Why Are Great Dane Life Spans So Short?
For such big dogs, Great Danes sure get the short end of the stick when it comes to longevity. Great Danes live between 8-to-10 years, with some living only 6 or 7 years, and a lucky few reaching the ripe old age of 12. Compared to small dogs, which can live almost twice as long, this hardly seems fair.
It also poses an interesting paradox. After all, some of the longest-living animals in the wild, such as elephants and whales, are also the largest, while smaller animals like rodents live for only a handful of years. Why are dogs so different?
Scientists do not yet understand the exact reasons behind this contradiction, although they have a few theories, but they do know that large dogs appear to age faster than small dogs. It is almost as if large dogs live their adult lives in fast motion, and for better or for worse, the bigger the dog, it seems, the less time we have with them.
Giant Health Problems for Giant Dogs
Scientific mysteries aside, Great Danes are prone to quite a few health conditions that can shorten their life span.
The breed is particularly susceptible to bloat, a dangerous and often fatal condition that results in the stomach twisting and cutting off blood supply. Dogs that suffer from bloat once often get it a second time, and your veterinarian may recommend a tacking procedure to try and minimize future risk. If you own a Great Dane or another breed that is prone to this disease, talk to your veterinarian about the symptoms of bloat and how it can be avoided.
Great Danes are known for their big hearts, but this figure of speech has a darker, more literal meaning. Great Danes frequently suffer from cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle that leads to enlargement of the heart itself.
With those giant frames, it is no wonder that Great Danes experience joint and bone diseases, such as hip dysplasia and osteoarthritis. These conditions are often gradual and result in a slow deterioration that ultimately requires owners to make a decision about their dog's quality of life.
Great Danes are also prone to thyroid problems. Autoimmune thyroiditis commonly causes hypothyroidism in Great Danes. Luckily, this disease can be monitored and regulated with medication, and your veterinarian can monitor your dog's thyroid levels with simple blood work.
Tips to Improve Your Great Dane's Life Span
As owners, we have a lot of control over what goes on in our dogs' lives, from what they eat to how often they exercise. But can we really control how long our dogs live?
The answer is a little bit of yes and a lot of no. There many things we can't control, from cancer to biology, but there are a few things you can do to help your Great Dane reach the upper limits of her life span.
Responsible Great Dane breeders will provide you with the health history of their breeding lines. As you choose a puppy, always look for a breeder who has had his or her dogs tested for hip dysplasia, and be aware of other genetic problems, such as heart disease, eye problems, and autoimmune thyroiditis.
If you adopt a Great Dane from a rescue organization, you may not have access to your dog's pedigree, but you can always have your veterinarian evaluate him for any potential risks, so that you can come up with a wellness plan targeted specifically for your dog.
A healthy diet is crucial for your Great Dane's overall health, and especially during puppyhood. Great Dane puppies, like all large and giant breed dogs, require special nutrition to prevent them from growing too quickly. Excessive growth can lead to musculoskeletal diseases, such as dysplasia, osteochondrosis, and hypertrophic osteodystrophy.
As your Great Dane matures, diet and exercise continue to play a vital role. Obesity is a serious risk for giant breed dogs, and can take years off of their already short lives. Obesity leads to health problems such as osteoarthritis, diabetes, and orthopedic diseases like hip and elbow dysplasia. Feeding your dog an appropriate diet and making sure your Great Dane gets regular exercise will help her stay in shape, increasing her odds of living longer.
Bloat is hard to avoid. Scientists still don't know exactly what causes it, or how to reliably prevent it. Veterinarians recommend feeding multiple small meals a day, instead of one large meal, and avoiding exercise around mealtimes. For more information about how to avoid bloat in dogs, talk to your veterinarian.
In most cases, catching a disease or problem early improves your dog's chances of recovery and survival. Great Danes are big dogs, which also means bigger veterinary bills, but that is not a reason to skip out on regular checkups. Keep your dog up-to-date on vaccines, and also make sure your veterinarian is aware of any changes in her activity levels, appetite, or mood, as these could be signs of illness. Your veterinarian can also help you manage any joint conditions, such as osteoarthritis, that develop with age.
Great Danes may have shorter life spans than small dogs, and they are not alone. Several other large and giant breeds, such as Bernese Mountain Dogs, Irish Wolfhounds, and the Dogue de Bordeaux may have shorter lives.