Great Dane Health Facts

Great Dane: Health Facts

If you own a Great Dane or are considering buying or adopting one, you should be aware of the common health problems.

It’s the best way to ensure they lead a long and healthy life.

The size and appetites of Great Danes means they are more prone to suffering diet-related illnesses, especially when budget conscious owners opt for cheaper pet foods. You only have to read Pet Food Reviews Australia to understand why so many dog foods lead to health issues.

Let’s take a look at the common health problems in Great Danes. Then we’ll assess how to prevent these health problems occurring.

We’ll also take a look at a study of Great Dane Hip & Elbow scores – with a conclusive average!

Common health problems in Great Danes


Bloat is a painful distending and twisting of the stomach. The condition is considered rare but is a great concern for all Great Dane owners, especially those with dogs 5+ years of age.

Bloat can be a critical condition that affects Great Danes and results rapidly in death if not quickly addressed.

There is no concrete evidence as to what can cause bloat, however there are many there are some general precautions many Great Dane believe act as a preventative.

These include:

  1. Provide meals and water from a shoulder height position (although one study of 50 Great Danes said this method increased the risk).
  2. Do not exercise your Great Dane within an hour before or after meals.
  3. Avoid boarding kennels where possible (as stress may be a key factor).
  4. If your Great Dane eats fast, slow them down with a slow feeder bowl or put their meals into treat balls.
  5. If you see your dog spending a long time at the water bowl or gulping, guide them away from it.

Whilst there is no guarantee, the fore mentioned should help reduce the risk of bloat.

There is no genetic test for bloat, but there appears to be an increased risk for Great Danes whose parents and/or siblings have suffered the condition.

It is recommended you speak to your breeder about the bloat they have experienced in their lines.

Hip/Elbow Dysplasia

Hip Dysplasia is a poly-genetic hereditary disease which can cause pain and lameness – even to the point of being crippling.

X-raying the Dam & Sire is recommended to ensure only suitable breeding stock is used.

Many breeders recommend minimal exercise for Great Dane puppies during their critical growth period, as this prevents what is commonly referred to as environmental HD/ED.

Providing ramps instead of stairs and helping a dog in and out of your car can help reduce stress on the joints during the puppy phase.

It is recommended that you ask your Breeder if they Hip & Elbow score their breeding stock, and if so, what were the results?

At the bottom of this page I’ll give you the average Hip & Elbow scores from a study of 167 Great Danes for you to reference.

Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM)

Canine DCM is a heart breaking condition affecting the heart which typically strikes down young dogs in their prime.

There is no genetic testing available at this time however ethical breeders will not use a dog from a line which has known DCM issues.

There are heart clinics held throughout Australia which some breeders will have their breeding stock screened, screening should occur annually.

There is evidence DCM can be triggered by a lack of taurine in the diet. Unfortunately the viral nature of social media has led many dog owners to believe this is caused by grain-free diets, when the reality is lack of meat and whole-prey ingredients in a diet (regardless of what grains or grain-free ingredients are used).

Thyroid (Hypothyroidism)

Hypothyroidism can cause a variety of medical problems, and has been linked to auto-immune disorders.

Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormones. This can cause a number of symptoms, including weight gain, lethargy, hair loss, and skin problems.

If you suspect your Great Dane may be suffering hypothyroidism then your vet can use blood screening to test.

Von Willebrand’s Disease

Von Willebrand’s Disease is a bleeding disorder (similar to Hemophilia in people), and is diagnosed with blood screening. It’s a rare condition in Australia, but has been known to affect Great Danes.

There is a genetic test for Von Willebrand’s Disease, however because the condition is considered rare in Australia it’s unlikely your breeder will have conducted this test unless a problem has actually come up in the line.

Ocular disease

A Specialist should certify a breeding dog to be free of apparent heritable ocular disease based upon examination of a veterinary ophthalmologist. The dog must be re-examined and re-certified every 12 months.


Wobblers disease is a condition of the cervical vertebrae that causes an unsteady (wobbly) gait and weakness seen in Great Danes that is typically a genetic condition.

However, the mode of inheritance is unknown and there is no genetic test at this stage.

Wobblers in rare instances can be due to an accident, so if you are informed by a breeder there is a case or cases of accident-induced Wobblers you are advised to investigate/research further.

The term wobblers disease refers to a number of different conditions of the cervical (neck) spinal column that all cause similar symptoms.

These conditions may include malformation of the vertebrae, intervertebral disc protrusion, and disease of the interspinal ligaments, ligamenta flava, and articular facets of the vertebrae.

Wobblers disease is also known as cervical vertebral instability, cervical spondylomyelopathy (CSM), and cervical vertebral malformation (CVM).

In dogs, the disease is most common in large breeds, especially Great Danes .

There is currently no genetic test for Wobblers, however ethical breeders will not breed a dog from lines known to have Wobblers.

This condition is considered uncommon although not unheard of in Australia.

Ask your Breeder if they have had any Wobblers before or Neurological problems as Wobblers can only be 100% diagnosed with a risky and expensive procedure and therefore some Wobblers go undiagnosed and are labeled neurological problems.


Deafness can occur in some white and lightly marked Harlequins, however not all white or lightly marked Harlequins will have the condition.

A registered ethical breeder would typically know prior to homing if a dog is deaf or has some loss of hearing. If you want to confirm then a Baer test can be conducted with a specialist.

If you are offered a deaf Great Dane puppy, it is recommended you think this over thoroughly before making the commitment. Deaf puppies can be hard to train and manage throughout their lives.

Deaf Great Danes are also near to impossible to re-home if a situation comes up which means you need to seek an alternative home for your dog.

Many Harlequin Breeders will cull Whites out of their litters as excellent and well suited homes for them are very rare.

Allergies/Skin issues

Allergies are the result of an overactive immune system that releases histamines in its’ effort to rid the body of foreign proteins from pollen, dust mites, trees, grass, household dust, dander, and many other materials.

Allergies commonly result in itchy skin, patchy skin, soreness around the skin, paws, and ears, or yeasty ears, gas, or digestive issues.

You must note the difference between what are referred to as allergies, and what are food sensitivities. I really can’t stress this enough, but the many brands of pet food sold in Australia made from wheat and cereal grains, preservatives, or pet-grade meats are often the cause of all the above symptoms.

Often the best (and most affordable) first step in diagnosing any food-sensitivities. Researching the ingredients in your dog food are the first step – does it contain cereal grains, and if not, your dog may have a sensitivity to a specific meat protein.

Atopic allergies is believed to have a genetic component so you will want to ask your Breeder if they have seen any skin issues, if so what was the condition, how did it affect the dog, how is it treated and often has this problem been seen in dogs from their lines.

Some people may talk about a dog 2 or 3 generations back that used to itch when it was on certain grasses or who reacts to chicken, these are allergies and need to be considered when looking at potential offspring.

There are legitimate hormone related skin problems. I.e. a bitch may have skin issues occur around her heat cycle and then clear up afterwards etc.

Thyroid problems can also be a cause of skin issues.

There is some evidence already sensitive dogs can be affected by allergies due to vaccination. Your breeder will be able to tell you if there is a vaccination sensitivity in their line.

Some breeders may deny the genetic component to allergic skin disease, as perhaps only one puppy in the litter has allergies. Genetics doesn’t affect every offspring, just like one child in a family of 6 may need glasses and the others do not.

Allergies can be an expensive and heartbreaking condition. Some dogs have minor seasonal flares ups where others suffer all year round and have to be on medication to have quality of life.

Skin Allergies/Skin Conditions are more easily seen on Harlequins as you can see the pink skin through the white hair, some believe Harlequins are more at risk of skin issues due to the pigmentation.

Dogs with skin issues can also suffer from digestion issues their whole lives and may require a supplementation of digestive enzymes.

Avoid purchasing a dog whose parents have noticeable skin problems such as pink/red skin, dull brittle coat, skin scabs, smell of yeast (smell like corn chips), scratched skin from where the dog has been scratching a lot, hair loss, and so forth, and avoid purchasing a puppy that has noticeably pink skin.

Allergic Skin Disease can start as young as in baby puppies and in some cases not until a dog is 2 years of age.

There are different forms of testing available as well as desensitising injections that have varied results.

An ethical Breeder will not breed known allergic dogs.

How to prevent Great Dane health problems with diet

The purpose of the Foodie Pooch website is essentially to promote awareness in diet, and the old adage “you are what you eat” is as relevant to our dogs as it is to us.

Most health conditions diagnosed in Australian dogs can be linked to diet, with heart conditions such as DCM, skin reactions, and bloat no exception.

Often the first step to health, and the long life of your Great Dane starts with considering what your brand of dog food is made from.

Thankfully there is plenty of insight and information into commercial dog foods, and also raw dog feeding.

Great Dane Hip & Elbow scores – A study of 167 dogs

Out of a study of 167 Great Danes the average Hip & Elbow score was 7.3.

The hip & elbow scores were submitted by numerous owners and conducted by a variety of scorers including the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA).

The Great Danes in the study ranged in age up to 72 months (6 years).

The study results may be downloaded:

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