At All West Veterinary Hospital, we see everything from Tea Cup Chihuahuas to Great Danes and all sizes in between. There are dogs, and then there are GIANT dogs. But, have you ever wondered if there are any special things that are important to know if you are considering adding a gentle giant into your family? Giant breed dogs are often known to be docile, for their tirelessly big hearts, and even bigger personalities. But what defines a giant breed dog? Generally, giant breed dogs are over 100lbs, can range in height, and have a somewhat shorter life span due to their size. Some common giant breed dogs are: Great Dane, Irish Wolf Hound, English Mastiff, Newfoundland, Great Pyrenees, Saint Bernard, and the Bernese Mountain Dog. Below are some extra things to consider about these types of dogs aside from: do you need to get a bigger pooper-scooper?
Food and Nutrition
Like any breed of dog, nutrition is extremely important for giant breed dogs. However many giant breed enthusiasts will emphasize the importance of high quality dog food, free of fillers and grains, especially in puppies. But wait! Remember high quality doesn’t mean higher protein! It is important to realize when your giant breed dog is a pup, that they will grow to be beautiful and large, just like their parents. They WILL reach their full genetic size potential in time, but be patient! It is best to keep their growth at a slow and steady pace. The best way to do this is commonly expressed among experienced giant breed dog owners as feeding a commercial kibble formula with no more than 22% as fed basis protein and 14% as fed basis fat. It is thought that this balance of fat, protein and correct calorie amounts allows for steady, slow growth and preventing things like knuckling over/bowing of the legs, growing pains, lameness, and other structural issues later in life. Make sure to read the label of the food you are feeding, it is often inappropriate to feed a “Large Breed” puppy food. Instead, look for “Giant Breed” formulas of puppy food specifically made with your giant baby in mind. Know your dog food! Feeding the right amount of calories from the beginning will create a strong body for longevity of the dog (and lessen your vet bills along the way).
Like nutrition, exercise is a very important part of a dog’s life. When giant breed dogs are young, their bones are not done growing and their body is working hard to create a strong structure to support their large and seemingly endless awkward frame. When I had my first Great Dane puppy, I was advised to not allow my pup to run distances on hard surfaces like concrete/asphalt and not to jump in or out of trucks/cars for the first year and a half of life. Avoiding these things helps strong bone growth and detour soft tissue injuries. The best type of exercise for your gentle giant is regular moderate exercise like hikes with plenty of fresh water, walks in the neighborhood, playtime with other dogs, or a good round of fetch.
When it comes to illnesses, Bloat is a very common ailment that tends to be specific to giant breed dogs as well as some deep chested dog breeds (like Poiners and German Shepherds). Bloat is a life-threatening emergency that needs to be addressed by your veterinarian immediately. Bloat is a general term for two conditions: the first is gastric dilation, which is when the stomach fills and distends with gas and fluid. The second is volvulus; this is when the distended stomach rotates or torsions around itself. This causes cut off blood supply, prevents fluid and air from escaping the stomach, and a “bloated” appearance in your dog. Aside from appearing to have an enlarged abdomen, additional symptoms are anxiety, pacing, profuse salivation, retching, and unproductive attempts to vomit. If you suspect your dog has bloat, it is imperative to seek veterinary help immediately. Lack to veterinary treatment can be deadly and dogs that are treated non-surgically have a large chance of a repeat bout of bloat. Surgery can be performed to untwist the torsioned stomach and relieve the pressure of gas and fluid. If successful, the stomach will be stitched or “tacked” to the inside of the abdominal wall to prevent a repeat occurrence of bloat. Some things that are thought to help reduce the chances of bloat in your giant breed dog are:
- 2-3 Equally portioned meals a day, with water in the kibble.
- Feeding from a raised food bowl
- Not allowing your dog to scarf food (discourage vigorous eating with large river rocks in the raised bowl, so the dog has to move the rocks to eat food, resulting in slower consumption of the food or a eat-slow designed bowl.)
- Restrict access to water for one hour before and after meals.
- No exercise for an hour before or after meals.
- Never allow your dog to consume large amounts of water, especially before, during, or after exercise. It is best to always have water available so that dogs can stay hydrated throughout the day, and not feel the need to drink too much at one time.
This article was written by Megan McGaffigan Lang, an Equine Technician at All West Veterinary Hospital. She is an experienced (and obsessed) giant breed dog owner and dog-mom to three canine kids: Sully a Great Dane, Finley a Pointer Mix, and Kobe, a Springer Spaniel Mix.