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Is a Giant Dog Breed Right for Me?

Posted April 23, 2014 in A Vet's Life

Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a traveling, board-certified surgeon in Allentown, PA. His website is He is the co-author of “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound” (

Chris Longenecker, a Certified Veterinary Technician in Reading, PA, contributed to this article.

Some dog breeds are cute. Some dog breeds are elegant. Giant dogs are downright impressive.

Giant breeds include Mastiffs, Newfies, Great Danes, Saint Bernards, Great Pyrenees, Borzois, Irish Wolfhounds and a few others.

Before you fall in love with a cute, giant puppy (or even if you have one already) there are a few things you need to know about.

Bloat is the ultimate killer. This complicated condition leads to extreme bloating of the stomach, which can sometimes twist around itself. As the stomach gets bigger, it pushes on every organ in the belly. The end result is pain, shock and retching, which means the dog tries to vomit but cannot.

This condition is only fixable with surgery. It is a true veterinary emergency as death of the organs (and the dog) can occur quickly. This condition occurs mostly in large breed and deep chested dogs.

To stop it from twisting, the stomach can be “tacked,” ideally, when a puppy is already under anesthesia to be spayed or neutered. Of course it can be done at any other time for at risk breeds. The stomach is sutured to the inside of the belly. It is important to understand that the stomach can still get distended with air, but it should not twist. Learn more about bloat here.

Orthopedic conditions
Giant breed dogs are prone to certain joint diseases: hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia and ACL tears.

Hip and elbow dysplasia often occur in these giants because of their rapid growth from puppies to adults and poor breeding. A tear of the ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) is one of the most common problems we see.

Bone cancer
Another condition that is mostly seen in large and giant dogs is bone cancer. It mostly affects older dogs and occasionally very young dogs. This aggressive disease requires aggressive treatment, which usually involves amputation and chemotherapy.

It is a sad fact that giant breeds tend to have a shorter lifespan than small breeds. The exact reasons are controversial but this is something to be aware of.  Then again, with better

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Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and author. His traveling practice takes him all over Eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. You can visit his website at, and follow him at

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The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author's and do not necessarily represent the beliefs, policies or positions of all veterinarians, Pet Health Network, IDEXX Laboratories, Inc. or its affiliates and partner companies.