnesses often found in Danes and many large breed dogs.

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Harlequin Great Dane dog sick black and white.

Sadly, Great Danes are susceptible to a variety of dog illnesses & health problems.

Many dog illnesses are inherited, others caused by improper nutrition, poor breeding practices and many can be of genetic origin.

Progress is being made toward lessening the impact of canine diseases and health problems in our breed and Veterinary medicines, treatments, health screenings, and selective breeding is helping. There are even Dog DNA Tests available now that screen for hereditary & genetic diseases!


However and in fact, sadly, the Great Dane remains a relatively short-lived breed.

Average life span of a Great Dane is 7 to 10 years.

On a positive note, by feeding Great Danes premium dog food or a raw dog diet, providing proper nutrition and Veterinary care, many Great Danes will live much longer. And, our best dog insurance picks for 2019 can save you some serious money if your dog does get sick. Additional helpful information on selecting the right Great Dane health insurance appropriate for our breed is excellent reading if you are planning to care for a Dane any time soon.

Dog Illnesses & Danes

We have listed the most common major dog illnesses and Great Dane health problems below, along with general facts and information about the ailment. Fortunately, there are a variety of new treatments, dog medicines and supplements available to help Great Danes live a longer, happier life.

Additional information on Orthopedic and similar diseases is available at the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. Founded in 1966, the OFA has dedicated over 40-years to the advancement of canine health.

Addison's Disease (hypoadrenocorticism):

Primary Addison's disease is a deficiency or total loss of the hormones made by the dog's adrenal glands. These glands produce three different hormones; corticosteroids, aldosterone and cortisol.

The corticosteroids help the body during times of stress, raise heart rate and blood sugar. Cortsol and aldosterone mobilize nutrients, raise blood sugar, help the body control water, and regulate salt levels which in turn, affect blood pressure and blood volume.

Most major cases of Addison's disease are due to inherited immune system defects. What happens is the immune system creates antibodies against cells of the adrenal glands. These antibodies slowly weaken, and eventually destroy the adrenal glands.

Other health issues such as cancer, have also been linked to this disease.

Early symptoms of Addison's disease are vomiting, digestion problems, poor appetite, lethargy, limping and lameness. These common symptoms are similar to other dog illnesses so Addison's quite often goes undetected.

More severe signs occur when a dog becomes stressed or when potassium levels are high enough to interfere with heart function. When this happens, severe shock can occur (system crash). If potassium levels get to high, heart function can be affected or even cease.

The disease is manageable but treatment for this Great Dane health condition is expensive.

Bloat-Gastric Torsion-GDV:

Bloat can occur in many deep chested breeds and is one of the most troubling dog illnesses. More common in Great Danes, this extremely painful condition can take a Dane's life very swiftly. The cause remains somewhat of a mystery, possibly inherited or line related.

I've experienced bloat first hand! You can read more about our Bruiser and his battle with bloat on this page.

When a dog suffers from bloat, the stomach swells and/or rotates cutting off blood supply to other vital organs. This is the number 1 killer of Danes and one of the most serious dog illnesses. A dog suffering from bloat may die in a matter of hours if left untreated.

Some warning signs for bloat are; swelling of the abdomen and abdominal pain, rapid breathing and excessive salivation. If you suspect your Dane has bloat you should rush for emergency veterinary care. In most cases surgery is required to correct this problem.

Take some easy steps to lessen your Great Danes risk of bloat. Provide only minimal amounts of water when your Dane is exercising or playing, provide multiple smaller meals throughout the day, not one big feast. Using an elevated dog feeder will minimize gulping and air ingestion while your dog eats and drinks. Always encourage your Dane to rest, or take a nap after meals.

Hip Dysplasia-HD:

Is an inherited disease and another of the major dog illnesses affecting Great Danes. This disease is not fatal but can cause great pain to the affected dog and slowly, methodically, debilitate the animal.

In practical terms, this condition is due to a deformity of the dogs hip socket. The socket and thigh bone do not fit together properly. This loosely fitting joint causes instability in the hip socket and over time, will further deteriorate the hip joint and connective tissue.

Some early warning signs could be slight lameness in the rear, abnormal gait, and lack of activity.

Fortunately, x-rays can be taken to discover this deformity, in some dogs, this won't show up on x-rays until a puppy is a couple years old.

With early diagnosis and beneficial supplements, chondroitin sulfate & MSM being our favorite, plus additional dog medicines, we can help prolong our Great Dane's joint health.

Although their years may be few, the memories of your incredible Dane will last a life time.


Typically inherited, affects the Great Dane's immune system. This condition is a result of the thyroid gland not producing enough hormone to keep-up the dog's metabolism.

This condition is easily detected by a simple blood test. The disease is manageable with thyroid replacement therapy. Treatment typically continues over the rest of your Dane's life.

Some signs of Hypothyroidism are skin problems, excessive shedding, hair loss, loose eyes, and frequent infections.

If you suspect your Dane may have Hypothyroidism, take him in for a blood test. We had it done a few years ago for about $80.00. Money well spent for piece of mind and reassurance about your Great Dane's health.


An inherited disease that affects the heart muscle of the Great Dane and other large breeds. There are 3 different types of this disease with dilated cardiomyopathy being the most common.

New material and informative links have been added to a new page that is dedicated to dog heart disease, canine cardiomyopathy, interesting and tearful reading.

Anal Sac Impaction:

Not a major Great Dane health problem unless impaction or infection occurs. Commonly called "fish butt", as the odor is similar in fragrance. Trust us, if your Great Dane's anal sacs are impacted, you will know it!

On a technical note, this condition occurs when a dogs anal glands(sacs) become clogged. Typically the sacs are emptied when a dog defecates but episodes of diarrhea and loose stool can cause the sacs to fill or become clogged.

Don't worry, you can the glands expressed routinely by your veterinarian. Or.....If you're feeling brave, express them yourself. Now doesn't that sound like fun! For a how-to on this procedure you can "contact us" for the run-down, or view the topic on our discussion forum.

Wobblers Syndrome:

A canine disease caused by pressure to the spinal cord in the area of the dog's neck. The cause for this disease is thought to be a combination of nutrition and genetics.

Typically, early signs of Wobblers Syndrome appear within the first 18 months of a pups life, yet the disease can develop much later.

Early on, a newly affected dog may show coordination problems in the hind legs. An affected dog may also show signs of neck pain. No case is the same; some dogs may develop a slight case and live out there lives fine. In others, the disease will progress over time and incapacitate the animal. One of the more troubling dog illnesses to the Great Dane owner as it can slowly, methodically, incapacitate a wonderful Dane.

Note, a dog with Wobblers Syndrome is predisposed to further injuries like ACL tears. This loss of coordination in the limbs can cause the legs to be out of position when the dog is running or playing.

Fortunately, progress is being made with treatments. Medications, anti-inflammatories, acupuncture, bead implants and surgery are options for those with a wobbler. Your specialist can perform a complex x-ray called a myelogram to confirm this deformity.

There is a simple Wobblers home test you can perform on your dog if you suspect the onset of wobblers.


A painful condition of the bones that occurs during the rapid growth phase of a Dane puppy causing lameness.

Fortunately your Great Dane should pass this "growing pain" phase on its own. If symptoms persist, your veterinarian may provide pain medication for you pup.

Important message

We did not go into details on the many minor dog illnesses common to the Great Dane breed. Our intent is to focus on the major dog illnesses and Great Dane health issues some owners may face. For additional information on dog illnesses, be sure to check out our Dane Links page.

Please be a responsible Great Dane owner, choose a Veterinarian that is familiar with our breed. Be sure to keep up with your yearly visits to the Vet. With annual check-ups there are many dog medicines and supplements available to treat these conditions before they fully manifest:)

Keeping your Great Dane healthy may be a bit expensive at times, this is why many families choose Great Dane health insurance. You will save big bucks if you Great Dane suffers an injury such as ACL rupture/tear, car accident, joint injuries and such. We published our Best Dog Insurance picks for 2019 here and it may be worth considering a plan as many dog owners have saved their dogs with insurance when faced with major dog illnesses they could not pay for.


We are not a Veterinarians; the above information is provided to you as-is. Simply stated, as Great Dane owners we try to stay up-to-date on everything Great Dane, including Great Dane health and other dog illnesses.

If you suspect your Great Dane may be sick, please seek the advice of your Veterinarian.