Keeping Large Dogs Healthy

Special consideration needs to be taken into account if you have a large dog or are thinking of adopting one. These include common health issues found in larger breeds, certain nutritional needs, and their requirements of physical activity. You also need to be aware that these needs vary as large dogs transition through life.


What Constitutes a Large Dog

Most veterinarians consider a dog that weighs between 50 to 100 pounds to be a large breed. But, there’s no generally accepted weight range. Some large dog breeds are also defined as measuring up to 24 in height. Examples of large dog breeds include Belgian Malinois, boxers, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds, golden retrievers, Irish Setters, Rottweilers, Weimaraner and English Sheepdogs. Large dog breeds live about 10 to 12 years, but this depends on genetics, breed, nutrition and individual health status.


Common Health Issues

Varying by life stage and breed, large dog breeds typically have a higher incidence of developmental orthopedic disorders, hip dysplasia, tumors of the spleen, knee injuries, lymphoma, mast cell tumors, dilated cardiomyopathy, laryngeal paralysis and hypothyroidism. Large breed, fast-growing puppies are predisposed to issues of health like panosteitis,  hypertrophic osteodystrophy, which is an autoinflammatory bone disease, and osteochondritis dissecans, which is a joint disease caused by abnormal cartilage development. 

The physical, medical, nutritional, and behavioral needs of larger dogs changes as they transition through their life stages. Large breed puppies do not have the same needs as small breeds or even medium-sized puppies.


Choosing the Appropriate Diet

Choosing the proper diet for your growing large puppy is important for their joint and bone development. Large breed puppies need a certain amount of calcium, protein, and phosphorus. But, too much protein can be problematic.

Large dog puppy food needs to contain 1.5% calcium content, 30% high quality protein, 9% fat and a calcium phosphorus ratio of 1;1 to 1;3.  Food labels let you know how much to feed your dog depending on their weight. It’s important to note that the daily allotment of treats should not exceed 10% of their daily calories.

As a larger breed puppy reaches adulthood they stop growing at around 12-18 months. They need to be transitioned to larger breed adult food over a 7 day period, in order to avoid gastrointestinal upset. It’s crucial to maintain a healthy weight in large breed adult dogs. Obesity leads to early arthritis and negatively affects the quality of your pet’s life.


Importance of Veterinary Visits

Your large breed dog needs to be seen by their vet every 3 to 4 weeks until they’ve reached 16 weeks old. Vets will examine their eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. They will also look at their heart, skin, lungs, belly, paws, and stool. By doing this, they are checking for heart murmurs, upper respiratory infections, congenital defects, pneumonia, hernias, cleft palate, orthopedic abnormalities and intestinal parasites.

Of course, your puppy needs to be vaccinated with all the required vaccinations. And, dental care is highly suggested. Spaying and neutering is also highly suggested, as a recent study summarizes the relationship between the prevalence of disease in many common large breed dogs and spaying and neutering at different ages. So there is some controversy over the best time to spay/neuter with large dogs. Consult with your veterinarian before spaying or neutering.

Heartworm prevention needs to be started as early as possible in large breed puppies. Of course, consistent tick and flea prevention are recommended as well.

Consider starting supplements like glucosamine chondroitin and omega-3 fatty acids. Make sure you still provide physical stimulation as well as mental. Things like agility training, fetch games, frozen dog treats, obstacle courses, and digging in designated areas are good for mental and physical stimulation.


Your Senior Dog

As your large breed dog reaches seniority, you might notice signs of slowing down, such as not being able to walk as far, sleeping more or having difficulty getting up or having difficulty jumping. These can be a normal part of the aging process, but they can also be signs of disease.

Supplements are very important at this age. It is now of utmost importance to maintain a weight that is healthy. This alleviates the pressure on the joints and keeps them feeling better. Essential fatty acids are also helpful for cognitive functioning.

You may have to take them to the vet more often at this stage of life. Your veterinarian may look for heart murmurs, masses or growths, dental disease and arthritis, and blood work may be recommended. Mobility issues may also be problematic. It’s important to keep your dog’s nails trimmed and to address their joint pain. Ramps and orthopedic beds are helpful items to assist with their joint pain.

Don’t be afraid to ask your veterinarian questions you have regarding your large breed dog’s quality of life or them being a senior dog.



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